So, I heard you want to talk about empanadas? Let’s get into it! For these cheeseburger empanadas, I’ve taken my mom’s traditional Puerto Rican ground beef empanada recipe (and just added a little sparkle) with the addition of some mild cheddar cheese—because who doesn’t love cheese? And if you don’t, I’m sorry my friend, you’re in the wrong place. All hail the cheese lovers!
What Are Empanadas? And Why Cheeseburger Empanadas?
Empanadas are Latin American fried or baked turnovers that consist of a filling (savory, and sometimes even sweet) wrapped in a pastry dough. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar which translates to “enbreaded”— having something wrapped or coated in bread.
With the addition of cheese, we take a classic sofrito-laced ground beef empanada recipe, and it magically becomes a luscious and glorious cheeseburger empanada (please cue the salsa music). While not included in this recipe, I’m also pro minced pickles in the filling (but I’m pretty sure my elders would look at me like I’m insane).
You can enjoy cheeseburger empanadas as a mid-day snack or lunch. Sometimes I even make a batch and have two or three for dinner and freeze the rest for another time. While they are a handheld snack, I typically turn this into a full-fledged meal with the addition of some white rice and black beans.
Cheeseburger Empanadas = Party
Empanadas are the perfect party food! They are typically included at EVERY holiday gathering, birthday party, or event—my mom would usually double or triple this recipe and make about three to four dozen. Empanadas are the best of all worlds—a quick and easy snack, dinner option, and perfect party food.
An Empanada That’s Loaded With Flavor
My empanada filling starts off with sauteed aromatics: onions, bell peppers, and garlic. Ground beef is added to the party with sofrito or recaito, a Puerto Rican cooking base, and some savory spices: sazón, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and oregano. Top off the filling with a little bit of tomato paste and left to cool before being loading into the empanada wrappers, topping with cheese, and crimping to seal. And there you have it folks: Pure handheld perfection.
An Empanada Shortcut: Pre-Made Dough
Yes, you can make the empanada dough from scratch, but let’s be clear: That NEVER happened in my family’s kitchen growing up. For the most part empanadas are typically made in bulk (I’m talking a few dozen) for holidays, parties, etc. It’s honestly so much easier to buy store-bought dough, and just as tasty.
There are other brands of empanada dough out there, but if you walk into any Puerto Rican kitchen (and we’re setting up shop to make a batch or five, if I’m being honest) you’ll most likely find Goya brand of discos empanada dough. That’s what I grew up with and I’m sticking by it.
Size: Buy the 14-ounce pack, which comes with 10 rounds of dough that are roughly 5 inches in diameter. (If you want to have some jumbo-sized fun, go with the discos grandes 20-ounce pack of 10 rounds with a larger diameter. If you’re going with the discos grandes, you’ll need roughly 1/2 pound more filling, because you’ll be stuffing your empanadas with a little extra love.
Type of dough: Regular discos dough is a pale white dough. You’ll also find disco dough made with annatto. This dough is orange because it’s dyed with annatto seeds. The hint of annatto provides a slightly more savory bite to your empanada. If you find a pack made with annatto, feel free to try it. Your empanadas will be delightful either way, I promise!
Goya now has discos for frying and discos for baking. Make sure you’re purchasing discos dough for frying.
Freezing Empanadas for Later
I highly recommend making empanadas ahead of time. I typically make a batch and store them in the freezer, so on lazy nights when I just don’t have the energy to cook, I’ll fry up a few.
To make ahead: Make the empanadas from start to finish, except stop short of frying them. Individually wrap each empanada in parchment paper or plastic wrap, place in a freezer-safe bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. When the craving strikes, let them sit on the counter for about 30 minutes before frying. Fry per instructions, giving the empanadas a few extra minutes to cook.
Are you ready to make empanadas? Let’s do it!
You’ll need 2 packages of empanada dough for this recipe— you’ll be able to make between 15 to 20 empanadas, depending on how liberally you stuff them.
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 Spanish onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound ground beef (preferably 80/20 lean to fat ratio)
2 tablespoons recaito or sofrito (homemade or store-bought)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 packet sazòn con achiote
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 (14-ounce) packages Goya discos empanada dough for frying, thawed
10 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups canola oil
Dipping sauces for serving
Thousand island dressing
Cook the aromatics:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the bell peppers and onions and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 4 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and black pepper to taste. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Cook the ground beef:
Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the ground beef into the skillet. Using a wooden spoon, break the meat into crumbles. Add the sofrito and season the ground beef with the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, dried oregano, sazòn con achiote, plus the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and the meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Carefully drain off any excess grease from the pan. Add the tomato paste and stir until all of the ground beef is fully coated. Cook for an additional minute.
Let the filling cool:
Remove the cooked filling from the heat and let cool, about 30 minutes. You don’t want the meat to be piping hot or your empanada dough will start to go haywire, but warm or room temperature is totally fine.
Assemble the empanadas:
Line a sheet pan with parchment. Set aside.
Place one of the dough discs on a clean work surface. Add about 2 tablespoons of the cooled filling and 1 tablespoon of shredded cheese to the center, fold the dough into a half-moon, and crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Turn the empanada over and seal the other side using a fork (we want to make sure it’s super sealed so we don’t lose any of that yummy filling.)
Transfer the assembled empanada to the sheet pan lined with parchment. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough until all of the empanadas are assembled.
Fry the empanadas:
Line a plate with paper towels and keep it handy near your frying station.
In a large 10-inch skillet over medium heat, add 1 1/2 cups canola oil. Once the oil is hot (reaches 350°F), gently place 2 empanadas in the pan and fry until the dough is golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side. If the dough is darkening too quickly, adjust the heat so the empanadas can cook evenly.
Set empanadas on the paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess grease. Repeat with the remaining empanadas.
Serve the empanadas immediately with your favorite burger dipping sauce, barbecue sauce, or crema.
Empanadas are best when made fresh, but if you happen to have leftovers, refrigerate in plastic wrap or in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat in a preheated 400°F oven until warmed through, about 6 minutes.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 48g||62%|
|Saturated Fat 17g||84%|
|Total Carbohydrate 46g||17%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 11mg||53%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|