Recipe: Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas from “The Salty Cubana”

April 8 is National Empanada Day – the perfect excuse for this savory recipe for Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas, shared with “Sunday Morning” readers by Nashville-based chef Rita Martinez, aka “The Salty Cubana.”

A first-generation Cuban American, Martinez was raised in Miami, Florida, in the heart of Little Havana. She told “CBS Sunday Morning,” “I was so fortunate to be surrounded by my culture growing up; it’s something I’m very proud of. If you wanted a snack there were always empanadas around.

“I learned to make empanadas with my grandmothers. Homemade empanadas were a rare occasion because they were a labor of love. As a child, empanadas, to me, they take me home – the crunch, the savoriness, the saltiness of it all. It just gives you that feeling of comfort of home.”

To watch Martinez’s instructions on preparing Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas, click on the video player below:

Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas from The Salty Cubana by
CBS Sunday Morning on Youtube

“Cuban empanadas begin with a dough that’s very similar to its Galician grandpa. We have an array of fillings. Everything from spinach and cheese to seafood to ham and, of course, our take on the almighty picadillo – a stewed ground beef filling cooked up with bell peppers, onions, copious amounts of garlic, and a sprinkle of raisins.”

She notes:

  • Always make your filling before the dough, preferably the day before. Chilled fillings are easier to handle. Once the filling chills, it will congeal, which will make it neater to use as well.
  • It’s best to start with less filling so that the empanadas won’t explode. You will get better at stuffing them with time and practice.
Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas from Nashville-based chef Rita Martinez, “The Salty Cubana.”

The Salty Cubana

Cuban-Style Picadillo Empanadas

What You’ll Need:

kitchen scale
Measuring cups & spoons
Bowls for mixing and water
Stand mixer with the dough paddle if you have one
Plastic wrap, large ziplock bag or airtight bowl
Rolling pin & bench scraper
Wide 5-6″ cookie cutter
Deep cast iron skillet
Frying thermometer
Paper towels for draining.


For the Dough:

890g all-purpose flour
25g baking powder
20g salt
35g cane sugar
110g (roughly 8 Tbsps. or 1 stick) unsalted butter
380g water
2 cups vegetable oil for frying in skillet (preferably canola)

For Picadillo Filling:

40ml extra virgin olive oil
200g large yellow onion, peeled and diced
160g red bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
20g salt
3.5g black pepper
16oz. pound ground beef
2 bay leaves
56g tomato paste
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 large tomatoes, coarsely diced
50g capers with ¼ cup of juice
½ cup pimento, diced
75g dried grapes


For Filling:

  1. Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Sauté until onion is translucent.
  2. Raise heat to medium-high and add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with as it does. Add tomato puree, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stir in diced tomatoes, capers, peppers and grapes. Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pan and add the grapes and the capers. Allow the stew to cook for another 15 minutes
  4. Adjust seasonings to taste and let cool to room temperature. Make the filling up to 2 days ahead and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

The Salty Cubana

For the Dough:

  1. Melt the butter and set aside. Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl and whisk to mix well.
  2. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the butter in and incorporate it with the flour until it resembles coarse oatmeal. Now, slowly for the water and begin to form the dough. [IF USING A STAND MIXER: Mix the dry ingredients straight in the mixer bowl with a whisk.] Secure the bowl and using 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, cut the dough ball in half. Cover one half with the plastic wrap while you roll the other half out. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough out until it is about 1/8″ thick
  2. Place a large round cookie cutter (preferably 5-6 inches in diameter) over the already-rolled dough, then gently press it down to cut the dough into a circle.
  3. Once you’ve formed the disk, place 2-3 tablespoons of picadillo in the center and use your finger or a small kitchen brush to very lightly moisten 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 and make sure the edge of the top part will be about a centimeter behind the base edge.
  5. Now, pinch and fold the edges into half-inch sections towards the center, using your thumb and your middle and index fingers, overlapping each fold until you finish at 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 empanada over on a flat surface and cover with a moist paper towel, then proceed to form the rest of the empanadas. We cover it to prevent the dough from drying out.
  7. Using your thermometer, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until it is 350°F. Fry the empanadas, turning once, 2-3 minutes per side until they are deep golden. [***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 ready, place them over a paper towel lined plate to drain or over a baking rack. Serve hot.

The Salty Cubana

Carrot Greens Chimichurri

Makes about 2 cups


½ cup minced yellow onion
½ cup chopped carrot greens (or flat-leaf parsley)
1 Tablespoon chopped oregano
½ Tablespoon finely grated or minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoon 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 jar, combine all other ingredients.
  2. Add the oil and vinegar. Mix well.
  3. Can be stored covered for a couple of days. I personally like to make a double batch and keep the leftovers in the fridge for chimichurri rice later on that week.

For more info:

Leave a Comment