Salteña – Bolivian Baked Empanada

A salteña is a type of Bolivian baked empanada.

Salteñas are savoury pastries filled with beef, pork or chicken mixed in a sweet, slightly spicy or very spicy sauce, and sometimes also containing peas, potatoes and other ingredients. There are also some vegetarian versions available for sale at certain restaurants.

Typically salteñas can be found in any town or city throughout the country, but each area has its variations; Cochabamba and Sucre claim to have the best version of this snack, and many will go out of their way to try the variation from Potosí. In La Paz, it is a tradition to enjoy salteñas as a mid-morning snack, although vendors often start selling salteñas very early in the morning. The pastries are sold anywhere from 7am to noon. What is astonishing is how quickly they are sold; many outlets are sold out by mid-morning.

Bolivia is known for its special kind of empanada called a salteña. Oddly, the salteña takes it’s name from a city in Argentina (Salta), but it’s definitely a Bolivian specialty. You can recognise salteñas by the repulgue (the braid-like fold that seals the filling inside) which runs across the top of the pastry instead of along the side.

There are many varieties, but in general the meat and vegetable filling in a salteña tends to be runnier and sweeter (yet spicy) than most other empanadas. They are tricky and time-consuming to prepare, with traditional recipes calling for gelatin in the filling, so most salteña fans buy them from restaurants and street food carts. Salteñas are typically enjoyed as a mid-morning snack in Bolivia.

Salteñas are often served with a plate and a spoon, but expert salteña eaters know how to enjoy them without letting the juices run down their sleeves, by kind of pouring the liquid into their mouth as they take bites.

Classic Empanadas Salteñas
The empanada, a pasty-like snack that can have a variety of fillings. We've got hold of the classic recipe for the beef version from Salta, considered the home of the very best empanadas. Oddly, the salteña takes it's name from a city in Argentina (Salta), but it's definitely a Bolivian specialty. You can recognise salteñas by the repulgue (the braid-like fold that seals the filling inside) which runs across the top of the pastry instead of along the side.
Serves: 36
Cook time: 
Total time: 
For the dough
  • For every 1kg of flour
  • 200 g butter
  • 450 ml lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
For the filling
  • (makes about 3 dozen empanadas)
  • 1 kg minced or finely chopped beef
  • 1 kg onion, chopped
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup spring onion, finely chopped
  • 100 g butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cumin
  • 3 tablespoons red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • oil, as required
  • salt, to taste
To make the dough
  1. Heat the water and add salt. Let the butter melt into the mixture.
  2. Put the flour in a large bowl and make a hollow in the centre of the flour. Add the water and butter mixture, and knead until you have a soft dough (this will take around 5 to 10 minutes).
  3. Lightly flour the dough, and if you have a pasta machine, pass the mixture through it (setting 5 or 6). If not, form the dough into small bowls and flatten them to approximately 10cm in diameter, or roll out the dough and use a cutter if preferred.
To make the filling
  1. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and mix the paprika into the oil, taking care not to let it burn. Quickly add the meat and sear it without letting it become too well done. Set aside.
  2. In another pan, add the butter and chopped onion. Once the butter has melted into the onion add the stock, sugar, cumin and chilli. Allow the mixture to cook until the onion loses its crunch but remains juicy.
  3. Add the meat and mix well. Add salt and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Cooking the empanadas
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C
  2. Add about ¼ cup of filling to the centre of each of your circles of dough, leaving a border of about 2cm. Wet the edges with a finger dipped in water, fold over into a half moon and seal the edges by hand or with the prongs of a fork to form a scalloped edge. Lay out on a baking sheet.
  3. Brush the tops of your empanadas with beaten egg if desired. Bake for 20-30 minutes until browned on top. Serve warm.

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