Empanadas are one of the most traditional Latin-American dishes, with their origin in the north of Spain, introduced by the moors during their occupation of the Iberian peninsula. Today you can find empanadas in almost any high street in Latin America as one of our favourite street snacks. There are lots of types of empanadas, and different varieties are typical of different territories, both the filling and the pastry can be made with different ingredients. Beef, chicken, pork, or fish, which may or may not be mixed with vegetables, are all to be found. The empanada dough is generally made with wheat-flour, and can be either baked or fried, but in countries like Colombia and Ecuador, empanadas are made with cooked corn or cornmeal, which makes them a bit more crunchy. In the Caribbean the dough is sometimes made with a black bean puree. Empanadas are best served hot and are usually accompanied with a spicy salsa.

Depending on the size empanadas can be served as a canapĂ©, starter, main course, or even dessert – obviously depending on the filling. Empanadas de Cambrai are a particular favourite in parts of Colombia, the pastry is made with cassava flour, and the empanada is filled with a sweet guava paste, rather like Spanish membrillo. Empanadas are a good party dish as they can be made in advance and fried or baked just before you serve them.

In this article I want to give you a recipe for the Empanadas Paisas, which are traditional from Antioquia and the coffee region of Colombia where I come from. As a child I knew that if my mother was making empanadas, we were expecting a visitor. We all learned the trade from our mother, but out of five brothers and sisters my sisters Nidia and Liliana are the empanada queens. Nidia, whose recipes I’m sharing with you, makes them using shredded beef, her empanadas are smaller, Liliana minces the beef and makes them bigger. This just goes to show, that even in the same family, the basis may be the same but the detail is very much a personal preference.

Empanadas Paisas (beef and potato patties)


  • 500 grams beef brisket
  • 20 grams each of spring and red onions, chopped
  • 10 grams cumin seedsSalt and pepper
  • 40 ml of vegetable oil
  • 500 ml of water
  • 125 grams each of chopped red onions and chopped spring onions
  • 4 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 400 grams (4 medium-sized) potatoes, boiled in their skins
  • 500 grams dry yellow corn or you can use cornmeal

Sauté the additional onions and spring onions in oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry an additional 3 or 4 minutes. Mix in the ground meat and meat stock and cook for about 10 minutes. Peel and mash the cooled, boiled potatoes and add them to the meat and vegetable mixture. Mix the salt, pepper and ground cumin seed into the meat and potato mixture. If you can find it, add triguisar which is a saffron mix you can get at the Latin markets for the seasoning.

Boil the dry yellow corn meal in sufficient water to cover the corn, for about halfan hour. The key to good dough is not to overcook the corn. Put the cooked corn through a grinder. Alternatively you can use cornmeal, follow the instructions on the packet, and make sure the cornmeal is cooked otherwise the dough is going to crumble.

To the ground corn adds salt. Knead the dough until it is thoroughly mixed and form a firm ball. Pick off small pieces and form into the size of small balls. Flatten each piece thin, with the help of a piece of plastic and a rolling pin. Put about 1 spoonful of the meat mixture in the centre of the flattened ball, depending on how big you would like to make them. Fold over and pinch edges together to close and form a pretty edge, using a cup, form a half moon, cut it, put them in the fridge, until you are ready to fry. Place in deep, hot vegetable oil and fry about 3 or 4 minutes until golden brown. Remove and put on paper towels in a colander. Serve immediately or reheat in a paper bag in the oven prior to using. The meat mixture can be made in advance and stored in the freezer, but the dough must be made fresh the day of use.

Makes about 60 empanadas

Served with Aji