Thanksgiving Empanadas

Empanadas are filled savory pastries common in Spain, Latin America, and Portugal.  The word ‘empanada’ comes from the Spanish verb emapanar which means “to coat in a pastry” which is better known as “delicious.”  I was first taught to make empanadas by a Dominican friend in grad school.  Hers were filled with ground beef and cheese (and of course some sofrito, green olives, and raisins) then fried on the stovetop and so very tasty. My version for the holidays have turkey, sage, and cranberry… Thanksgiving in a pastry.

Friends in New Jersey were always saying how they wished they had a cooking club up there.  So, we finally started one.  We’re using the same rules as the one in Maryland that I belong to: make something from scratch that you’ve never made before, follow the theme the hostess chooses, and bring containers to take home leftovers.  The first one was held at my parents’ house in October and was a great success.  There will be more on that in blog post soon J It was a smashing success and has started a new tradition in NJ.

The fabulous girls from NJ Cooking Club.
Some I’ve known since Kindergarten, some since High School, and some since College. Love you girls!

My long-time (since Kindergarten!) friend Amy hosted the second one at her lovely new house in early November.  The theme was Thanksgiving Feast – sort of a tryout for things you might want to be making for your family on Turkey Day this year.  I love this cute line Amy put in her evite:  “So get the elastic banded pants out girls, Thanksgiving is coming early this year!”  I should have heeded her advice, we sure did have a feast!  I felt like I needed to be rolled out of there and couldn’t even really eat dessert; I actually had to bring it home to eat.


There wasn’t anything interesting I wanted to try out so I decided to put all the flavors of Thanksgiving into one little bite:  Thanksgiving empanadas! They turned out great and apparently some friends dreamt about them. How’s that for a compliment?!

I promised the recipe, so here it is. These would make a great appetizer to the Turkey Day meal or a fun party appetizer or a fabulous use of Thanksgiving leftovers.  I used ground turkey in my original recipe but I think dicing up leftover turkey and using that instead would be awesome.

Thanksgiving Empanadas


2 tbl oil

1 medium onion

1 large rib celery

2 carrots (or about 15 baby carrots)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 lb ground turkey

½ cup green olives, chopped

½ cup craisins (dried cranberries), chopped

¼ cup ketchup

⅔ cup chicken/turkey stock or apple cider

2 star anise, freshly ground (or ½ tsp pre-ground)

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt

¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 tbl fresh sage

Pastry dough (adapted slightly from Cooks Illustrated):

3½ cups flour, plus extra for work surface

½ cup ground tortilla chips (or masa harina if you have it)

1 tbl sugar

1 tbl salt

12 tbl (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

½ cup cold vodka or tequila (all I had was citron vodka and it worked fine)

½ cup cold water

5 tbl olive oil (for baking empanadas)

To make the filling: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Chop all vegetables into a small dice (remember they have to blend in and fit inside a dough pocket). Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic together until fragrant and almost translucent. Add in the ground turkey, stirring and breaking it up. After cooking for a few minutes, add in the green olives, craisins, ketchup, stock(or cider), and all the herbs and spices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the turkey is just cooked through. Check the seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or other flavor to your taste.  Remove from the heat and let the filling cool while making the dough.

To make the dough: Process 1 ½ cup flour, tortilla chips, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, a couple of pulses. Sprinkle the cubes of butter in and process until the mixture is homogeneous and looks like wet sand, about 10 seconds. Add remaining flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Transfer to a large bowl.

Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture. Using hands, mix dough until it forms sticky mass that holds together. Divide dough into quarters to make it easier to work with later. Put on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes (can make ahead and store for up to 2 days).

To assemble your treats: Turn oven on to 425 degrees. Adjust oven racks to the two middle positions, if necessary. Cover two baking sheets with foil and place in the oven to pre-heat. Meanwhile, remove ¼ piece of dough from refrigerator. Lightly flour your work surface and roll dough out into a rectangle that’s about ⅛” thick. Using a large biscuit cutter or other round cutter, cut as many circles in the rectangle of dough as you can. I found that 3 – 4” circle of dough worked best. You can make much larger ones to use as a main course. These are appetizer sized.

Place about a tablespoon of filling in center of each dough round. Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling. Press edges to seal and trim off any excess. Crimp edges of empanadas using a fork. You can also complete this step with an empanada press (a little plastic doo-hickey that looks like a bear trap). I made them both ways but did the majority with the empanada bear trap because I really wanted to use my $3.75 (75% off!) find at Bed Bath and Beyond. 🙂 Repeat with the remaining dough. You can even re-form the dough scraps a couple times, then re-roll out to get the most empanadas out of your batch.

Now, at this point you can go traditional and fry these little guys up in some oil. Put about an inch of vegetable oil in a deep skillet and fry them until they are golden brown. Or, you can go the healthier, yet still delicious, route and bake them.

To bake’em: Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet and spread around with a pastry brush. Line your empanadas up on the baking sheet and brush lightly with oil to help them get a tan in the oven. Cook until golden brown – about 20 minutes. Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.

These would be really tasty dipped in some leftover homemade cranberry sauce (quick recipe below) or cranberry dip (combine a ½ cup of mayo, ½ cup of sour cream, and ½ cup cranberry sauce). Yummm. Is it Thanksgiving yet?!

Quick (and EASY) Cranberry Sauce

3 cups fresh cranberries

¾ cup white sugar (more if you like it on the sweet side)

¾ cup water (or orange juice)

Pinch salt

Pinch cinnamon

Put everything in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly. The cranberries will heat and begin to burst open (fun!). In about 10 – 15 minutes, they’ll really start breaking down. Cook until mixture is a little thickened and the cranberries have fully broken down. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill at least an hour. It will thicken as it cools. Enjoy!


This entry was posted in appetizer, Brunch, Cooking Club, cranberry, dip, Holiday, Holidays, Latin American, Leftovers, Mexican, Party Ideas, Portuguese, Thanksgiving, turkey, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thanksgiving Empanadas

  1. What a GREAT way to creatively utilize leftovers! We actually made a calzone using a pizza dough ball- not only did the kids “gobble” it up, but it was thinking outside the box and keeping it fun! I love the individual empanada idea. They look SEXY!!

  2. Babygirl says:

    These empanadas look great and wonderful pictures

  3. rsmacaalay says:

    I love emapadas, In Philippines we have the chicken version and yes it is of Spanish origin as well. The flavours you have in this recipe is really good with craisins and star anise the flavours would really mix well with the turkey.


  4. Kathryn Coulibaly says:

    What a great idea! I love it when recipes mash up different cultures – and come up with something delicious.

    Thanks so much for sharing your idea!


  5. Mike says:

    I’ve never made these yet, but looking at those photos,
    I know I HAVE to.

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