Empanaditas / Pastelitos (Savory Turnovers)

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A party’s not a party without a picadera – I may have that printed on a t-shirt, seriously — especially not without Empanaditas and Pastelitos (Savory Turnovers).

My experience with picadera in the DR is that you have to be pretty forceful to get any. If it’s a table laid out with food, you want to elbow your way in there, because, don’t be fooled, it’s not food that’s going to linger around all night. It’s a one-time deal and like runners at the start –line, it’s a mad dash once the party giver has given the signal that the eating may begin. It may even represent the end of the party, because once the food is gone, what’s the point in hanging around? Get in while the getting is good. And then get out.

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There is low-budget picadera and high-budget picadera. Crackers and cheese on the low-end, with huge wedges of salami. High-budget picadera I have less experience with, but we went to a lavish wedding once where the buffet was tantalizing (shrimp, calamari, albondigas….) and yet not a chair to be found.

Ingenious tactic, no?

I’m sure less food was consumed because of it, and I have never forgotten the pincho de pollo (brochette) that was left uneaten because, who can eat a pincho de pollo standing up with your plate in your hands? In a manner befitting an elegant wedding, that is.

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The year I threw my most excellent Christmas party, my picadera table was a sight to behold. I did my groceries in Santiago (God bless you, Supermercado Nacional) and, apparently, had money to burn. Many different cheeses and none of them made by Rica, if you know what I mean. It was a great party, because where there is food aplenty it’s hard not to be happy. The only thing that did not go over so well was the smoked salmon – pieces of which I saw strewn all over the neighbor’s roof for days afterwards.

Jill Wyatt

Jill, a member of our original team (where we knew her as Aunt Jane), and contributor to our book, is Canadian, mom to two Canadian-Dominican boys and resided in the Dominican Republic for several years.

Empanaditas / Pastelitos Recipe (Dominican Savory Turnovers)
 
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Empanaditas and pastelitos add variety and Dominican flavor to your hors d'oeuvres platter. We are presenting a generic recipe and easy step by step. See other filling and dough choices in the notes.
Author:
Serves: 18 (aprox)
Ingredients
For the vegan filling
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup of sweet corn, boiled (1 small can)
  • ½ cup of green peas, boiled (1 small can)
  • 1 small carrot, boiled, peeled and diced
  • 1 small potato, boiled, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of hot sauce, or to taste
For the chicken filling
  • 1 lb [0.45 kg] of chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 2 sprigs of coriander chopped finely
  • ½ cup of tomato sauce
  • 1 cube of chicken bouillon
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of orégano
For the cheese filling
  • ½ lb of Gouda cheese, grated coarsely
For the dough
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus extra for working the dough
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons of cold water
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (canola, corn or soy) for adding to the dough
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg white (to seal edges)
  • 2 cups of vegetable oil (canola, corn or soy) for frying
Instructions
For the vegetable filling
  1. Heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook and stir until the onions become transparent. Stir in bell pepper, tomato, peas, carrot, potato and corn. Cover and simmer over low heat until the pepper is cooked (3-5 mins).
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the hot sauce.
  3. Cool to room temperature and reserve.
For the chicken filling
  1. Boil the chicken in two cups of water, adding a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of oregano to the water.
  2. When the chicken is tender remove from the fire and cool to room temperature.
  3. Shred the chicken very finely.
  4. Chop the onion and the green pepper into very small cubes.
  5. In a shallow pan heat two teaspoons of oil, add the onion, chicken and the green pepper, stir.
  6. Add coriander and tomato sauce. Simmer over very low heat until all the liquid has evaporated.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
For the dough
  1. Mix baking powder, salt and flour, egg, add water and oil, and mix well.
  2. Mix everything with your hands on a lightly-floured surface until everything is well mixed, don't knead the dough (add some flour to the dough is it is too sticky, a bit of water if it is too dry).
  3. Let dough rest for ten minutes covered in plastic film.
  4. On a lightly-floured surface roll out the dough.
  5. To make empanadas: Cut out circles 4" [10 cm] in diameter. Paint the inside with egg white, place a tablespoon of the chicken filling in the center of each circle, double over in a semi-circle and seal the border pressing it with a fork.

