Recipe: Cuban-style picadillo empanadas from The Salty Cubana

April 8th is National Empanada Day — the perfect excuse for this savory Cuban-style picadillo empanadas recipe that Nashville-based chef Rita Martinez, aka “The Salty Cubana,” shared with readers of Sunday Morning ” presents.

A first generation Cuban, Martinez grew up in Miami, Florida in the heart of Little Havana. She told CBS Sunday Morning: “I was very fortunate to be surrounded by my culture growing up; I’m very proud of that. Empanadas were always available if you wanted a snack.

“I learned to make empanadas from my grandmothers. Homemade empanadas were a rare opportunity because they were an affair of the heart. As a kid, empanadas brought me home—the crunch, the flavor, the saltiness of everything. It just gives you the feeling of comfort like home.”

Click on the video player below to watch Martinez’s instructions for making Cuban-style picadillo empanadas:

Cuban style picadillo empanadas from The Salty Cubana from
CBS Sunday morning on Youtube

“Cuban empanadas start with a batter very similar to that of their Galician grandfather. We have a range of fillings. Everything from spinach and cheese to seafood to ham and of course our version of the almighty picadillo – a braised ground beef stuffing prepared with peppers, onions, plenty of garlic and a sprinkling of raisins.”

She notices:

  • Always make your filling before the dough, preferably the day before. Chilled fillings are easier to handle. Once the filling cools, it solidifies, which also makes it cleaner to use.
  • It’s best to start with less filling so the empanadas don’t explode. With time and practice, you’ll get better at stuffing them.
Cuban-style picadillo empanadas by Nashville-based chef Rita Martinez, “The Salty Cubana”.

The salty Cubana

Cuban style picadillo empanadas

What you will need:

kitchen scale
Measuring Cup & Spoon
Mixing bowls and water
Stand mixer with the dough paddle, if you have one
Plastic wrap, large ziplock bags, or airtight bowl
rolling pin & scraper
Large 5-6″ cookie cutter
Cast iron deep pan
roasting thermometer
kitchen paper for draining.


For the dough:

890 g all-purpose flour
25 grams of baking powder
20 grams of salt
35 grams of cane sugar
110g (about 8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter
380 grams of water
2 cups vegetable oil for pan frying (preferably canola)

For the picadillo filling:

40 ml extra virgin olive oil
200 g large yellow onion, peeled and diced
160 g red peppers, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
20 grams of salt
3.5 grams of black pepper
16 ounces. pound ground beef
2 bay leaves
56 g tomato paste
1 tablespoon. smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 large tomatoes, roughly diced
50g capers with ¼ cup juice
½ cup allspice, diced
75 g dried raisins


For the filling:

  1. In a large, heavy skillet set over a medium-high flame, add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onions, peppers, garlic, salt and black pepper. Fry until the onion is translucent.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef and allow to brown, breaking up the meat as you go. Add tomato puree, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, bay leaves and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stir in the diced tomatoes, capers, allspice and raisins. Reduce the heat and let the stew simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.
  3. Cover the pan and add the raisins and capers. Let the stew cook for another 15 minutes
  4. Season to taste and let cool to room temperature. Prepare the filling up to 2 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

The salty Cubana

For the dough:

  1. Melt butter and set aside. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the butter and mix with the flour until it looks like oatmeal. Now slowly pour in the water and start shaping the dough. [IF USING A STAND MIXER: Mix the dry ingredients straight in the mixer bowl with a whisk.] Attach the bowl and use the dough hook, slowly add the melted butter, then add the water. [Pro Tip: Remember not all all-purpose flour is equal. Flour can vary from brand to brand and may absorb water differently. The amount of humidity in the air that day can also play a role. Too much water in your dough is no bueno.]
  3. Place the dough on a floured work surface. Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth.
  4. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. This resting time will release the gluten that will help you roll the dough easily.


  1. After resting, halve the dough ball. Cover one half with the plastic wrap while unrolling the other half. Lightly dust the work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick
  2. Place a large round cookie cutter (preferably 5-6 inch diameter) over the already rolled out dough, then gently press down to cut the dough into a circle.
  3. Once you’ve formed the disc, place 2-3 tablespoons of picadillo in the center and, using your finger or a small kitchen brush, very lightly dampen half of the edge with water. [Pro Tip: I like using a small spray bottle to mist the disk before sealing them instead.]
  4. Fold the dough over, making sure the edge of the top part is about an inch behind the bottom edge.
  5. Now, using your thumb, middle, and forefinger, pinch and fold the edges toward the center in half-inch sections, overlapping each fold until you’re done on the other end of the empanada. [Pro Tip: Use your finger as a guide for the dough. Don’t pinch on the groove; pinch next to the groove.]
  6. Place the empanadas on a flat surface and cover with a damp paper towel. Then continue forming the remaining empanadas. We cover it so that the dough does not dry out.
  7. Using your thermometer, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F. Fry the empanadas, turning once, 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown. [***Do not overcrowd your frying pan; for a 12-inch pan, fry 3 or 4 at a time, giving them enough room to turn them when ready.  Remember, the oil is very hot, so be careful.***]
  8. Once done, place them on a paper towel-lined plate or on a wire rack to drain. Serve hot.

The salty Cubana

Carrot Green Chimichurri

Makes about 2 cups


½ cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup chopped carrot greens (or flat-leaf parsley)
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
½ tablespoon finely grated or minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup rice vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil


  1. Set oil and vinegar aside. In a medium bowl or glass, combine all other ingredients.
  2. Add oil and vinegar. Mix well.
  3. Can be stored covered for a few days. I personally like to make a double batch and keep the leftovers in the fridge for chimichurri rice later in the week.

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