In my family, empanadas are the taste and smell of the holidays. We don’t know the origins of this recipe but it was my father’s thing, and he hails from central New Mexico where I believe these were a decades (centuries?) long tradition.

I’m the only one of my siblings who is keeping this tradition alive, and documenting this recipe will hopefully keep a bit of father’s memory alive for years to come. Siblings, nieces, nephews and friends who have memories of enjoying these empanadas will perhaps prepare empanadas as a part of their own holiday traditions, and share a bit of good tequila with me as thanks for sharing this recipe!

This is a very traditional New Mexican style, with mincemeat having beef tongue as the meat component. Preparing beef tongue is a bit like watching “how the sausage gets made”. In other words, it’s not for the squeamish. But if you’re comfortable seeing the food you eat in its early, unprepared form, then this won’t bother you.


Still with me? Here’s the recipe:



This is enough for about 50 empanadas, or enough to share with anybody lucky enough to get past the idea of eating beef tongue.

  • 2.5-3 pounds (1134 grams) beef tongue (If you’re lucky enough to live in Seattle, you can get fresh beef tongue at Don & Joe’s Meats)
    • Optional, add 3-4 cloves, some salt and a small stick of cinnamon and a bay leaf to the cooking liquid
    • I use about 2 pounds in the empanadas, and save the rest for tacos (chop in small cubes, fry briefly, serve in good corn tortillas with some quality salsa, cilantro and chopped onion as toppings)
  • 2 generous cups (200+ grams) roughly chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups (350 grams) raisins
  • 8 medjool dates, pitted and chopped (don’t tell my mother) - you can skip these and add another 1/2 cup of raisins if you prefer (This is my nod to the probable, long ago Moorish influence in Spain that begat this empanada recipe.)
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar (I used jaggery, but you can also use piloncillo)
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2.5-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (the real stuff, not vanillan)
  • 1 generous teaspoon sea salt


I tried several recipes. Use this one, it works. But I am a baker and like to fiddle with flours, so here’s my take on that same recipe using weight instead of volume. This will make about 12 empanadas, so you can double and do this over a couple of days, or quadruple the recipe and do it all in one go with 2-3 of your best mates:

  • 288 grams all purpose flour
  • 15 grams rye flour
  • 6 grams salt
  • 3 grams baking powder
  • 88 grams shortening (optionally, lard)
  • 10 grams vinegar
  • 45-50 grams or more of water (this depends on how much water your flour will absorb; if you make tortillas, you’ll know when it’s right)



Prepare the filling first. It can sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days until you’re ready to make the dough and fry the empanadas.

  1. Cook the beef in a slow cooker for several hours. Overnight is fine. Using an Instant Pot like cooker, I cooked mine on low for 6 hours. Either way, low and slow with sufficient liquid is what’s important.
    • Add the optional spices to the bottom of the pot
    • Place the tongue into the pot, cutting it into 2-4 pieces if it doesn’t quite fit
    • Pour 1-1.5 quarts water over the tongue
    • Add a teaspoon or 2 of salt to the liquid
  2. Let the tongue cool, peel or carve off the outer skin of the tongue, then roughly chop into 1/2” - 3/4” cubes.
    • Save your cooking liquid! You might need some to add moisture to the filling, and what you don’t use in the filling is delicious as a broth. Let the broth cool, then skim off the fat that will coagulate on top of the cooking liquid.
  3. Figure out what you will use to grind the meat. I am lucky enough to have the grinder which my parents used for decades to make empanadas (and nothing else as far as I know)! A Cuisinart might work, but you have to be very careful to not overprocess the filling. That is, you want to leave a few large chunks of walnuts and raisins.
  4. Assemble your filling ingredients. The sugar, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and salt can all go into one bowl and mixed well using your fingers. The other ingredients should be kept separated. Kind of like this. filling_ing
  5. Now the magic happens, or gross part, depending on your POV. Drop a few pieces of meat, some raisins, dates and walnuts into the grinder and start turning.
    • If you’re using a Cuisinart or similar, process about 1/4 of each of the ingredients at a time.
  6. Once the grinding is complete, add the sugar/spice mix and to the mincemeat along with the vanilla. Now, mix it well using your hands. If it seems a little dry, add a little cooking liquid until it’s juuuuust right.
  7. Add more sugar, salt, spices or vanilla if you are so inclined.
  8. We’re done. Cover and refrigerate the mincemeat (picadillo!?)


Like I said above, use this recipe or one that has been used in your familia. The recipe will make about 12 empanadas. The dough balls should be the size of a very slightly oversized ping pong ball. I make enough dough for 12 - 24 at a time.

Final Steps

Is your dough all rested? If so, proceed!

  1. Remove the mincemeat (picadillo) from the refrigerator. It should not be too, too cold when the empanadas are fried.
  2. Preheat shortening or oil in a large pan. The pan should be big enough to cook 2-3 empanadas side by side, and there should be enough fat to fill the pan to a depth of about 2 inches. You want a temperature of about 350F.
  3. Using a rolling pin or tortilla press, flatten 2-3 balls of dough to about a 6 inch circle. For me, the tortilla press makes short work of this step. But if you’re lucky enough to have a Mexican abuela, she could probably knock this step off in no time at all.
  4. Add about 30 grams (2 generous teaspoons) of filling to the flattened dough, fold, and pinch the edges to form a tight seal.
    • Try not to leave any pockets of air around the edges of the filling. It should look something like this: empanada1
  5. Fry for 4-6 minutes, or until the dough is a pleasing color. If needed, turn the empanada about halfway through the fry. You’ll know if that’s necessary. Transfer to a paper towel, let cool a bit.
  6. Eat 1 or 2 as a reward for your labor. After the empanadas have cooled, whatever doesn’t get eaten should be refrigerated for up to a week. You can reheat in a toaster oven at 250 for 10+ minutes. You can also freeze your empanadas and enjoy them until that sad day when they are all gone.