    To make pastelitos: Cut out circles of about 2.5" [6.5 cm] in diameter. Paint the inside with egg white, place a tablespoon of the chicken filling in the center of each circle, cover with another circle and seal the border pressing it with a fork.
  6. Heat oil over medium heat in a 1 qt [1lt] pot. Deep fry the pasties heat until they are golden brown on each side.
  7. Rest on a paper towel to drain excess oil before serving.
Notes
Empanadas are not unique to the Dominican Republic, in fact they can be found in pretty much every Spanish-speaking country in one shape or form and in a variety of sizes. Each Spanish-speaking country has adapted this recipe to their own tastes and favorite ingredients.

In the DR at least it is a basic component of the party platter, a quick late dinner after a night on the town and popular street fare. The difference between empanaditas and pastelitos is merely cosmetic. Pastelitos are round, whereas empanadas are half-moon shaped.

Another great thing about it is that it is pretty adaptable: Do you have vegan friends? Go with a vegan filling (like the one in the recipe), beef lovers? Then a beef filling should be your choice (borrow it from this recipe. Want something more "exotic"? How about a combination of pork and apple? Borrow it from this recipe. You can even fill them with fruits or jams and serve them as desserts. Cheese is another popular choice, gouda or emmental are great choices, but for a more Dominican touch you can make them with crumbled queso de freír (or halloumi if you don't find queso de freír).

As for dough, this is the traditional one, which is deep fried. If you are looking for an egg-free alternative, the dough for yaniqueques works well too. For a baked vegan version, try this one. Gluten-free? We didn't forget you! Try cativías, a different type of empanadas made with yuca (cassava) dough.

You will almost certainly have filling leftover. Save and add to your next soup.

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Jessica Wolski July 3, 2014, 8:43 AM

    I know this is a much older post, but I have been following your blog from some time now! It is amazing the similarities between Puerto Rican and Dominican food. I love em both too.

    Question… Can these empanaditas be baked as well? I am noticing the dough is quite a lot like a pasta dough without fat. I’m wondering if the frying helps liven the dough up? I made two vegan doughs using coconut oil and an egg replacer, flour and salt. They both came out atrocious and hard. Do you have a recipe for egg-free empanada dough for baking or any suggestions?

    Thanks!
    -Jessica

    • Aunt Clara July 10, 2014, 1:40 AM

      We have a few baked versions. Check the Party Food recipes in the Recipe menu. One of the versions is a vegan one.

  • Cutie June 11, 2014, 9:44 PM

    Love ya!!

  • larita January 31, 2014, 8:20 PM

    For the chicken recipe, one does one use the chicken boullion cube?

  • paradiso24 May 22, 2013, 9:15 AM

    Can anyone tell me what the word picadera means? I am invited to a party and the invitation says to bring “picadera”. Thanks for any help you can give.

    • Aunt Ilana May 22, 2013, 9:16 AM

      Picadera 101

      From ‘picar’ which is roughly equivalent to ‘to snack’, picadera means a buffet.

  • Adel November 21, 2011, 8:03 AM

    Aunt Clara,

    Your spanish version states to use Wheat Flour (harina de trigo) and the English version states all-purpose flower. Will using either one make a difference? I have both just in case. But would like to know which will result in the origional taste.

    • Aunt Clara November 21, 2011, 8:15 AM

      All-purpose flour is made from wheat (trigo). :)

      Good luck!

  • Tonia November 11, 2011, 5:30 PM

    Oh, and I made a vegetarian version with black beans and banana with the same fresh seasoning. Came out very good.

  • Tonia November 11, 2011, 5:29 PM

    I think the chicken is much nicer. I also like the fresh "seasonings," much better flavor, always.

