Out of the fryer & into the oven: Lightened-up Colombian empanadas


colombian empanadas

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Colombian empanadas are a national treasure. Well, maybe not, but the Colombian version of the basic beef patty — popular in Jamaica, Venezuela and Argentina, to name just a few places — is certainly delicious.

Mama Gomez has shared her recipe for empanadas and the spicy aji sauce that accompanies the dish. The catch, of course, is that these decadent beef patties are deep-fried, so we took the recipe out of the deep fryer and into the oven instead.


For the empanada dough (called “masa” in Spanish):

  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal (harina de maíz)

  • 1 tablespoon butter (or margarine)

  • Salt to taste

  • 2 cups warm water


In a bowl, add butter and salt to cornmeal. Slowly pour in some warm water and start kneading — use your hands or a hand mixer. Keep adding warm water until your dough is smooth. You should be able to form a very thin arepa (like, but not exactly, a tortilla) with it. You don’t want to add so much water that the dough becomes saturated and breaks apart in your hands — in other words, you might not need the entire 2 cups of warm water. Set aside while you prepare the meat filling.


For the meat filling:

  • 2 medium potatoes (1 large one will do nicely)

  • 1 tomato, diced (optional)

  • 1 small onion, diced

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (skip if you’re a hater)

  • 2 tablespoons chopped green bell peppers (or red, if you like)

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon oregano

  • Salt to taste

  • Pepper to taste (optional)


Throw your potatoes into a pot of water and let those babies boil until you can stick a fork through them, so you can dice them up later. In fact, do this before you even begin preparing the dough so you can let them cool.

In the meantime, start chopping, dicing and mincing your ingredients. Now, Mama Gomez makes spicy ají sauce to complement this dish. If you want to skip the sauce and still want a spicy kick, then go ahead and chop up a jalapeno or the hot pepper of your choice and include it in the filling. When the potatoes are ready and cool enough to handle, dice them up.

Add a tablespoon of oil to your pan and fire up your stove. Keep the flame medium-to-low, skewing more toward medium. Add your ingredients except for the diced potatoes and beef. Stir while enjoying the smells wafting up your nostrils and activating your appetite, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and beef, and make sure you cook that meat all the way through.

If you don’t care for beef, you can use chicken or sausage; and if you don't eat meat at all, you can use mock meat or extra vegetables. In addition to mock meats, vegetarians can try cheese empanadas, broccoli and cheese empanadas, or any veggie combination you desire.



When the filling is cooked, you are ready to start sculpting nommy goodness. Grab your dough and form a thin, round tortilla. Place it on a sandwich bag or wax paper. Spoon some filling onto the left side of the circle. Flip the right side over the filling carefully, and close up the patty so it doesn’t come apart.

When you’re done assembling your patties, take a look at your deep fryer and say bye-bye. Preheat your oven to 375, and bake your empanadas for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Your heart will thank you for it, and you’ll be able to enjoy a Colombian treat without courting heart disease.


For the ají:

  • 1 ripe tomato, diced

  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons diced scallions

  • 3 jalapeños (or the hot peppers of your choice)

  • 2 lemons

  • 1 ounce water (room temperature is fine)

  • 1 teaspoon oregano

  • Salt to taste


In a bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the lemons and water. Squeeze those lemons over your mixture. Add the water. Add the oregano and salt and stir, baby, stir. Taste it — if you think it’s too sour, add more water until you are satisfied.


How to nom

Whether you deep-fry or bake your empanadas, what you do now is take a bite out of your beef patty and then add a teaspoonful of ají inside it before taking another bite; repeat this process until you’re done.

Ají, like empanadas, varies from cook to cook and from kitchen to kitchen, even within one culture, but this recipe can be used as a jumping-off point that you can feel free to change, according to what your taste buds desire.