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food, friends, and festivities

Recipe: spinach cheese empanadas

A lot of our time seems to revolve around friends and food of late. I guess that’s no surprise, but it hops onto an accelerated pace in summer when the weather is nice and we don’t have to worry about insane winds scaring our dinner guests off or snow and ice closing the canyon. Game on! On Sunday, Trent (who owns Pica’s in Boulder), his family, and a mutual friend came up to escape the heat and enjoy some burgers. These aren’t just any burgers, but California roll burgers. Trent spends so much time feeding and taking care of others that I felt it was his turn to be spoiled – just a little bit.

that’s a tall burger

it cooled down nicely in time for ice cream, strawberry daifuku mochi, and french macarons on the deck

trent and his darling little girl

being silly

Ahhh, I love good eaters… good eaters who appreciate good food. Those are the best guests! They also make for great dinner companions. One of my all-time favorite dinner guests is Erin, who turns the big 3-0 (that’s 30) in a few days. Jeremy and I took her out Monday night to The Kitchen’s Community Night dinner for an early celebration. I mean, everyone knows the 30s totally rawk.

mushroom flatbread


our neighbors

birthday girl and jeremy

When we hosted the astrophysics retreat last week, I planned Argentine empanadas as part of the lunch menu one day. As two of the guests do not eat beef, I figured I could offer a vegetarian version. This spinach and cheese filling sounded pretty good, but I had no idea how popular it would be among the carnivores as well!

the filling: spinach, chile powder, garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil, butter


everything prepped

It’s an unbelievably quick filling to pull together, especially if you purchase triple-washed spinach (the washing of spinach takes some time). This spinach cheese filling is far less labor intensive than the beef filling. I have to fess up – I’ve never had a vegetarian empanada before, mostly because they didn’t appeal to me. But my mouth began to water the moment the garlic hit the butter and oil.

sauté the garlic and chile in butter and olive oil

add the spinach and cook until wilted

The spices are mainly red chile powder (I used medium spiciness) and garlic. Then there are three cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan. What the what? I never said these were healthy vegetarian empanadas. They are, however, delectably good vegetarian empanadas. Just don’t eat them all in one sitting… by yourself.

combine the spinach with the cheeses, salt, and pepper


Now, I used the same dough as the one in the Argentine empanadas recipe because I’m lazy like that. And I really like that dough – it’s easy, bakes up nicely, and tastes fantastic. The difference in making the vegetarian empanadas is that you shouldn’t roll the dough too thin. See, the cheese expands during baking and will leak out and make a huge (and delicious) mess. So I try to roll the dough a little thicker and try not to pack the empanada too tightly with the spinach and cheese filling.

pinch off and form a ball of dough

roll it out into a pancake (not too thin)

place the filling on one side

When you seal the edges, be sure you don’t leave any holes or gaps for the filling to escape through. When there is a breach in the pastry, a good deal of the filling oozes out and bubbles onto the baking sheet. That sucks. For decorative purposes, I like to rope pinch the edges. Don’t crowd the empanadas too close together on the baking sheet. I’d suggest allowing for at least an inch of space between them.

press the edges of the dough closed

make any decorative edge you like

place on a baking sheet

The first time I baked these, I tried them at the beef empanada temperature and time. About 30% burst at some seam or thin area and deposited an alarming amount of melted cheese onto the baking pan. The second batch (of course I made more!) seemed to do a little better with a lower temperature and longer bake time (to let the pastry get golden). I think the main thing is not to overstuff the empanada with too much filling. However, even the exploding empanadas tasted great. You can serve them hot or room temperature, but I find the hot ones to be wonderfully chewy and melty and rich.

golden empanadas

serve hot and enjoy!

