Columbian Empanadas

When we sailed into Santa Marta, Columbia, we had no idea what fantastic food would be there to great us. And we didn’t have to go far to look for it. Street vendors were everywhere, selling arepas and empanadas from their mobile stands by the beaches and sidewalks. Unlike my co-pirate’s Easy Empanadas that use convenient prepared pie crust, these use a dough made from the Columbian and Venezuelan staple, masarepa. The dough is very simple to make and does not need to be rolled out like you would Jamaican Meat Patties or Jerk Chicken Pies. You merely roll the dough into small balls and flatten it with your hand, a pan or a plate before you fill them. The Goya Sazon with Azafran (or Goya Sazon con Achiote) gives them a bright orange color which you don’t see in every empanada recipe.

Coming into beautiful Santa Marta, after a few days sail from St. Lucia. Great food awaits us!

Empanadas, or any meat pies, are perfect cruising food as they can be made ahead and frozen. They are a meal in a hand and great for heavy seas sailing and night watch nourishment.

Columbian Empanadas

Dough or Masa
1 ½ cups masarepa (precooked yellow cornmeal)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 package Goya Sazon with Azafran or Achiote, or more to taste
½ teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil for frying

2 cups peeled and diced white potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onions
1 cup chopped tomato
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped green onions
3 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoon chopped red bell pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2+ pound ground beef

Limes for serving

To prepare the dough: Place the masarepa in a large bowl. Add the Goya Sazon and salt and stir to mix well. Add the water and oil and mix to form a soft dough. Pat the dough into a ball and knead for 2 minutes or until smooth. Cover with plastic and set in your ice box for 20 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Cook the potatoes in a pot of salted water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and gently mash the potatoes. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, green onions, garlic, bell pepper, cilantro, salt and black pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, for 10 to 15 minutes or until beef is cooked through and the mixture is fairly dry.

Transfer the meat mixture to the mashed potatoes bowl and mix well to combine.

Break small portions of the dough, about 1 ½ tablespoons each one, and form each portion into a ball by rolling between the palms of your hands. 

Just using your hands, flatten each ball into a circle about 1/8″ thick on a well floured cutting board. Or place the balls of dough between two pieces of floured plastic wrap and roll each out very thinly to form a circle. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of the flattened dough.

If using the plastic wrap method, take the plastic underneath, fold the dough over to enclose the filling, forming a half circle. Tightly seal the edges by crimping with the tines of a fork. If you just flattened the dough out on a cutting board, you may need to use a thin spatula to fold over the dough. Crimp  with fingers or fork.

Heat 2″-3″ of vegetable oil in a large pan until it starts to smoke or reaches 360º. (I like to use the “popcorn kernel test.” Throw a popcorn kernel into the oil. When it pops the oil is hot enough to fry in.) Carefully place 3 or 4 empanadas at the time in the heated oil and fry for about 2 minutes until golden. Flip and fry the other side.

Using a slotted spoon transfer the empanadas to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve with limes.

We ran into Milton on the dock. He was starving. Late guests, no lunch yet. I was reluctant to offer him an empanada because, being from El Salvador and a fabulous cook himself, I wasn’t sure these were up to true Latino standards. He took one bite and said they brought back memories of his childhood; these were just like the ones he grew up on in El Salvador. He thought they were delicious. Or maybe it was because he was starving.

They were enjoyed by Jamie and Alyson on our afternoon cruise as well. Perfect no-mess, no-utensils sailing food!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.