From Leftovers to Empanadas

Empanadas are hand held pies that are very popular all throughout the Latin and Spanish speaking counties all over the world.  The name empanada comes from the Spanish word empanar, which means to encase in bread.   We think of them as being Spanish in origin, since they are so prevalent in the Spanish world, however, they actually have their beginnings from The Middle East, in what was Persia, or what is now known in the modern day, as Iran.  Empanadas can be traced back as far as 250 BC.  They were used as a way to both preserve the food as well as to make it highly portable for the people on the go.  They were the perfect food for nomadic cultures, shepherds and soldiers alike.  At first, they were made of fillings that were encased in a rustic dough that was not originally meant to be eaten, but that quickly changed and morphed into the whole pocket being edible, as it has been ever since.  Some form of meat pockets are found all over the world, or wherever the Ottoman Empire left its mark.  The British and their “colonies” have pasties.  Italy calls them calzones, Jamaica calls them patties and India knows them as samosas.  In the Middle East, they are called fatays or esfiha, and they are still made in the old traditional ways, with lamb, raisins and spices.  Once these meat pockets found their way into Spain, and from there to all the Spanish speaking lands, they simply became known as empanadas.  They were brought to the Americas in the 1500’s when the Spanish conquistadores first arrived in the New World.  Originally, they were stuffed with the foods found from the land or sea, depending on the location.  Today, they are filled with many types of fillings, both savory and sweet.  They are still loved by all and are eaten everywhere.

I make empandadas all the time.  We love them.  They are easy to make, delicious to eat, and basically anything goes for the filling.  Without even knowing it though, I made them in the very old, traditional way yesterday.  I was just trying to clean out my refrigerator and use up as many leftovers as possible since we leave for vacation tomorrow.  I just started grabbing the leftover little bits of this and the little bits of that and threw everything together to make my filling.  Empanadas can be baked or fried, and I have made them both ways, but I definitely prefer them fried.   They almost melt in your mouth when fried.


I have made them so many different ways.  There is no right or wrong way to make them or to fill them.  This is but one of countless ways.

I just use my basic go-to-dough. Pie for Pi day,  then roll it out and cut it large circles when making empanadas.


As I said above, for my filling, I literally went threw my fridge and used up what I had.  I had some leftover rice, pulled pork and a dash a yellow pepper coulis that were my base.  Then I added some fresh spinach, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, jalapeno, Peruvian peppers, and seasonings to make it complete.


I sauteed the spinach, jalapeno, onions and garlic and seasonings until everything was cooked and the onions were translucent.  Then I combined them with the rest of the filling ingredients and mixed everything together.



Once my filling was made, I cut out my dough circles and filled the empanadas.  Fill about 2 TBSP of filling in the center of the dough (depending on the size you make.  I made mine about 4×4″ in diameter), dab your finger in some egg wash and rub around the edge of one side, then fold the dough over so the two ends meet.  Press the dough firmly, to lock and seal it, and to make sure no liquid or juices can escape from the pocket.  Crimp or press the edges with the prongs of a fork to make sure the emapanada is completely sealed.  When they are all done, brush egg wash over the tops and sides of the meat pockets.  You can either chill them before cooking, or just cook directly.  You can pan fry them in hot oil for about 5 minutes or until they are golden brown all over or you can bake them in the oven at 350* F for about 20 or so minutes, or until the are golden brown and crispy.  I prefer the fried version, but the baked version is a little healthier.


Once the empanadas were done, I topped them with some salsa, served some rice on the side and it was time to eat.  Desfruitas!




Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for over 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

3 thoughts on “From Leftovers to Empanadas”

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