Spinach Cheese Empanadas
[print recipe]
partly based on this recipe

empanada dough
1 cup water
3/4 cup lard (I used butter)
2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
pinch paprika

spinach cheese filling
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsps olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chile powder
5-8 oz fresh spinach, stems removed, washed, chiffonade
1 cup ricotta cheese
8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, or similar white cheese such as queso quesadilla, shredded or crumbled
2 tbsps Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Make the dough: Heat water and lard (butter) in a medium saucepan over medium heat until lard (butter) has melted. Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center and sprinkle a pinch of paprika in the well. Pour a little of the warm liquid in and stir with fingertips to make a wet paste. Pour in remaining liquid and work the flour into the dough with your hand until you get a wet, oily dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make the filling: Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan or sauté pan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the minced garlic and chile powder (not cayenne, but red chile powder) and sauté until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the spinach and sauté until all the greens are wilted. Remove from heat. Stir the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and cooked spinach together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the empanadas: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Tear off pieces of dough to roll about 12 large or 24 small balls of dough. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough balls on lightly floured surface into circles with a 3/8-inch thickness. Just don’t roll the dough too thin because this filling (unlike the meat filling in the Argentine empanadas) can expand and burst the pastry if the dough is too thin or the empanada is over-stuffed with filling. Place 2-3 tbsp of filling in the center of each dough circle (depending on the size of the empanadas you are making). Fold over and press edges firmly to seal. Rope pinch the edges tightly. In this case, a good tight seal will also prevent oozing of cheese during the baking process. Place empanadas on cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Makes 12 large or 24 small empanadas.

33 nibbles at “food, friends, and festivities”

  1. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    These are absolutely lovely! Yum!

  2. Fiona says:

    I believe you have answered the question, “What am I making for Missy and Jim’s party tomorrow?”

    Many thanks.

  3. brandi says:

    these look perfect! my husband might not even miss the meat with these. dough = love in our house.

  4. Heather in SF says:

    I have bookmarked this, my stomach just flipped over when I saw your photos, yum…

  5. Ali says:

    Must make these posthaste.

  6. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Jen, your empanadas look awesome! I’ve never had the courage to make them myself.

    That flatbread thingy at The Kitchen looked pretty darn good, too! Have a great 4th!

  7. Eileen says:

    Vegetarian empanadas sounds like the perfect party food–I can see my friends decimating tray after tray. Maybe I should make up a big tray and freeze them for future random gatherings. :) Thanks for the great idea!

  8. Margie says:

    ‘being silly’ is absolutely precious. (I’ll bet the mama and daddy would LOVE a copy of that beauty.)

    I love that you cooked for someone that is always cooking for others. You are so thoughtful and dear!

  9. Lisa Mai @ Je suis alimentageuse says:

    Oh my goodness those look amazing. I am totally making this for a potluck or dinner party at some point. Also, your wooden table makes me want a big enough apartment to assemble mine. Beautiful photos as always!

  10. Val says:

    Oh that mushroom flatbread…are you going to share that recipe?

    Food with friends and family…the way things should be. A meal always tastes better when shared with conversation and laughter. And when the meal consists of those empanadas, it could quite possibly be considered perfection!

  11. Jill says:

    nom nom …..these look yummy! Love the word chiffonade…..just beautiful! Happy 4th.

  12. Shut Up & Cook says:

    When I was last in Boulder I enjoyed a fabulous dinner at The Kitchen at your recommendation…fun to see it in these pix! Thanks also for the great looking recipe…will definitely give these a try.

  13. selina says:

    Jen, I love how you always write about food, family, friends and love…together.

    Dean and I went to Boulder for a conference a few years ago. We were there for 3 days, went to Pica’s twice. Even though there’s plenty good Mexico-influenced food here in California, we loved the food there so much!

    I also share your passion for sandwich, so we may have to go try a place or two when you are in town. Or empanadas, another variation of sandwichness.

  14. jenyu says:

    Katrina – thanks!

    Fiona – I hope they worked out. Some of mine gutted themselves (leaked).

    brandi – ha ha!

    Heather – :)

    Ali – super yummy!

