Empanaditas de Yuca (Cassava Empanadas) are delicious, gluten-free empanadas made with cassava flour, and that has a surprising crunchiness.
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It was love at first sight with Señor Catibias, the Cassava Flour Empanadas seller, and complete infatuation with Don Queso de Hoja, the cheese vendor, whose, uh, balls of cheese were always the freshest…
Oh, how I miss the street vendors. All vendors really, but in particular, and in no small part due to their multitude, the food vendors. I could set my watch on my 5 o’clock catibías. And without fail, at six, the pastelitero would appear with his hot, savory pastries, clanking the lid of his big tin and cachú (ketchup) in tow.
Also a welcome sight, was Mr. Lambicero, ambling down the street with his giant Tupperware full of conch salad, served to you in a styrofoam cup, complete with a lemon wedge; a nice treat on a Sunday.
There are too many other snack vendors to mention further (the boiled egg kids, the chicharrones guy, the old man, and his corn-on-the-cob, etc., etc.), to cater to your every craving. Now if only they would adhere to some standard of decency in regards to the volumes of their loudspeakers, it would be a perfect street vendor world.
What is Catibía?
Catibía is the name for the tapioca flour empanadas that can be found more often than not on street frituras, or by street vendors. Technically, though, catibía is the cassava flour from which the yuca empanada dough is made, but over time the empanada de yuca was also called catibías, possibly because it is the only thing traditionally made from tapioca in the Dominican Republic.
About our yuca empanada recipe
Our recipe is made from ready-made tapioca flour, which you can buy at the supermarket, or you can make from scratch with our recipe. I prefer the homemade tapioca recipe in our blog instead of the store-bought yuca flour for two reasons: The homemade one is fresher, and thus produces an empanada with better taste, the second is that empanadas made with fresh, homemade tapioca were much prettier and crispier.
The recipe also gives you many ways to adapt these empanaditas to different tastes and diets. This is an excellent gluten-free empanada recipe, as well as a paleo empanada. If you want you can use these gluten-free empanada shells to fill with other stuffings of your choice. And it’s, by far, Aunt Clara’s favorite savory cassava recipe.
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 de Yuca (Cassava Empanadas)
For the beef filling
- 1 tbsp olive oil [10g]
- 1 red onion (small-sized, minced [40 g])
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed [15g]
- 1/2 lb [113g] of ground beef
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce [60g]
- 1/2 bell pepper (diced [76g] )
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon of pepper (or more, to taste)
- 1 sprig of cilantro (optional)
For the dough
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of cativia (cassava flour or tapioca)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2 cups vegetable oil (corn, peanut or soy), divided
For the cheese filling
- 1/2 cup of diced cheddar
For the filling
- Find instructions and video for filling here. We’re using plain beef filling without the optional ingredients. Notice that for this recipe we’re halving the ingredients. Set aside.
To make the dough
- Heat water to boiling point. Leave simmering over low heat.
- Mix cativía, salt and 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Pour 1/4 cup of boiling-hot water and mix with a spatula. If the dough looks too dry, add more boiling water by the tablespoon, mixing each time until you have a coherent dough, but slightly on the dry side. Make sure not to add too much water.
- Knead the dough until it is elastic but neither too sticky, nor too crumbly. It should resemble regular flour dough. If at any point it is too dry, or not elastic enough, add very small quantities of water and knead (see notes).
- Divide the dough into 8 balls of equal size. On a lightly oiled surface roll out the balls forming thin disks. You may need to grease the rolling pin too if sticks too much.
- Put a tablespoon of the beef (or a few dices of cheese) in the center, double over in a semi-circle and seal the border pressing it with a fork. Cut into a semicircle using a small bowl.
- Heat oil in a small pan (so you have at least 2 inches [5cm] of oil) over medium-high heat. Deep fry the empanadas submerged in very hot oil until they are golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pot so the temperature remains evenly hot. Place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- Serve immediately after frying. You can store the empanadas prior to frying by placing them on greased wax paper and covering tightly with plastic film. I haven’t tried freezing them, so I am not sure if they can be stored this way.