12 Creative Ways To Use Your Empanada Maker

black empanada maker, empanadas
black empanada maker, empanadas - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Empanadas make any meal feel like a party. Whether they're small enough to hold in your hands or big enough to dig into with a fork, they score in every department, from the crispy crust to the succulent filling. All you need is some dough, filling, and an empanada maker. You can find those ingenious devices online, even at Walmart and Target. But, wait. Once you have that attractive, reasonably priced new kitchen tool, is it going to go in that drawer -- you know which drawer -- with that cute corn silk remover, those meat-shredding claws, and that electric potato peeler that all seemed like such good ideas at the time? No, it's not. The empanada maker can fit into the simplest meals and star in the most complex ones. Give it some dough, and it will get the job done, regardless of what filling you choose.

Also known as an empanada press or cutter, this tool lets you easily fill the dough of your choice, and there are plenty of choices when it comes to empanadas. Not all dough is the same. There's a difference between empanada dough and pie dough, and that is primarily the higher fat content in the empanada dough that contributes to its tenderness. Bread or dumpling doughs also vary, and all work with empanada makers. Here are creative ways to put yours to work, so there will be room in that drawer, maybe for that new self-warming ice cream scoop you've been eyeing.

Read more: 21 Delicious Ways To Use Up Leftover Rice

Breakfast Empanadas

olive, egg, dough
olive, egg, dough - Ildi Papp/Shutterstock

Maybe it's a long weekend, and you want to chill with something more satisfying than the usual coffee. Or maybe you have guests stopping by, and you're looking for a brunch dish that will satisfy everyone. Reach for that empanada maker, and you'll have the perfect solution. Your breakfast empanada can resemble a quiche with ricotta and spinach, or perhaps a filling of sautéed mushrooms and shallots. A brunch empanada can feature crabmeat and capers in a chardonnay sauce, a feast worthy of being served with a flute of sparkling wine. Or it can be as humble and as satisfying as your favorite breakfast burrito. Start with the eggs -- because this is breakfast, after all -- and then modify them to match your mood. Are you craving a classic burrito-style empanada made with spicy chorizo? What about sausage links, minced or shredded beef, or leftover rotisserie chicken? And then there's always bacon.

A Mexican breakfast empanada can work with just meat and cheese, but, ideally, it should have six parts: scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, potatoes, cheese, and sauce. Sautée your onions and peppers -- choose bell peppers for mild and jalapeños for more serious heat -- and then add potatoes. Boiled potatoes or hashbrowns? So many decisions. Once you've made yours, tuck the mixture inside. Top with guac or pico de gallo, and if you're feeling virtuous, slice fresh fruit. You won't miss that drive-thru breakfast burrito one bit.


Crispy potstickers, dipping sauce
Crispy potstickers, dipping sauce - Cristina Nakamura/Shutterstock

Potstickers are also called jiaozi, the Mandarin word for dumpling. Yes, dumplings and potstickers are basically the same things -- filled dough wrappers that have been steamed, boiled, or fried. Gyoza, a Japanese version, arrived much later. Potstickers offer the flavors of great Asian cuisine in a couple of luscious bites. They usually include ginger-spiked ground pork, although you can use other meats, including chicken. Combine that meat with soy sauce, a little cornstarch, chopped scallions, or chives, and chopped, salted cabbage from which you've squeezed most of the water. Bok choy can sub for cabbage. There's a difference between Napa cabbage and green cabbage, and both work here. Don't forget the umami. Choose chopped shitakes or a variety of mushrooms. Water chestnuts, also chopped, add crunch. Personalize the basic recipe with whatever strikes you -- five spice powder, oyster sauce, sriracha, even honey.

Classic potstickers can take on any number of shapes, including folded in half, or if you're feeling fancy, in pleated crescents. This is not the time for an enormous empanada maker. Use the smaller variety and keep your potstickers delicate. They are usually fried on one side and steamed on the other, but if you want to keep it simple, you can also bake them until crispy and golden. Then it's onto the dipping sauce. You can't go wrong with rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a little chopped garlic.

Jamaican Beef Patties

Beef patties with chopped mint
Beef patties with chopped mint - Ezume Images/Shutterstock

Just the name of these pastries conjures thoughts of reggae, rum, and Caribbean beaches. Baked Jamaican beef patties are traditionally baked in a flaky crust made golden by the addition of turmeric, and a savory curried filling. On the islands of Jamaica, you might eat yours with your hands from a brown paper bag, and you can do the same wherever you live. Scotch bonnet peppers are the way the Jamaicans add heat to these hand pies, and Jamaican allspice and curry powder will provide the authentic seasoning. Jamaican allspice may not be a basic in your spice cabinet even though it is used as a seasoning in jerk dishes. It is a fragrant combination of dried allspice berries, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Garlic and thyme may also be present. If you don't have any on hand, try substituting pumpkin pie or apple pie spice, along with some added black pepper. Soy sauce and beef bouillon base add to the meaty flavor and play well with the spices.

