Empanadas: A How-To Guide

by Sheila McCormick

For several years, we have been making empanadas a couple of times a year. Paul first had them in Paraguay when he was in the Peace Corps – but there they were fried in the morning and sold cold. I don’t remember when I first had them, but we liked the similar Australian pasties at long-closed Noble Pies on College Avenue. Paul makes the dough, I make the fillings, and he assembles them. We tried pre-made empanada circles (for example, from Mi Tierra on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley), but think that the homemade ones are better. According to this Wikipedia article,  empanadas might have originated in Spain, as seafood empanadas were mentioned in a 1520 cookbook published in Catalan.

We made thirty empanadas (most of which we froze for later use) by doubling this recipe.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out on a floured cutting board. Paul cut out 5.5 inch rounds using a lid to a cooking pot. Add filling to the center, brush the edges with water, then fold over and crimp the edges differently for each of the fillings so you can identify the contents. Freeze on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, then transfer to freezer bags. It is not necessary to thaw before baking. Bake on parchment paper at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. They will brown pretty well (there is a LOT of butter in the dough), but you can also brush them with egg yolk before baking.

Fillings: You can fill them with almost anything (a good way to finish off leftovers). Empanadas traditionally have meat fillings, but I don’t eat meat. We made six kinds (four of which are shown in our photo).

  • Sautéed red peppers and shallots, harissa, mozzarella
  • Sautéed Swiss chard (from our garden), shallots, almonds, raisins, Swiss cheese
  • Tuna, cilantro sauce, mayonnaise, corn, shredded carrots, raisins (an attempt to mimic my favorite tuna sandwich at Pedro’s Brazil Café in Berkeley)
  • Sautéed mushrooms and shallots, blue cheese
  • Trader Joe’s Cuban black beans (well-drained), cheddar cheese
  • Sautéed broccoli, garlic, mayonnaise, pecans, blue cheese.

My favorite is the tuna, but I also like the one with Swiss chard and raisins – a side dish I make frequently. When the first four fillings on the above list were used up and we still had dough, I came up with the fifth, the black beans and cheddar, which was my least favorite, and the last one, using leftover broccoli.

Sheila is an Adjunct Professor Emerita in Cal’s Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Prior to her retirement in January 2016, she  had a research lab at the USDA/ARS-UC-Berkeley Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany studying the molecular biology of plant reproduction. Sheila has also contributed articles to the Splash Pad News, including a series of neighborhood walks, and continues to regularly help with editing. Until his retirement, Sheila’s husband, Paul Herzmark, was a Research Specialist in UC Berkeley’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, where he specialized in two-photon microscopy in an immunology lab. Before that he was in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF.