Turkey Empanadillas (Empanadillas de Pavo)

The day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of leftover turkey dishes. From pot pies and turkey sandwiches to turkey soup – by the end of this weekend we will have had our fill of roasted turkey for the year.
This recipe is my offering to this post-Thanksgiving tradition of leftover turkey preparation: turkey empanadillas (empanadillas de pavo). It’s a savory Latin dish that gives turkey leftovers a Puerto Rican twist. Turkey empanadillas are half moon pastry pockets that are stuffed with a savory filling of shredded turkey, olives, raisins and cilantro. Unlike their fried cousins traditionally sold in cuchifrito stands around the island, these pastry pockets are baked.
Making the empanadilla pastry from scratch yields the best results, but if you are as tired as I am after days of preparation and cooking for the Thanksgiving feast, then use frozen empanadilla pastry disks from your local grocer.
If you like this empanadilla recipe, you may also like baked beef empanadillas.
Turkey Empanadillas (Empanadillas de Pavo)
2 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup turkey broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 packet Sazón annatto seasoning
1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt to taste
12 empanadilla pastry disks, thawed (pre-made or homemade)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, heat the oil, then add the onion and cook until they begin getting glassy. Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook until fragrant. Do not allow them to brown.
3. Add the cumin and allspice and stir until well incorporated. Add the tomato sauce, broth, annatto seasoning and raisins and bring to a simmer. Add the shredded turkey and continue cooking until all the liquids have been incorporated into the mixture. Turn the heat off and add the olives, cilantro and season to taste. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare your work surface to assemble the empanadillas by having the following handy: empanadilla pastry disks, baking sheet, fork, bowl of water, and the cooled filling.
5. Place a disk on your work surface and add 2 to 3 tablespoons filling. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle. Crimp the edge with a fork, turn over and crimp the edges with a fork again. Set the empanadilla in the cookie sheet and repeat.
6. Brush the empanadillas with oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Makes 12 empanadillas.

Empanadilla Pastry


Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
I grew nostalgic for this most common Puerto Rican food when I first moved to Montana. It was then that I began experimenting with different empanadilla pastry recipes. I’ve tried different versions with canola oil or butter, but I find that shortening works best. Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s recipe in “Juntos en la Cocina” is the one I like best (sorry, i could not find the english translation of this book). It yields a dry but flaky dough. Below is my translation of that recipe. Note: this dough is best used fresh, not frozen.
Empanadilla Pastry
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3/4 cups cold water
1. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Cut the vegetable shortening into the flour mixture until it forms coarse grains the size of garbanzos. Work quickly to prevent melting the shortening.
2. Add the cold water slowly while using a fork to blend it into the four mixture. Mix well until there is no loose flour left in the bottom of the bowl.
3. Turn your dough into a work surface dusted with flour. Knead just until the dough is well incorporated, smooth and no longer sticks to your fingers. As you knead, add flour when needed to prevent sticking. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
4. Roll the dough into a twelve inch log and cut into twelve 1 inch pieces.
5. Place one piece in a work surface dusted with flour. Work with a floured rolling pin to create a disk six inches in diameter. Set disk aside and dust with flour. Begin to roll the next disk.
6. Once all twelve disks have been rolled, proceed to fill the empanadillas with filling of choice. See the Baked Beef Empanadilla recipe for instructions on how to prepare the filling and assemble them. Cover the unused disks with a damp cloth until you are ready to use them.
Makes 12 disks.