You can't have an authentic beef patty without curry. What sets Jamaican curry apart from others is more turmeric and less heat. Use it if you can. Otherwise, Indian curry will work. Just use less of it.

Fusion Tacos

empanadas on wood cutting board
empanadas on wood cutting board - Pedro Ignacio/Shutterstock

When is a taco, not a taco? When it's stuffed into empanada dough instead of tortillas. Think of all the things you love about tacos. The simplicity. The crunch. The juicy, messy spiciness. You can have all that wrapped in an empanada. Whether made with brisket, beans, or ground beef, your favorite tacos will be a perfect match for your empanada maker. Because you're using dough or even pie crust instead of a fragile tortilla, you can fill your taco empanadas fuller. That's more of the good stuff for you and less falling onto your plate.

Season your meat with purchased taco seasoning or better yet, with homemade taco seasoning you make yourself from onion, garlic, and chili powders, and increase your flavor without the preservatives while you save money. Minced red onion and bell pepper can go into the mixture before or after you saute it. What about some green chiles and/or a tangy pico de gallo or salsa verde? Add a fusion vibe by adding gochujang, a little soy sauce, and fresh ginger. Finally, add the cheese of your choice and bake your way to taco perfection.


Samosas with tomatoes
Samosas with tomatoes - Malik_Qtr/Shutterstock

These Indian fried pastries are excellent as appetizers or the stars of a meal, and they're made with a variety of doughs, from the classic to puff pastry. You can even use store-bought puff pastry to add that elegant touch without investing the time to make your dough from scratch. Samosa fillings incorporate potatoes and peas with a variety of spices, among them garam masala, cumin, fennel powder, ginger, coriander, curry, turmeric, or chili. Potatoes can be cubed or mashed, and some recipes call for chopped tomatoes to be added to the mashed potatoes. Meat or fish are optional ingredients although many samosas are vegetarian.

Once they are folded and shaped, they can be fried until crispy, but that's not the only way to cook them. You can bake them at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes, or if you want to save time, try air-frying your samosas. Even if you spray them with a little olive or avocado oil first, you'll still use less oil without sacrificing flavor or texture. Part of the fun of samosas is the dipping sauce. Experiment with cilantro, mango, yogurt-based sauces, or a combination. Tamarind or garlic chutneys are excellent accompaniments.

Ham And Cheese Pockets

ham and cheese pocket
ham and cheese pocket - lucianabsas/Shutterstock

They're simple, they're delicious, and you've been eating them since you were a kid: a ham and cheese sandwich. While the French croque monsieur sounds elegant, it's not much more than a grilled ham and cheese. The humble ham and cheese pocket doesn't try to be fancy, doesn't speak French, and is confident enough to star in the simplest meals. It does like to get dressed up, though, and empanada dough is the perfect match.

Start with the ham. You can use the ham streak you've purchased and chopped. Deli ham also works, as does leftover ham. Next, consider which cheese to use. You need one with a flavor that stands up to the ham, one that melts well. Cheddar or American -- or a combination of both -- will keep to the classic flavor, but you can also experiment with Gruyère or Swiss. Mustard is to ham and cheese what catsup is to french fries. Again, the type you choose -- spicy brown, dijon, even that standard squeeze-bottle mustard -- determines the overall taste of your finished dishPick a mustard the way you would the best type of mustard for deli sandwiches. Stop right there, and you'll have a creation that is close to perfect, or you can dress it up with black olives, horseradish pickles, or thinly sliced jalapeño peppers.


tomato, sausage, cheese calzone
tomato, sausage, cheese calzone - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Just about everyone loves pizza, but now and then, we crave something different. Calzones give you that difference. They have all the tomatoey cheesy goodness of a pizza locked inside a crust instead of on top of it. And, just like pizza, the varieties are endless. Are you craving the simplicity of meat, cheese, and Italian tomato sauce? No problem. Do you want a little more variety? Artichoke hearts? Ricotta? Marinated mushrooms? The puttanesca vibe of capers and black olives perhaps? Vegetarian or vegan with mushrooms and red bell peppers? You can get the flavors you're craving with calzone. Season your sauce with oregano, basil, and maybe some fennel. If you want a little heat, add a dash of Sriracha or some cayenne pepper. A dash of sugar or maple syrup will balance the sauce's acidity the same as it does for pasta sauce.

When you build your calzone, start with the foundation, the dough. Spread a little of your pizza sauce on it, and then spread your filling over that. Add your cheese, and bake the calzones. They're fine right out of the oven, and for a final touch when you serve them, you can use more of the tomato sauce for dipping or drizzling over the top of the calzones.


Bierocks cut to show filling
Bierocks cut to show filling - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Spicy beef, onion, and cabbage make this German dish a standout. Think of bierocks as big German hamburgers. Sometimes the simplest foods are the most delicious, and that's what you have with bierocks, which you can make with as many or as few ingredients as you choose. The dish came to the United States by way of Germans living in Russia and then to the Midwest. In Nebraska, they are known as runzas. Runza sandwiches are basically bierock filling served in rolls. Bierocks are the most comforting of comfort foods with their soft exterior and warm, meaty filling.

