Portable Fun: Empanadas in Remembrance of BGSK’s Brown Bag Challenge

Big Girls Small Kitchen/Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge: July 10-16, 2011; a week during which two surrounded-by-expensive-take-out New Yorkers challenged the world to BRING their lunch to work instead of $$$$$$$$ every day, and challenged food bloggers to share ideas on upgrading from turkey on wheat.

I was on vacation this week eating out every single day, so I was unable to spread the word, HOWEVER, no value is closer to my heart than bringing my own lunch! Besides not murdering or lying and PERHAPS stealing, but that’s kind of a form of lying. As such, I thought it was better late than never to give my contribution and my props to this important concept!

The recipe I wanted to share as a portable lunch idea is the empanada, a pocket of dough that can contain any filling you choose, kind of like a mini-calzone. Or a Hot Pocket that got a Top Model makeover with boy hair and at first she cried but then she was like “YEAH, NBD, TYRA THINKS I HAVE GREAT CHEEKBONES, heh-heh-heh.” In the confessional. They are neat and self-contained and freeze well.

Assembling these little pastries can be a bit time consuming I will admit, but you get a few meals for your troubles. I made a double batch as pictured below ready to be transformed.

The original filling for the dough recipe is potato, pepper and Chorizo, which certainly sounds worthwhile. I did one batch of black bean, onion and cheese, and one chicken and cheese because that is what I like and what Adam likes, respectively.

I found that 3 cups of filling and 1 1/2 cups of cheese was a proportional amount to the dough. So go with that and do whatever fillings you dig. The only thing is to use pre-cooked fillings; cook your meat, saute your veggies unless you like them super crunchy, etc.

The dough is buttery and flaky kind of like a biscuit. I just like it a lot and make it over and over. The deets:

Empanada Dough
Recipe from Epicurious

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar


1. Stir together flour and salt in a large bowl.
2. Blend the butter and flour together by smushing the pieces of butter between your fingers and thumbs until the pieces of butter get smaller and more incorporated into the flour. At the end, the mixture should have pea-sized lumps of butter evenly distributed throughout.
3. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. Hands are helpful here, too.
4. Place mixture on a lightly floured surface pushing it into a cohesive ball, then knead gently with heel of your hand until the dough sticks together completely.
5. Form dough into a flat rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, up to a couple days.

Black Bean and Onion Empanadas

  • 1 med. yellow onion, diced and sauteed, a little more than 1 1/2 cups cooked
  • 1 can (15.5oz) black beans, a little more than 1 1/2 cups
  • 3 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2oz cream cheese (1/4 of 8oz package), softened
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese- cheddar, colby jack or a Mexican blend work well
  • Prepared dough from recipe above

For Chicken Empanadas: Substitute beans and onions with 3 chicken breasts, cooked and seasoned to your liking, diced, about 3 cups (rotisserie chicken is fine, too)


1. Pre-heat oven to 400F
2. Mix all ingredients except for shredded cheese in a bowl making sure cream cheese and spices are evenly distributed. Taste to make sure the seasonings are to your liking and start with less hot sauce if you’re unsure about it. You can mix in shredded cheese here too for ease, but I find you can taste it more when it’s in its own layer. Gotta taste that cheese.
3. On a lightly-floured surface, roll prepared dough into a 12″x18″ rectangle (or thereabouts). You can do this right from the fridge. It will warm up.
4.  Using a round cookie cutter or rim of a glass, cut out as many circles as you can from the dough, re-rolling the scraps each time. My glass measured 3.5″ across, which made 18 empanadas.
5. Fill half of each circle with 1tbsp filling, if using the measurements above. Use more or less accordingly.
6. Add half as much shredded cheese to the top of the filling. You’ll notice you have 3 cups filling and 1 1/2 cups cheese, so….
7. Fold each dough circle in half and press shut with fingers.
8. If desired, use a fork to press pockets shut in the same manner for increased empanada security.
9. Arrange on parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet and bake 25 minutes or until dough feels firm and slightly crispy.

Makes 18 empanadas with a 3.5″ diameter. I’d set aside three to five of them (of this size) for a filling meal. Kind of like chicken tenders, 3 or 5-piece.

Lunchtime: These keep well in the freezer for a couple months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator or microwave on high power for 90 seconds, maybe slightly less for vege empanadas. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes in the toaster oven at your place of employment. If not, microwave until heated through, probably an additional minute– less crispy, sorry. If not, you gotta eat ’em cold. Sorry sorry.

I brought Adam Linder— yeah, seriously, I’m just gonna hyperlink his name from now on, I mean it’s the least I can do. I don’t yell at concerts (or ever) so I can’t “woo hoo” my approval, so this is my way of telling the good people about his art…–I brought Adam Linder these empanadas on his lunch break at his brand new job where he wears polo shirts. The verdict? Yes, they are everything I said they would be because I do not lie, as non-skimmers will remember from earlier in the post.

We ate outside, but if we ate inside his co-workers would probs be jealous. At my old job my co-workers were always jealous of my awesome lunch. That’s the goal here. Payce.


About Jen Cantin

Follow Jen Cantin on Twitter if you have nothing better to do! Wouldn’t want to impose… Two cats and three times more ‘tude than the leading car insurance provider.
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