Fiesta Empanadas

Why is it that everything tastes better wrapped in dough? Take, for example, the lowly hotdog. Wrapped in puff pastry or even crescent rolls from a tube, it metamorphosizes into Pigs in a Blanket. (Also known as, “the first hors d’oeuvres to disappear from every party.”) My well-bred mother-in-law, who once called my second-hand dining set “disreputable” (and I guess I can see her point – it’s definitely more shabby than chic), established the ritual of serving Pigs in a Blanket on silver trays at every family event. But wait – I’m getting off track. Today’s post is about another pastry-wrapped treat – one perfect for Cinco de Mayo fiestas this weekend: Empanadas!

From the Spanish word for “wrapped in bread”, empanadas can be sweet or savory, baked or fried. My favorites are these baked Turkey Poblano creations, which I make in miniature size for appetizers or a larger size for a meal. The kids love them plain, but for me they’re not complete without Cilantro Lime Sauce for dipping. (Yes – yet another application for this versatile sauce, which one of these days I should figure out how to bottle and sell. That would be one way to get new dining room furniture.)

Cilantro Lime Sauce

The turkey filling is simple to make, and it can be made days ahead or even frozen until you’re ready to assemble the empanadas.  If you can find frozen empanada wrappers, just let them thaw and get ready to stuff.


If you can’t find them, you can use frozen puff pastry, pie dough, or this recipe below – which is stretchy and forgiving. The assembly goes fairly quickly, once you get the hang of it. (Just don’t overstuff or you’ll get oozage.) I like to freeze unbaked mini empanadas for almost-instant appetizers – great for any time you have extra Cilantro Lime sauce to use up.  (An almost weekly occurrence around here.)

Mini Turkey Poblano Empanadas

  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped (optional, but worth the effort; see this link for roasting how-to)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Approx. 1 cup salsa verde (Xochitl®  Brand, if possible)
  • Pinch (1/4 teaspoon) sugar
  • 4 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel (lower fat cream cheese)
  • 2 packages (10 per package) frozen empanada wrappers, thawed, or 1 package puff pastry, or 1 batch empanada dough (recipe below)
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame seeds

To a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onion. Sauté 2-3 minutes until softened.

Add turkey, salt and cumin and cook until no longer pink. (Breaking up turkey clumps with a wooden spoon, as if making tacos.)

Add garlic and sauté another minute.  (Garlic can taste bitter if burned, so I add it towards the end of the cooking to be safe. Check out this cool garlic pressing trick: if you leave the clove “wrapped” in its papery skin, you can pull it out after pressing and no little bits get stuck in the holes.)

Back to the empanadas:

Stir in poblanos, salsa verde and sugar (which helps balance the heat and round out the flavors) and bring to a boil to reduce some of the liquid.

Remove from heat. Stir in cream cheese and taste for seasoning; add another pinch of kosher salt or sugar if you feel it needs more flavor.  Allow mixture to cool before filling empanadas.

(This looks yellow because of the lighting.)

Empanada Dough (makes about 40 4-inch empanadas)

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl combine flour and salt. Add water and oil all at once and stir to combine.

The dough should come together but not feel sticky. Add a little extra flour if necessary. The dough may not look pretty, but this is OK.

Assembling Empanadas

Heat oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

For appetizer-size using premade empanada wrappers or dough, cut out 3” circles with a biscuit cutter or empty can.  Gather excess dough and roll flat with rolling pin. Cut out additional circles until all dough is used.

If using homemade dough, shape into walnut-sized balls. (You should get about 40.) With a rolling pin, roll dough flat into 3”- 4” circles.

Spoon cooled filling into the centers of the dough circles. As a rough guide, use a heaping teaspoonful (the ice cream eating kind of spoon, not measuring kind) of filling for 2 ½ -3” circles or a heaping tablespoon for 4” circles.  I try to get in as much filling as I can, though I often pay the price with messy-looking empanadas that burst open while baking. Just be sure to leave a ½”+ margin around the entire edge of the circle.

If you’re using cut-out circles, you will seal them using beaten egg and a fork crimp.  Beat one egg and brush along the edges/margins. Fold the circle in half and press edges together to seal. Set onto prepared baking sheet and crimp edges with a fork.

If you’re rolling out homemade dough balls, you can seal with a “twisted rope” closure instead of the egg and fork method. Fold the dough over the filling to make a ½-circle and press to seal edges.  Starting at the top, fold dough up and over in a twisting motion, until all edges are sealed. Tuck the end of the twist under the empanada and place on baking sheet.

No one will care if the twisty rope edges aren’t perfect.

Freeze any unused filling or spoon it into taco shells.

Just before baking, beat 1 egg (or use what was left from sealing ) and brush onto tops of empanadas.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake at 400ºF for 12-20 minutes (depending on type of dough used, size of empanadas and whether they were frozen), until golden brown.

Serve with Cilantro Lime sauce  (or any other salsa) for dipping.  Good piping hot, warm, room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

7 thoughts on “Fiesta Empanadas

  1. Yum…. I will finally make your cilantro lime sauce this weekend… with these delicious looking empanadas! May not make it for Cinco De Mayo though… It may have to wait for Sunday dinner.

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