    TKW – thanks, sweetheart. I’m pretty sure you’d spank these babies, easily. Hope you guys had a lovely 4th too xo

    Eileen – yes, my friend just turned me on to the idea of freezing them!

    Margie – Trent is a really good man, but we never have time to just relax and chat as he’s always working or I’m also passing through. And I never get to see his wife, so this was really pleasant :)

    Lisa – thank you xo

    Val – I can’t share the recipe because I didn’t make it. Sorry!

    Jill – thank you :)

    Shut Up & Cook – So glad you enjoyed The Kitchen. I love that place.

    selina – I didn’t know you guys had been to Boulder! Pica’s is great – good quality food :)

  15. Lynne Rae Perkins says:

    We just returned from visiting Argentina and I have been craving empanadas: thank you!

  16. Trolleira says:

    Ahh I love canning, my husband even more. He loves to can cucumbers, has to do it totally alone, as I am alergic to the smell of raw cucumbers. But my jellies and jams are famous!

    By the way, I moved my blog, you can find it now under this address:

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  18. Virginia says:

    I’m playing catch-up and reading this a few months later (I tend to neglect my computer in the summer in favor of being outdoors as much as possible) and I just wanted to say…these empanadas are mouth watering (reading this blog at work is horrible for me), and i LOVE LOVE LOVE Erin’s dress!!! I am literally in love with it. so much. I just needed to express that (:

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  20. cynthia says:

    I always have frozen chopped spinach in the freezer……okay to substitute for fresh?

  21. jenyu says:

    cynthia – yes! It should be fine to use frozen spinach, just squeeze out as much liquid as you can first.

  22. Linda says:

    These are wonderful! I’m still having some leakage, but my folded edges are getting better. Jen, you mentioned rolling them out to 3/8 inch thickness. Really? That seems way too thick! What am I missing here?

  23. jenyu says:

    Linda – Wow, I would have thought 3/8-inch would border on too thin. I think because the dough is stretchy, I let it stay a little thick so I can fold it over lots of filling. Are they baking up too thick? That’s the real test. If too thin, then I think they will break open and leak during baking.

  24. Tara says:

    These turned out amazing. Mine did burst a little. I found I was creating a weak point right in the front, but they still tasted great. I froze the leftovers and those didn’t burst, so I was able to get photos. My son loved them. Will definitely be making again and will make the dough a little thicker.

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  26. Erin says:

    I don’t know how I ran into this today, but I stumbled upon it and it made me miss you a lot.

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  28. Melissa says:

    Thanks for this recipe. We’re giving a Copacabana Bridal Shower and needed a great empanada recipe. I ended up adding cumin, more garlic and chili powder – the result was scrumptious!

  29. Lidia says:

    I Love this recipe!!! Yummy ? Thank you for sharing this yummy recipe

  30. marie says:

    Where did I go wrong with the dough? When I removed it from the refrigerator to roll, it gets soft and very quickly and is very hard to roll even with a floured surface. Is it anyway to salvage it as I made a double batch?

  31. jenyu says:

    Marie – possibly not enough flour/too much liquid? It is a softish dough, but should be workable. You could try mixing in more flour a little at a time if it seems too wet.

  32. Lidia S says:

    Hi Jenyu my question is can I use White whole-wheat flour for this recipe. I done your empanadas and they are delicious but I want to try it with white whole wheat flour Thanks 😊

  33. jenyu says:

    Lidia – Hi! I have been slowly working on converting recipes to ww flour. I don’t know how these will work with white whole wheat flour, but I think you can definitely make them with 50% white ww flour and 50% AP flour. If you increase the amount of ww flour, then you may have to increase the amount of liquid in the dough (it absorbs more liquid, but only after about 15 minutes or so). For pastry dough, you could try using whole wheat pastry flour since this is kind of like a pie crust texture and ww pastry flour has less protein. Hope it works out!

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