Empanadas Picadillo

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This recipe search started with a request from a reader looking for a meat filling that included raisins, spices and olives. Picadillo! Popular in several Latin countries, this very flavorful, piquant filling can fall anywhere on the sweet/tangy/salty/spicy continuum. This one’s on the spicy side! Some versions include tomatoes and sweet green peppers in the mix; others have minced hard-boiled egg in them. Whatever the exact mix, the filling tastes delicious rolled in a tortilla to make enchiladas (see our Enchiladas Picadillo recipe,) or, as we’ve done here, spooned into dough and fried to make a little hand-held pie.

Feel free to tweak the amount of spices–adding a little more or less–to suit your tastebuds. The type of green olives you choose will also affect the finished flavor of the dish. Because my boys tend to like more-mildly-flavored olives, I used the buttery, bright-green Castelventrano variety from Western Sicily. But a more assertive green olive would work well, too.



Makes 15 to 18 empanadas

Empanada dough Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp lard
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

Picadillo filling Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef, OR 1 pound ground beef, plus 1/2 lb finely minced leftover steak or shish kebab meat, to be added at the end
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp lard, divided
  • 2 cups chopped Spanish onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of ground cloves
  • 1 Tbsp red chili flakes
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp Spanish paprika (more red and sweeter than Hungarian)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, or, 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, snipped
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped raisins
  • 2 Tbsp white or rice vinegar
  • 1 cup green olives, cut into slim wedges


  1. Make empanada dough: Place lard in a medium-sized, heat-proof bowl. Add salt. Pour boiling water over and stir until lard is melted. Add the three cups flour and stir until dough forms. Turn out onto a flat surface and knead for five minutes until smooth. (This makes a lovely temporary play-dough, by the way, if you’ve got kids standing by wanting to “help.”) Pat dough into a flat disk or oblong; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  2. Make filling: Melt one Tbsp of the lard, plus one Tbsp of the olive oil in saute pan. Add ground beef and cook over medium heat until meat is lightly browned. Drain off oil and discard.  Remove meat from the pan to a bowl and set aside. In the same pan, melt remaining 1 Tbsp lard and add remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent, being careful not to burn. Add 2 Tbsp of water part way through, to ensure the onions and garlic are completely soft and cooked through. Spoon the meat back into the pan and stir to incorporate; add all of the remaining ingredients, except the olives. Stir and simmer over very low heat for about 15 minutes adding a small amount of water if necessary. Stir in the finely-minced leftover steak or shish kebab meat now, if you choose to use that in the recipe. Cool slightly and mix in the green olives.
  3. Assemble and fry empanadas: Bring your dough out of the fridge. Pull off a good sized chunk and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with a 3, 4, or 5- inch round cutter (the bottom of a tomato can works fine.) Spoon a dollop of filling into the center of each dough round; fold over into a half-moon, and working from one side to the other, crimp and tuck the “open” edge, folding, tucking and pleating as you go to enclose the filling. (With a little practice, this will look like a braid.) Deep fry the pies at 370 degrees in peanut oil, or, your favorite high-heat-tolerant vegetable oil. Remove to brown paper blotters to cool slightly. Enjoy!

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