Vegetarian Empanadas

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empanadas on a plate with one split in half

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

There are lots of different vegetable fillings for empanadas (black bean and corn, pumpkin, and so many more), but this vegetarian empanada recipe inspired by creamed spinach in a bread bowl is my favorite.

You can play around with the sharp and creamy combination of cheeses — mozzarella, cream cheese, and Parmesan — in this filling. Swap Monterey Jack, pepper Jack, or white cheddar in for the mozzarella. Use Pecorino in place of Parmesan. Want it dairy-free? Try dairy-free versions of these cheeses and swap the butter in the dough for dairy-free butter or margarine. 

I prefer to use fresh spinach when making this recipe, but a 10-ounce package of frozen spinach works, too, if that’s what you have on hand. Just defrost it and squeeze out as much water as you can before using.

Alternatives to Homemade Empanada Dough

If you don’t have the time to make homemade empanada dough, there are a few easy alternatives available.

  • Try store-bought pie dough or thawed puff pastry or cut into 5-inch-diameter circles.
  • There are some brands that also offer empanada dough for baking. Follow the package directions and fill with this vegetarian filling. Other store-bought empanada discs are made specifically for frying. You can try this filling in fried empanadas too. 

I find that for the best empanadas, it’s important to refrigerate the dough for at least 15 to 30 minutes before assembling. The firm dough creates a better seal and prevents the filling from leaking out.

Empanada Press or Fork Crimp

There are several different methods of sealing empanadas. If you prefer a perfect empanada with little room for error, purchase an empanada press. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to use. I typically use a fork to create crimped edges because I always have a fork on hand.

What to Serve with Empanadas

Empanadas are a hand-held meal or snack. If you would like to serve them with a side dish, try a simple green salad or some diced avocado, white onion, and tomato drizzled with olive oil and lemon, pico de gallo, salsa or hot sauce.

You can make the empanada dough one to two days ahead of time. After dividing the dough into 2 balls, wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Or if you want to take it a step further, continue rolling out and cutting empanadas. Place the empanada discs between layers of parchment paper and place in a sealed zip-top plastic bag until ready to use. 

To freeze, place unbaked empanadas side by side on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until solid, then transfer the empanadas into a freezer bag. Frozen empanadas will keep for up to three months and can be baked straight from the freezer.

Mozzarella and baby spinach are stand-out ingredients in these mouth-watering empanadas.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 3 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 12 tablespoons

    (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1/2 cup

    whole or 2% milk

For the filling and assembly:

  • 1/2

    medium white onion

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 6 ounces

    low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3 tablespoons

    grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 9 ounces

    baby spinach (about 9 packed cups)

  • 3 tablespoons

    cream cheese

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1

    large egg yolk

Instructions

Make the dough:

  1. Place 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Cut 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter into small cubes and add to flour. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, mix the butter into the flour until no large butter chunks remain and the flour resembles sand.

  2. Add 1 large egg and lightly whisk to combine. Slowly mix in 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk a little bit at a time with your hands until the dough is soft and smooth. Divide the dough in half and form each piece into a ball.

  3. Dust a work surface lightly with all-purpose flour. Roll each ball out with a rolling pin until 1/4-inch thick. Cut out 5-inch wide rounds with a cutter, or trace a plate or other round object with a knife to cut. Transfer the rounds to a wax or parchment paper-lined plate or baking sheet, placing more paper between each layer.

  4. Gather the scraps into a ball, then re-roll and cut more rounds out until you have a total of 12 to 14 rounds. Refrigerate while you make the filling, at least 25 minutes.

Make the filling:

  1. Dice 1/2 medium white onion (about 3/4 cup) and mince 1 garlic clove. Shred 6 ounces mozzarella cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 1/2 cups). If needed, finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese until you have 3 tablespoons.

  2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 10-inch frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

  3. Add 9 ounces baby spinach a few handfuls at a time, stirring between addition, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the mozzarella, Parmesan, 3 tablespoons cream cheese, mozzarella, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir until the cheeses are melted and everything is combined, about 2 minutes.

  4. Remove from the pan from the heat. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed.

Assemble and bake the empanadas:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Whisk 1 large egg and a few drops of water in a small bowl with a fork until lightly beaten. Whisk 1 large egg yolk in a second small bowl until lightly beaten.

  2. To assemble the empanadas, place 2 tablespoons of the warm spinach filling in the center of a disc of dough. Brush the edges of the disc with the egg white wash. Fold the disc in half over the filling. Press the edges with your fingers to seal. Press a fork onto the edges about 1/2-inch in to further and decoratively seal. Place on the baking sheet.

  3. Repeat filling the remaining empanada discs, spacing them evenly apart on the baking sheet. (If you have filling leftover, save it and enjoy as a snack with chips.) Brush the empanadas with with egg yolk wash.

  4. Bake until the empanadas are golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The empanada dough up to 2 days ahead of time. Divide the dough into 2 balls, then wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Alternatively, freeze assembled but unbaked empanadas on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet until frozen solid. Transfer to a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen, but they may need a few extra minutes bake time.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Marisel Salazar

Contributor

I am a Latina, bilingual NYC-based writer, TV host, and home cook. Originally from Panama, I have lived in Hawaii, Japan, Madrid, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. I love everything except for ketchup and eggs Benedict.

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