These Puerto Rican Empanadillas are made with fried buttery pie dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef, peppers and olives.
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Even with all of its beauty and splendor, my fondest memories about Puerto Rico all revolve around food.
Whether it was stopping at a roadside shop to see a coconut freshly plucked from a tree, chopped open with a machete, and handed over with a straw or visiting a local panaderia (bakery), it was always an unforgettable experience.
The bakeries were usually full of amazingly decadent sweets, but I was always pulled to the savory section.
And that’s where I discovered empanadillas.
Empanadillas are a lovely blend of buttery, flaky pie dough stuffed with the most delicious ground beef seasoned with traditional Puerto Rican spices, tomato, sofrito and olives. These savory hand pies are then lightly fried until golden brown and crisp around the edges.
Here’s what you’ll need to make these:
For the dough:
- Lard or Crisco (you can use butter if you don't have either)
OR your favorite premade pie dough!
For the filling (picadillo):
- Tomato sauce
- 1 lb ground beef
- Pimento stuffed olives, sliced
- Adobo seasoning
Empanadas vs. empanadillas vs. pastelillos
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out the difference between these three… you’re not alone.
I’ve heard this popular treat being called by the name empanadas, empanadillas and pastelillos.
Originally I thought the difference was a simple change in cooking method (I thought empanadas were baked and empanadillas were fried).
Now I’m pretty certain that they are all names for the same treat.
Depending on what area you grew up or which neighborhood your family is from you may have one you grew up with.
Making the filling (picadillo)
Picadillo is one of those Puerto Rican recipes I just can’t get enough of. You know those recipes your mom made as a child that you couldn’t stop sneaking into the kitchen to grab a bite of? This is it for me.
The layers of flavor developed with sofrito, sazon, adobo seasoning take the ground beef to a place where it really shines.
It’s so good, even as an adult I would totally eat a bowl of picadillo on it’s own. No shame.
If you don’t have sofrito, you can substitute it for some minced onion, garlic and bell peppers.
Once the sofrito becomes fragrant in a pan over medium heat, you can add in the tomato sauce and ground beef. Continue to stir until the meat is cooked fully.
Many people add in diced potatoes at this point, but I prefer to leave them out.
From there you add the chopped olives and all of the seasonings and your picadillo is ready to be stuffed into the dough for our empanadillas and fried.
Making the dough
Making the dough for empanadillas from scratch is a lot easier than you might think. It’s essentially a pie dough, so I recommend using your favorite pie dough recipe if you have one!
I’m using the trifecta of flour, lard and ice water to make a super flaky and buttery dough.
I find it helpful to use ice water to keep the lard nice and cold while we mix it with the flour. From there you can add the water a bit at a time, while kneading the dough until a consistently smooth dough is formed.
Cover and chill your dough for a bit before rolling out and using a small bowl or cookie cutter to make circular discs.
These discs will be topped with filling, folded in half like hand pies and sealed with a fork.
Store bought vs. homemade dough
Let me start by saying I 100% support using store bought dough for this recipe.
Obviously freshly made pie dough is a special experience in itself and will certainly add some love to this recipe, but in a pinch I will absolutely buy a premade pie dough and cut out discs, or use this premade empanada dough if I can find it at the store.
So whether you’ve can’t find the time to make your dough from scratch or you really couldn’t care less about how it happens, know that store bought will result in equally delicious empanadillas.