Pumpkin and Potato Empanadas

Pumpkin and Potato Empanadas
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Hand pies!

Last fall, we cooked up our Halloween pumpkin, freezing the flesh for use later in the year. It was a big pumpkin, so we have a number of packets still sitting in the freezer that we really need to be eating. Mostly, we make things like pumpkin bread, eating a slice for breakfast or for a snack. Another use for pumpkin is pumpkin pie; It’s one of our favorites. But, we tend not to think of pumpkin as part of a main dish, until now.

We’re not sure why people don’t think of using pumpkin for dinner; after all, it’s just a type of squash, and a lot of people love acorn and butternut squash. We guess that it’s because it’s a SQUASH. A large squash, not some squash that a single person can eat in a sitting, but a squash that could keep your family eating for several days. That, and the fact that most pumpkin is mild tasting; you might even say it was bland, so whatever you make from it, you’ll need to add flavor.

We decided on empanadas filled with pumpkin and potatoes. Now, we’ve never made empanadas before, but we’ve eaten them multiple times, and we knew what we wanted in an empanada. First and foremost, we wanted a light but crispy crust, something that we could bake, rather than deep-fry, so we settled on a variant of Lavash crackers. Second, we wanted a lot of flavor in the filling, a flavor that goes well with both potatoes and pumpkin. We settled on cumin, which is one of the most widely-used spices throughout the world. It seems to be a great universal savory spice.

Pumpkin and Potato Empanadas

Yield: 12 empanadas

Pumpkin and Potato Empanadas


    For the crust
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch dried yeast
  • 1 Tbs olive oil, plus more for oiling
  • 1/2-2/3 cup warm water
  • For the filling
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups mashed pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup minced onion (1 small)
  • 3 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Abbreviated Instructions

For the crust

In a medium bowl, mix together flours, cumin, salt, and yeast.

Add oil and enough water to form a dough.

Turn dough out onto a work surface and knead for 5 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 5 minutes, more. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Let rest one hour.

For the filling

Place potatoes in a small saucepan. Cover with water and add salt. Place over medium-low heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, fold together potatoes, onion, pumpkin, cumin, salt, and pepper.

For assembly

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.

Knead dough a few times to work in any oil on the outside. Divide into four pieces.

Working with a piece at a time, roll out the dough as thin as possible, about 1/16 of an inch thick. Cut into 4x6 inch rectangles and place about two tablespoons of filling on one side. Fold dough over the filling and crimp closed with a fork. Place on prepared pans.

Bake 40 minutes, or until crust is crisp and brown.


Ingredient discussion:

The whole wheat flour is there just to give the dough some color, so, if you don’t have whole wheat, just use all-purpose. We don’t give an exact amount for the water in the crust, but you want a dough that’s pliable without being sticky. For the potatoes, we used Yukon Gold potatoes, but pretty much any kind of potato will work. The pumpkin was, of course, roasted last fall, and, since it was made from a fresh pumpkin, we had to squeeze out a lot of liquid, so you’ll see a ball of squeezed pumpkin in the photos. If you use canned pumpkin, you won’t have this problem; we think that a 15-ounce can will be just about the right amount.

Procedure in detail:

For the crust.

mixing dry ingredients
Cumin is there to give the crust a bit more flavor, and the whole wheat flour is for color. Either could be omitted.

Mix drys. In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, cumin, salt, and yeast. We used a little ground cumin in the crust to add a bit of flavor, no other reason. Once we measured everything, we just swished it together with our fingers.

adding liquids
About 1/2 cup of warm water is enough to make the dough come together, but the exact amount will depend on your flour.

Make dough. Add the olive oil to the flour mixture, followed by about 1/2 cup of warm water. Use a spoon and stir vigorously to see if it comes together into a dough. If needed, add more water or flour until you have a ball of ragged- looking dough.

Knead, rest, knead. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead it for 5 minutes. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s dry, you’ll have to work in some more water. Keep kneading for 5 minutes, then rest. Rest yourself and the dough for 5 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to develop and hydrate. Once rested, knead for another 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth.

This resting period is there to let the dough rise. It does have yeast in it, but that yeast is to give the dough a bit of flavor.

Rest. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly-oiled bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap or a plate. We’ll let the dough rest like this for about an hour, which is about how long you need to make the filling.

For the filling.

We cut our potatoes into 1/2-inch-sized cubes. We didn’t want big chunks of potatoes, but we didn’t want mashed, either.

Boil potatoes. Place the potato cubes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add the salt to the water and place on a medium-low burner. Bring the potatoes to a simmer, and cook until they’re tender but not falling apart, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

making filling
The filling is easy once the potatoes are done. Just mix it all together, taking care not to break apart the potatoes.

Make filling. In a large bowl, fold together potatoes, pumpkin, onion, cumin, salt, and pepper. We fold everything together because we want chunks of potatoes in our empanadas, not mashed potatoes. That’s it. Set aside the filling until the dough is ready.

empanada filling
Set the filling aside while the dough finishes resting.

For assembly.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.

Keep the unused dough under wraps so it doesn’t dry out.

Divide dough. If the dough is oily, give it a few kneadings to work in the oil. Once the dough is smooth, cut it into four equal pieces and work with one chunk at a time, while keeping the remaining dough under a piece of plastic to keep it from drying out.

dough sheets
Our dough looks nice and even because we used a pasta machine to form the dough sheets. A rolling pin will work, too.

Roll dough. Roll out the dough into a long strip, making it as thin as you can, ideally, about 1/16th of an inch thick. We used a pasta machine for the task, but a rolling pin will work, too. It will just require a bit more effort on your part.

Cut dough. Slice the strip of dough into rough rectangles about 4 x 6 inches in size. These will form the outsides of the empanadas. If needed, you can give the smaller pieces a quick rolling or two to make them thinner.

forming an empanada
Use a fork to crimp the dough together. It’s dry enough that it won’t leak out, so don’t worry if the dough has a hole in it.

Fill, fold, crimp. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling toward one side of a dough rectangle, fold the dough up and over, and crimp the dough together with a fork. Transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets. Continue making empanadas with the remaining dough and filling.

This emanada dough will be crispy and brown after 40 minutes in the oven.

Bake. Slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 40 minutes, rotating from front to back and top to bottom halfway through, or until the crust is brown and crisp.

We served our empanadas with a bit of the caramelized onion chutney and some tamari sauce on the side. Some sort of sauce is likely needed, as these will be a bit on the dry side. Think of these emapandas as hand pies you can pick up and eat without filling leaking out; it’s nice to add just a bit of something to increase the moisture. Other than that, we really liked the combination of potato and pumpkin. The potato chunks became very tender in the oven, without turning to mush, so they gave the empanadas some texture, while the pumpkin helped hold the filling together. We liked using a simple cumin seasoning, rather than a mix of spices. It seemed to give these empanadas a “purer” flavor profile, instead of something where the flavors are muddied. And the crust was a success. It turned out thin and crispy- crunchy, with a texture something like a cross between a traditional crust and a cracker. Four stars.

Worth the trouble?

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