  • Lynn November 7, 2011, 9:48 AM

    This recipe is great! I made them with beef, but I couldn't get the dough right…until now! Thank you so much. I am Dominican, and my kids are half English, half Dominican. We live in England, though, and I am trying my best to expose them to the gorgeous food I grew up on, but it's so hard to find things here, sometimes. This was a great treat, and really brought back memories! I made mine with a couple pounds of mince beef, an onion, lots of fresh chopped garlic, a couple hard boiled eggs, a couple of boiled potatoes, chopped green olives and some soaked raisins, all cooked down in a chicken broth. Filling was pretty close to how I remember it!

  • Aunt Clara September 27, 2011, 5:58 AM

    I just reformated the recipe so it can be printed. Good luck.

  • Mickie September 27, 2011, 5:58 AM

    Hi!

    Thanks for your reply. I just made them and they are GOOD. We're in London, England. Lived in San Cristobal DR for years and years. My daughter is 1/2 Dominican and constantly talks about Empanadas, so I decide to try and make her some. Husband has eaten about 5, so if she takes too long getting home from school there may be none left LOL – Think I have started something now! Gonna be tied to the stove…. Thanks so much for the recipe :)

  • mickie September 27, 2011, 4:44 AM

    Hi,

    I just wanted to make double sure that the amount of water is correct. 3 tablespoons? I am making it as we speak and 3 tbsp's isn't nearly enough…. am I doing something wrong? Thanks

    • Aunt Clara September 27, 2011, 5:02 AM

      It depends on the humidity where you live (here everything is wet at all times :) ), if you need more water, add some more tablespoon to tablespoon, don't overdo it or it will get too soggy.

  • Lisa August 21, 2011, 7:38 PM

    can I put baking powder instead of baking soda?

    • Aunt Clara August 23, 2011, 5:54 PM

      I don't know what would happen, but I would stick to baking soda as it is what I know works.

  • Damiana Sears August 20, 2011, 11:26 AM

    I've made them with ground turkey a favorite of my family.

  • Larita May 22, 2011, 5:33 AM

    Aunt Clara, Where is the recipe for the ground beef pastelillos??? I was able to find it on the old website, but not on the updated one

  • SHALENA KING April 5, 2011, 3:55 AM

    Thanks! I have always only made them with chicken. I also cheat with the premade discs, I buy GOYA brand. I am going to try to make them tonight with ground beef. Mis hijos les encantan pastelitos!

  • Julie Sarri April 4, 2011, 2:48 PM

    A Dominican friend showed me how she makes these and she used Adobo seasoning and garlic. She also added chopped black olives. Still used onions and peppers. They were yummy! And if you're feeling lazy Pepe makes a good premade (frozen) disco.

  • SHALENA KING April 4, 2011, 1:05 PM

    What seasoning do you use if you are making pastelitos with ground beef?

    • Aunt Clara April 14, 2011, 1:05 AM

      I never use powdered seasoning, I make mine from scratch. :)

  • gianni February 20, 2011, 7:49 AM

    @ Tonia , No it will not work if you put it in the oven because they are suppose to be kept crunchy and if you put them in the oven they will become verry soggy and burnt.

    • Tonia November 11, 2011, 5:27 PM

      Thanks! Funny, I forgot to check back for an answer. But now that I am making these again, I saw this. Thanks!

  • Tonia January 21, 2011, 12:25 PM

    Would this recipe work if I baked them in the oven? Thanks!

    • Kit June 28, 2012, 4:15 PM

      It CAN work in the oven if you add a small amount of shortening or oil to the dough. Just treat like pastry–mix until crumbly then add small amount of cold water until it holds. I make these quite frequently and BAKE them in the oven since it's healthier than frying. I got interested in the baked version because they became really popular these last few years at my local empanada joints–no doubt due to the influx of health food/freak yuppies. Will never be as good as FRIED, but the next best thing.