How to Make Empanadas

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

Are your kids learning about Latin American history? Do they enjoy Hot Pockets, Pizza Pockets, or Calzones? Then, boy, do we have a recipe they’re going to love! 

Empanadas are a stuffed bread or pastry that are believed to have originated in Spain and Portugal around 1520. Today they are eaten all over the world and come in a variety of flavors, from savory and spicy to sweet.

Whether your kids are studying regions like South America, Spain, or Mexico, this recipe is a perfect addition to include in their curriculum. We’ll give you a brief history of the origins of empanadas. Then we’ll share with you our Argentinian grandmother’s homemade empanada recipe found in our New World Explorers Time Traveler Series!

The Benefits of Adding Recipes to History

Let’s face it – history can be tough. There’s an overwhelming amount of people, dates, and locations to remember. As parents, we want our kids to enjoy the subjects they are learning about. Our hope is that when the test is said and done, they’ll have had fun learning and want to know more.

We are all about making history fun for kids – that’s why we tend to include recipe making in the majority of our projects. By doing this, kids can get a chance to see and taste the culture, person, or place they’re learning about. 

For example, if your child is learning about Abraham Lincoln, have them make his favorite cake, found in our Time Travelers: The Civil War. Or if they are learning about the history behind a particular holiday, we have plenty to choose from in our History of Holidays Activity Study. Or perhaps you are doing studies on a state in the U.S. – our Make-A-State Activity-Pak has a recipe of an iconic regional dish for each state!

These recipes not only give kids a chance to take a break from the textbook, but it’s a great bonding experience and even teaches them important subjects like home economics, reading, and math, not to mention the basic task of following directions! 

If you’d like to read more about why adding recipes to history can be beneficial for children, read our blog post, Adding Interest to History with Recipes.

The Origins of Empanadas

There’s a lot of speculation as to where empanadas originated. However, evidence shows it most likely came from Galicia, Spain. According to historians, empanadas with a seafood filling first appeared in a 1520 cookbook published during the Moorish invasions. 

The word empanada comes from the Spanish word “empanar,” meaning “bread-wrapped,” or “to wrap in bread.” This makes perfect sense because they are quite literally pockets of dough with filling inside. 

Empanada dough is often made with regular wheat flour. However, some countries use cornflour, cornmeal, cassava flour, or other types of flour, depending on whether they plan to be baked or fried. Fillings often consist of a variety of meats, seafood, vegetables, or even fruit. Empanadas have many different shapes and sizes. Over time they have evolved from more of a pie-like shape to individual half-moon pockets. 

The best part about empanadas is that they are a versatile dish and can be eaten at any time of day, including breakfast or even as a snack. Today, these “hand pies” appear all over the world and are a portable meal for working-class people. 

Depending on which country and province you’re in, empanadas can have their own traditions, cooking methods, and flavors. For example, in Argentina, where our grandmother (abuelita or better known as “Lita”) is from, empanadas are to Argentines what hamburgers are to Americans. They are often served as an appetizer or main course. They are typically filled with beef or ham and cheese. During Lent and Easter, they are usually filled with fish, such as tuna or dogfish. 

Believe it or not, empanadas in Italy are often made sweet. They are typically filled with ingredients such as almonds, walnuts, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, and beef. 

In New Mexico, empanadas are a traditional Christmas food and are often filled with dried fruit. 

In America, empanadas are considered to be street food. They are widely available at food trucks in New York City and other areas where there are large populations of Hispanic people. 

How to Make Empanadas

The recipe we are sharing today is one that is near and dear to our hearts. Our Lita (mother and grandmother to the Pak family) came from Argentina to America in 1964. With her came our family’s famous empanada recipe. 

Even though she is nearly 95 (we’re convinced she will outlive us all!), we still come together as a family to make this special recipe and remember our Argentine roots. 

Note: empanadas can be filled with practically anything, but our recipe is a classic take on the recipe native to the Buenos Aires area in Argentina where Lita is from. 


  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. green or Mediterranean olives, chopped 
  • Pastry dough equivalent for 2 double-crust pies or premade pastry discs
  • Optional: 1/4 c. raisins can be added to the meat filling – we personally recommend it!


  1. Brown beef to “medium” in a large frying pan. 
  2. Drain and set meat aside. 
  3. Heat olive oil in the pan and sauté onion and garlic until onion is translucent.
  4.  Add in olives, oregano, salt, pepper, meat, chopped egg, and raisins if desired. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Roll out pastry dough and cut in 6” circles. 
  6. Fill with 2-3 Tbsp. of the meat mixture.
  7. Dab olive juice or water around the edge of the circle. 
  8. Fold over the pastry, forming half-circle tarts, and pinch closed with a fork. 
  9. Place on cookie sheets and broil for 15 minutes, making sure not to burn. 
  10. Continue baking at 350° f for another 20-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. The empanadas should be golden brown.

Go Forth and Make Empanadas! 

We hope you enjoy our Lita’s empanada recipe and have fun making it with your children. We know she’ll be thrilled at the thought of little ones throughout the world, making her empanadas and learning about the Latin American heritage!  ¡Buen provecho! 

If you do happen to make our empanada recipe, please feel free to post the final results to our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram! Include photos if you can! For more historical recipes that you can add to your history curriculum, read our other blog posts like How to Make Linzer Cookies. If you’d like more explorer recipes, check out our Time Travelers: New World Explorers.

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