Sauté chopped onions and garlic along with ground beef. Spice the filling with caraway seeds, cumin, smoked paprika, black pepper, or cayenne. These are purist bierocks, although some people swear by adding dill pickles, pickle juice, and/or mustard. You can choose whether to stir in shredded cabbage or to go for sauerkraut. Cheese is an optional but delicious touch. Choose Gruyère, Jarlsberg, or whatever you have on hand.

Vegan Empanadas

empanadas stacked on board
empanadas stacked on board - Rouzes/Getty Images

There's always a vegan in the crowd, and even if there isn't, vegan empanadas are a way to add variety to the menu. Vegan options are always appreciated and not just by those who are avoiding meat. For the creative cook -- that would be you -- they provide a fresh focus and an opportunity to experiment with various spices instead of reaching for the same old thing.

Black beans and avocado spiced with lime juice and cilantro are simple fillings, and they're quick to make. You can use one of the many vegan cheeses on the market or skip it altogether. You can also create your own vegan cashew ricotta or queso. Mashed sweet potatoes and smoky poblano peppers make a fragrant empanada filling when spiced with cumin, garlic, chopped onion, and oregano. Tempeh, a soy product frequently used in place of meat, is another option. So is tofu that you've drained, cubed, and coated in spices like smoked paprika, chili powder, and cornstarch. Sauté it with tofu in olive oil, and add fresh vegetables. Meat substitutes such as ground "beef" and soy-based "meatballs" are options for those who are vegans by choice but still want the taste and texture of meat.


Pierogi with sour cream
Pierogi with sour cream - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Any food with the word "pie" in it is worth sampling, and the pierogi will make you glad you did. In Polish, "pierogi," is the plural form of "pieróg," which means dumpling. Pierogi and bierocks are closely related. Originally from Eastern Europe, pierogi are frequently prepared with mashed potatoes and cheese, boiled, and then fried and topped with a butter sauce. Like bierocks, they're often prepared with sauerkraut, as well. Sour cream in the mixture or as a topping after you cook them will add richness, as will caramelized onions. You don't have to go vegetarian with these morsels though. Add sausage of any kind, a mixture of bacon and mushrooms, or even chopped beef brisket. Your choice of cheese can give the most basic pierogi your personal touch. Ricotta or mozzarella gives it the texture and flavor of lasagna. Cheddar gives it an unmistakable tang. A simple topping of cheese or crumbled bacon is all you need before serving, or you can experiment with plain Greek yogurt for creaminess or fried onions for crunch.

For dessert pierogi, combine blueberries and ricotta. Accompaniments include caramel, chocolate sauce, or fruit preserves. Like most empanadas, these are just as good frozen and reheated, and just knowing you have a bag of pierogies in the freezer is going to make meal planning less daunting.

Apple Empanadas

Apple filling dough
Apple filling dough - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Empanada dough is your best friend when you need to whip up an impressive dessert in a hurry. If you purchase prepared empanada dough, you'll have what you need regardless of the time crunch. The secret to wonderful apple empanadas is the same as making wonderful apple pie or galette -- and that is to sauté the apple slices first. When you caramelize the apples with a little butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, some sugar, and a pinch of salt, they're already the proper texture, and all you need to do is fold that dough around them. No worries about soggy or burned crust or too-crunchy, undercooked apples. In a pinch, you can use already prepared apple pie filling, but going with fresh apples is faster than a trip to the market, so consider getting out that peeler and making these empanadas from scratch. Regardless of whether you get your apples from the market or from a can, you'll elevate their flavor if you grate a little fresh ginger in them before wrapping them in dough.

Nuts are a decadent touch for apple empanadas. Pecans or sliced almonds sauteed in butter or oil with maple syrup, cinnamon, and a dash of hot sauce will make these empanadas hold their own against any dessert. Combine the nuts with the filling but leave some to scatter over the top if serving with ice cream or a whipped topping.

Sweet Cream Empanadas

empanadas dusted with powdered sugar
empanadas dusted with powdered sugar - Maritza Luna/Shutterstock

Empanadas don't always have to be savory, and these delicacies from Guatemala are an excellent example of that. A fragrant pudding is studded with raisins and encased in empanada dough. In the traditional recipe, cornmeal is added to the flour when making the dough, and the filling is accented with vanilla and cinnamon. These treats can be served as full-sized empanadas, perfect for a drizzle of fruit or caramel sauce or a dusting of powdered sugar, and they also make perfect mini hand pies or empanaditas to accompany your coffee in the morning or a glass of red wine at night.

You can bake a variation of these using dulce de leche for the filling. The phrase translates to "sweet milk," and the mixture tastes like a rich, creamy caramel. Dulce de leche is available in jars, or you can make your own, which is as easy as boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk. Cream cheese added to the dough will increase richness. Bavarian cream, which is part pudding, part whipping cream, is another variation, and it's perfect when you want a dessert that is both elegant and something out of the ordinary.

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