When Sarah and I were kids, my dad would occasionally whip out one of the rarer of gems in his arsenal of recipes for delicious fried foods: the empanada. Okay, so we weren’t Top Chef-ing it up or anything—we used pre-made Goya wrappers. But they turned out perfectly crispy and crunchy every time, and the filling was meaty, spicy, and packed with oozy, melty cheese.
And so, I decided to revive the empanada, not just because it’s the Hotpocket’s way cooler cousin, but because we could all use a little bit of shameless gooey cheese and beef time in our lives every once in a while.
Unbeknownst to my 7-year old brain is that when it comes to empanadas, there are two camps—the bakers and the fryers. A rudimentary search for recipes will yield great recipes for baked empanadas. And great recipes for fried empanadas.
However, all of these recipes are slightly different. What is the difference between a baked and a fried empanada recipe? The filling? The spices?? The dough?!! Was I missing something? Was there some cultural secret that I wasn’t privy to? I’m sure there are a lot of regional nuances to whether empanadas are baked or fried (if you have some insights, share in the comments!), but I decided to create a recipe that explores both sides of this delicious, golden-brown, meat-and-cheese-filled pocket of deliciousness to take the guesswork out of recipe development and keep the best of both worlds—baked and fried.
For all you gringos out there, yes, I can attest that this beef empanada recipe is just as good baked or fried, and you don’t have to change ANY ingredients one way or the other.
Scroll down to view the recipe card with the full list of ingredients. Read on for detailed instructions with step-by-step photos.
First, make the empanada dough. In a mixing bowl, add the melted lard or shortening, flour, and hot water. Mix it until it comes together into a smooth ball of dough, adding a little more flour if necessary (depending on the humidity in your kitchen). Refrigerate the dough for one hour.
Next, make the empanada filling. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Brown the ground beef. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Next, add the Spanish olives, the chili peppers, the sun-dried tomato, the spices, sugar, and salt.
Stir to combine, and let cook for an additional few minutes.
Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the tomato paste, stirring the entire mixture thoroughly to dissolve it, and let cook until the water has cooked off and the filling has thickened.
Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Next, prep your dough! On a clean, floured work surface, roll the dough into a 1/8-inch layer. Using a round cookie cutter (or cup/bowl) in the size of your choice (you could make teeny tiny finger food empanadas instead of the bigger ones we made!), cut out as many rounds as you can. Peel away the spare dough and transfer back into the refrigerator.
For each empanada, spoon filling into the middle of the dough and top with a generous amount of cheese, ensuring you have enough margin around the edge of the dough to fold it over and seal the empanada. You can also stretch the dough out a bit into an oval shape and put the filling on one half of the dough, to make the folding process easier. Fold in half and crimp the edges, either with a fork, or if you want to be fancy, with a traditional twisting technique. (YouTube is your friend!) Repeat these steps with all of the dough rounds, and repeat the rolling out & cutting process until there is no leftover dough.
If you are baking the empanadas, heat your oven to 400 degrees. Brush the empanadas with oil prior to baking, and bake for 10-15 minutes.
If you are frying the empanadas, heat a small, deep pot with enough oil to submerge a couple empanadas. Heat the oil to 350 degrees, and fry the empanadas until golden brown, in small batches of 2-3 (depending on the size of your pot and your empanadas). When they’re cooked through, transfer to a wire rack or a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.
Eat these beef and cheese empanadas on their own or with a nice salad!