Colombian Empanadas

By Food Urchin •

After getting Colombia in our World Cup bloggers competition, Food Urchin has got a fantastic recipe for you - Colombian Empanadas! 

World Cup sweepstakes always gets me jittery. Largely because I am not really a betting man and largely because I know very little about football. Yet every time the tournament rolls around, I will always put my hand in my pocket and try my luck by dipping into the hat. This year I got Italy. Which seemed like an excellent prospect but that scrap of paper has now been chucked away. I blame Suárez for that result by the way. That boy should get a decent meal inside in him before he thinks about going back out on the pitch again. Which will be in about, ooh five months time?

So it was with some trepidation that I said yes to the idea of coming up with a dish for Great British Chefs for their World Cup Recipes section, inspired by one of 16 qualifying countries. The challenge being that my country would be picked at random. What if I got Ghana or Honduras or Bosnia-Herzegovina? What would I do? What would I cook? It was all rather worrying. But then I got Colombia and as such, screamed with panic. Because I really don’t know much about Columbian food either.

However, being the resourceful type, I took to the Internet and discovered that Columbian cuisine is almost as infinitely varied as its landscape. Sea, grassland, mountains and the jungle all have a profound influence on Columbian food, as well as the multitude of ethnic groups that exist in the country’s many different regions. Which is not good when you are trying to hone in and focus on a one dish.

So I went to Twitter for help and the response was equally mind blowing. Burmese food writer MiMi Aye suggested Bandeja paisa, a party platter of meat, rice, plantains and beans. Catalan expert Rachel McCormack ran off a whole spiel of advice, highlighting coconut rice, meat fillet marinated in lime, soups and fried fish. Some idiot even went so far as to say that microwave chips were particularly popular in Bogota (you always get them on Twitter). But I was still left floundering.

As a last ditch attempt, I buzzed my friend and asked to talk to his Colombian girlfriend and after some cagey inquisition as to why I wanted to talk to her, he passed the phone.

“Oh, you should do Lechona! It is fantastic and it’s a brilliant thing to do for a party,” she said.

“OK, so what is Lechona?” I asked. 

“Well you take a whole hog and stuff it with lots of lovely things like rice, potatoes and peas and then you spit-roast it over charcoal for hours and hours. When do you want us to come over?”

Sadly, as much as I would love to have a go at Lechona, I didn’t really have the time or money to spare to create such an extravagant dish for this post (but it is something I might have a crack at in future) so after putting the phone down, I found myself staring into space yet again.


Now, the foodie collective might baulk at this idea as being too universal as variations of these pastry or bread patties, usually filled with meat or potato, can be found throughout the whole of Latin America. And in Southern Europe. Oh and in Asia too. But the Colombian way favours adding cornmeal to the flour for the dough. And deep-frying rather than baking, apparently goes does down much better within the Republic. Especially with some fiery ají sauce to accompany. So my recipe for the Great British Chefs World Cup Collection will be just that. Empanadas, Colombian style.

In fact, I can’t think of anything better to bite down on during half time against Uruguay tomorrow night. Much tastier than Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder I’d say.  

Colombian Empandas

Serves 12 

There are endless varieties of fillings you can try with empanadas but I went with some pork and spinach and ricotta simply because these were some of the ingredients I already had at home. More traditional Colombian varieties include potato and peanut and minced beef and pepper but feel free to experiment. Also, I took inspiration for this recipe from blog called My Colombian Recipes and Erica’s advice to roll out the cornmeal dough using cling film is priceless, as the dough is very tricky stuff!


For the dough:
350gm cornmeal
150gm plain flour
250mls water
1 tbs of vegetable oil
1 tps of salt
500 ml of vegetable or sunflower oil (for deep frying)

For the fillings:
500 gms of pork belly slices (this makes a lot by the way, use the leftovers for sandwiches!)
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic glove finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tbs of red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Handful of frozen broad beans, cooked
Salt and pepper
250gms spinach
150gms ricotta
Half an onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Splash of oil

For the aji sauce:
100 mls water
100 mls white wine vinegar
1 green chilli (I used a Jalapeno)
Half an onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely diced
Large bunch of coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
Splash of oil


First make your fillings. Heat the oven to 150C and then take a baking dish or casserole and place the onion, garlic and bay on the bottom. Using a bowl, place the pork inside and sprinkle the paprika, oregano and seasoning and rub all over and then place on top of the vegetables. Pour over the vinegar and add a splash of water. Cover with foil or a lid and place in the oven to gently braise for 3 hours. Remove and leave to cool slightly before shredding the tender meat with two forks. Add the broad beans and check for seasoning.

For the spinach filling, take a frying pan and place on a medium heat, adding a splash of oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, then add the spinach and cook until it has all wilted. Leave to cool and then scoop into a bowl, add the ricotta and mix together, again checking for seasoning.

To make the dough, combine the cornmeal, flour and salt together and then add the water and oil. Mix together by hand so that it becomes firm(ish). It will be slightly claggy but don’t worry. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.

To make the aji sauce blend the water, vinegar and chilli using a food processor or blender and pour into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Now it’s time to make the empanadas. First, tear off two squares of cling film and then pinch a small amount of dough, about 45 gm and roll it your hands to make a ball. Place the ball on one layer of cling film, flattening it slightly and then place the other sheet on top. 

Using a pin, roll out the dough into a rough circle approximately 12 cm in diameter and then peel the top cling film layer off.

Add a tablespoon of your mixture in the middle, then using the bottom sheet of cling, pull the dough over to form a semi-circle and gently press the edges together to seal.

Using a fork, press down further along the edges to create pretty lines. Repeat the process until you have used up all the dough (or are simply fed up of making any more). You will probably have lots of filling left over by the way.

In a big saucepan or deep-fryer, heat your oil to 180C and then drop the empanadas in, no more than two a time. Fry for about two minutes or until the patties are golden and slightly puffed up. Place on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil and keep warm until all the empanadas are cooked.

Serve in bowl with some lime wedges and spoon a healthy dose of aji sauce on your plate whilst soaking up the football. These are good with beer too!

Want to do more with spinach? Great British Chefs' spinach recipes have the solution! 


Food Urchin

Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurian blog, Food Urchin. When Danny is not busy digging holes to pit-roast lamb or hanging marrows in tights to make rum or foraging for snails in his garden to throw into paella, he is often left in charge of a pair of cheeky twins; with sometimes disastrous results in the kitchen. He is also listed on MSN as one of the ‘top twenty foodies to follow on Twitter’.

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