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Everybody loves empanadas. What’s not to love? They are small, handheld pockets of limitless possibilities. Typically empanadas are made with wheat flour, can be either baked or fried and can even lean towards the sweet or savory side. All that is good. But you can also use corn flour, or masa harina, to make enticing empanadas. Unlike wheat flour, you can’t overmix masa harina because it is gluten free. That can come in handy if you masa feels too dry or too wet. More on that later.

Using simple ingredients and basic tortilla making steps, you can make these fairly quickly. The ingredients are warm water, salt and masa harina. The process: you basically mix everything together and you end up with masa perfect for frying up empanadas. That. Is. It. 

Troubleshooting masa:

If your dough feels too wet you can add a little more masa harina. Of your dough feels too dry you can add a little more warm water. That’s pretty much it. If it is too dry it may crack when pressing. If it is too wet, it won’t hold its shape. Just keep mixing/kneading until it feels like moist, smooth playdough. And take advantage of letting the masa rest, covered, for at least 20 minutes. This time will allow the masa to fully hydrate. Refrigerating the masa for a long period of time can also dry out your masa…even if you cover it with plastic wrap.

Which leads me to the next topic: storage. You can make the masa, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, or place it in a large ziploc bag, and refrigerate it for a few days. If it feels dry, or shows signs of cracking, then just wet your hands and reroll the masa balls. Done! Making a batch ahead of time means you can have a small snack or a filling lunch in no time at all.

I hope you like it thick. The masa, obviously. Don’t press it too thin, otherwise it may tear, break or fall apart before you get it off the press. IF THIS HAPPENS you can reroll the dough and try again. We made 16 empanadas. Nothing huge, but big enough to fit snug in the palms of our hands. I urge you to use a kitchen scale to weigh out your masa and divide it. Hear me out; you will have consistent results every time. Small scales are available pretty cheapy. Here is the link to the scale I bought about 6 years ago. And since you’re asking, I made 1.5 oz masa harina balls.

What can I fill the empanadas with?

Anything. Really. Just make sure it’s not too wet. I made these with mushroom guisado, so it was extremely juicy. I used a slotted spoon to use the mushrooms without the liquid. The juice was so flavorful that I could use it as a sauce to drizzle over, or serve like an au-jus (calm down food police). But I would stick with savory fillings here: cheese, picadillo, papas con chorizo, calabacitas, chicken mole, refried beans. Ohmygawd ohmygawd, one more: chicharrones in salsa verde. 

Okay, wipe that drool and get mixing. If you can press a tortilla, you can make these masa harina empanadas. 

For those who are categorically averse: Did you notice I only used the world “moist” once? Well, twice. 

Masa Harina Empanadas

Masa Harina Empanadas

Yield: 16
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Resting Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 16 heaping tablespoons of your prefered filling
  • vegetable oil, to fry

Instructions

    1. Gently heat water and salt, just until barely warm. (Nuke it 15-20 seconds at a time.) Stir to dissolve the salt.
    2. Place masa harina into a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in warm salted water, mixing as you go, until there are no more dry pockets of masa harina. Shape into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and allow the masa to rest 20 minutes. This will allow the masa to fully hydrate.
    3. Begin preheating your oil over medium heat in a heavy bottom sauce pot. (Use a candy thermometer if you have one and get the oil to about 360F-370F.)
    4. Divide your masa into ping pong ball sized pieces and roll into a ball. Keep them covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.
    5. Whip out your tortilla press and line it with parchment paper (or thin plastic produce bags or plastic wrap), and begin press a masa ball into a flat tortilla, applying gentle pressure because you don't want it too thin. Carefully remove the parchment paper by slowly peeling it off.
    6. Spoon in a little bit of your prefered filling, about 1 generous tablespoon, down the center and fold it in half. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges. Once the oil is hot enough you can begin frying the empanadas in batches until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
    7. Allow the oil to drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Notes

Want more flavor? Add other spices or dried herbs to the masa while mixing. Some favorites include: garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, ground turmeric, dried oregano, and everything bagel seasoning (why not?!)

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2 thoughts on “Masa Harina Empanadas

    1. Typically masa for tamales is mixed with other ingredients, like salt, lard/shortening and baking soda and sometimes flavored with salsa. But as long as it has the consistency of tortilla masa you should be ok. Let us know how it turns out. We’d love to see pictures!

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