Monday, January 16, 2012


A year or two ago, our stepmom, Gigi, made a Puerto Rican feast for me and my family.  I know how hard it is to cook for people.  It is intimidating.  You instantly doubt everything about how you do things.  Not to mention, what if so and so doesn't like blah blah blah?  Let's just all admit that cooking for people instantly causes anxiety.

Which is why...when someone makes me dinner, I am honored for life.  I don't care if it has enough salt.  I don't care if it is burnt.  Or undercooked.  Or overcooked.  It pulls at my heart.  It touches my soul.  I file it in my brain as most favorite things about life.

In honor of Gigi, I wanted to make these empanadas.  Puerto Ricans often call them "pastelillos" (and that is what Gigi and her family call them).  This recipe is not necessarily Puerto Rican, but the meat filling seems pretty classic enough.  

Also, these are baked, not fried.  Of course, they would be amazing fried.  And you are welcome to do it.  Trust me, I was tempted.  But, I gave it a shot and baked them, and the were DELICIOUS.  You know me and my full fat loving self...and these didn't miss a beat.  So good. 

I served these with some Puerto Rican beans and guac.  I originally planned to make rice and beans, which is what Gigi served them with.  But my last minute decision was just to go with beans and guac since we aren't needing carbs at the moment.  I used this recipe for the beans and it was an excellent accompaniment.  Scot ventured off to the Latin market and bought these Goya products for these beans.  I should have just made my own sofrito, but the jar did make it easy!

slightly adapted from Saveur May/June 1999 #35 via use real butter

for the dough:
1 cup water
3/4 cup butter
2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
pinch paprika

for the filling:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1/2 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 lb ground beef
1 small russet potato, peeled, finely diced, and boiled
8 green Spanish olives, pitted and chopped
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped

For the dough: Heat water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter has melted. Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center and sprinkle a pinch of paprika in the well. Pour a little of the warm liquid in and stir with fingertips to make a wet paste. Pour in remaining liquid and work the flour into the dough with your hand until you get a wet, oily dough.  Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I put it in the freezer for 1-1.5 hours and it worked just fine).

For the filling: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions, bell peppers, paprika, red pepper flakes, white pepper, and cumin, and cook until onions are soft. Add beef, season to taste with salt, and cook until beef is browned. Place filling in a large bowl and when cooled, add potatoes, olives, scallions, and egg. Mix.

Preheat oven to 400F. Tear off pieces of dough to roll about 12 golf-sized balls.  Using a rolling pin, roll out dough balls on lightly floured surface into 5″ circles.  Place 3 tbsp of filling in the center of each dough circle (I used three heaping large spoonfuls and it was the perfect amount to use all the filling). Fold over and press edges firmly to seal. Rope pinch the edges tightly. Place empanadas on cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, 15-25 minutes.

(Servings: 12, Prep time: 2.5-4 hrs., Cook time: 25 min., Difficulty: Intermediate)

foodforscot Ratings:

Shanon (taste):  9/10
Scot (taste):  9/10
Effort:  4/5
Dishwashing Effort:  3/5
After a fearless battle with cancer, Gigi has moved on to bigger and better things.  Her positive spirit never faulted and I feel lucky to have been even a small part of her life.  Everyone in our family will miss her so much.  


  1. such a lovely (and delicious) tribute to your stepmother :)

  2. I agree. Making food for others can be intimidating. I'm always deeply honored when someone invites me into their home and cooks me a favorite recipe. These look like winners. I love empanadas. Too good.