8 & $20: Sweet and Spicy Beef Empanadas

These fun, flavorful, handheld Argentine snacks are reliable crowd-pleasers

8 & $20: Sweet and Spicy Beef Empanadas
Among the countless renditions of empanada fillings in Argentina, a favorite is ground beef and raisins. (Julie Harans)
Jun 25, 2019

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Hand pies, turnovers, empanadas … whichever term you favor, it’s hard to go wrong with stuffed dough. These crowd-pleasers bring the playful nostalgia of a handheld meal, but they can pack some seriously complex flavors. Once you get the basics down, it’s easy to get creative with fillings—think cinnamon-sugar empanadas and homemade Pizza Rolls.

This version draws inspiration from Argentina, where raisins are a popular addition to empanada fillings. The raisins rehydrate as they cook with the filling, soaking up the juices and transforming into pleasant pops of savory-sweetness, balanced by the fresh acidity of tomatoes and the heat of red pepper flakes and spices.

A quick shopping tip: Try to find tomatoes that are heavy for their size, and be sure to include as much of that liquid as possible when you add them to the pot for cooking the filling. Maximizing their juice-to-flesh ratio will help keep the meat moist as everything cooks together, creating an ideal contrast to the golden crust.

When it comes to building these empanadas, you’ll skip the fancy crimping techniques and turn to the trusty fork to help you seal the stuffing inside with ease. Store-bought dough helps it all come together in just over an hour.

You can even make these ahead of time by freezing the unbaked empanadas. Simply let them defrost and pop them in the oven whenever a craving strikes.

For a wine as easy to enjoy as this handheld dish, I went with Barone Fini Merlot Trentino 2015 from a site along Lake Garda in northern Italy. Its freshness and medium-bodied structure complemented the richness from the rendered beef fat, while a black currant note accentuated the raisins in the filling.

Sweet and Spicy Beef Empanadas

Pair with a fresh, medium-bodied red such as Barone Fini Merlot Trentino 2015 (86 points, $15) from northern Italy.

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Approximate food costs: $20


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup red wine
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Two 14-ounce packages frozen empanada dough

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add ground beef, season generously with salt and pepper, and sear, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned but not cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove beef from the pan and set aside, using a slotted spoon to leave the juices in the pot.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid browning. Add tomatoes, wine, red pepper flakes, raisins, cumin, paprika and oregano. Stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes. Return beef to pot and let cook through, about 2 minutes more.

3. Taste filling for seasoning, adding salt or pepper if necessary. Transfer to a large plate and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. While the filling is cooling, remove empanada dough from freezer and let it defrost. Preheat oven to 375º F.

4. For each empanada, place one dough disk in the center of your work surface, leaving the plastic film underneath to prevent sticking. Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling in the center. Using your finger or a pastry brush, brush around the edge of the disk with a small amount of water. Fold the disk over the filling and press the folded edge with a fork to seal.

5. Transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even baking. Makes about 15; serves 3 to 4 as a main course, or 7 to 8 as appetizers.

Recipes Cooking Pairings Red Wines Merlot Italy

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