My kind of cooking Party — Pastelillos de Carne


Making pastelillos is way easier than you think.                 Dough + filling, frying oil and done.


I had a “Pastelillo” party the other night, we all rolled up our sleeves and got creative trying out different ingredients and fillings.  It was amazing to see everyone having so much fun, getting super involved and excited to try their own creations.

In Puerto Rico we have our own version of empanadas, called Pastelillos. They are kind of different from the empanadas out there, the dough is light, fried, and cut into small discs.  There is an endless supply of filling recipes.  Seasoned ground beef (picadillo), potatoes-onions & cheese, even left over chicken fricassee… My favorite pastelillos growing up were simply filled with just cheese or sweet guava.

I guess its like the original Hot Pocket… but healthier and way tastier (yes, even though its fried).  They can be filled with something savory, sweet, or both.   This recipe is loaded with flavor and is super easy to make, especially if you buy the pre-made dough from any specialty supermarket.

Here the recipe:



• Pre-made Empanada shells

Goya is a popular brand you can find at many Asian or ethnic supermarkets.

If you rather make your own dough, this is my go-to recipe


Beef Filling (Picadillo)

Ground Beef, 80% Lean

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 small onion, diced

3 garlic cloves- minced

1 tbsp Sofrito

1 tomato, chopped

4 oz of tomato sauce

1 tsp. Adobo seasoning (Goya) or salt and pepper for seasoning

1 tbsp Annato seed infused oil

1 tsp. ground Cumin

1 tsp dried Oregano
½ tsp. black pepper
8 chopped or sliced olives

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. golden raisins

2 tbsp Olive oil (to sauté the ground beef)


▪Veggie Filling (Vegetarian Option) 

1 whole Zucchini Squash- diced

2 cloves of Garlic minced

1/2 small onion, diced

Pinch of Cumin, pinch of Oregano

Fresh Cilantro, minced

Pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning

1/4 cup of Mozzarella or Fontina cheese

2 Tbsp of Olive oil


Cooking Instructions


Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and green peppers with a dash of salt and let stand for 3 minutes until the veggies start to steam stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 2 tbsp of Sofrito and stir around the pan until incorporated.

Starts when Sofrito hits the pan


Add the ground beef (you can mix it with ground turkey, or chicken for a healthier option) to the pan to brown, season with 1/2 tsp. of Adobo.  Add the chopped tomato, oregano, olives and raisins, annatto oil (or Sazon Goya is a good substitute) , and tomato sauce.  Bring to a simmer stirring often, then cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.  Continue to cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.  Season to taste with the remaining Adobo.


Ground beef filling (Picadillo), made with sofrito, peppers, onions.


You can totally make the meat filling ahead, its much easier to assemble the Pastelillos when the meat is cool.  Plus, it saves a lot of time.

Veggie Filling

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a low-medium heat, add the onions, garlic with a dash of salt and let stand for 2 minutes stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 1 tsp.  Sofrito, the dry spices, and the diced zucchini then stir until all incorporated, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Use the cheese to sprinkle on top of the filling when making the pastelillos.


How to put it together.

Pour cooking oil in a 3 quart pan, deep enough for frying.  I don’t have a thermometer, so my grandma knew when the oil was hot enough by watching the first signs of a light steam…

But, if you have one a thermometer , just make sure it hits 325-350º F.

Place the dough on a clean surface lined with wax paper (easier to clean up!)  Fill the center with a spoonful of the filling.  Sometimes I sprinkle some cheese on top of the filling for an added yummy creaminess.



Here’s a trick! Run your fingers around the edges of the dough using a couple of drops of water to create tight seal




Place the filling in the middle, make sure you don’t over-fill it. A small amount goes a long way, and it keeps your frying oil free of over-spills


Then fold disk in half, it should look like a half moon, then using a fork press the edges to seal both sides creating a nice rippled edge look.


Fold into a half-moon shape, then press down on the (already moist) edges using a fork. This will keep your filling safe inside, and makes it look pretty.


Once your pastelillos are all sealed and ready, drop them in the heated oil one by one.  The filling is cooked, so the dough will only need a few minutes to cook, 2 minutes on each side—resist the urge to leave them any longer… they go from pale to brown in no time!  The pastelillos should have puffed up from the steam inside.  Then, try to resist the urge to eat them immediately…  let the pastelillos cool.


You can use a deep frier, or a frying pan. Just make sure there is enough oil in the pan.

After they cool (preferably in a cooling rack), I serve them in a bread basket.  It gives it a little rustic look that makes you want to just grab one and go.


Ok, so this is just delish. Crunchy dough, warm savory ground beef, with a sprinkle of cheese for the extra ‘umph’.

I seriously need an intervention, because once I start– I can’t stop. 

Recaito: The Puerto Rican cousin of Sofrito

Growing up I hated doing chores (who doesn’t?), my least favorite was pulling weeds.   Sometimes as I cleaned the yard, I would stumble on one or two wild plants of Recao.  Recao is a local herb  that looks just like any other weed, but its aroma is floral and spicy.  When its used in its full leaf form it makes every stew or rice just sing with layers of flavor, but If you pull one with your bare hands… like, when cleaning out the yard, you will be smelling like recao for an entire day.  This thing is powerful stuff  especially if consumed raw.


Recaito is the most basic component of Puerto Rican food, it anchors any stew-based dish  and helps develop different layers of flavor.   Its a simple blend of mostly raw peppers, onions, garlic, herbs and Recao that is pretty common in some Latin American countries, where its widely called Sofrito.  Sofrito usually incorporates tomatoes,  Recaito its mostly all about the herbs.
By no means I claim this to be the official recipe, this is just the one that grew up with, the one that has been handed down from generation to generation.  I remember my mom had an old clunky mill that looked more like a medieval device of torture.  It was hard to use,  but it made THE smoothest recaito.   The smell of pureed sweet peppers, onions and cilantro filled the house with the most herbolicious scent!  Once the mix hits the bottom of hot pan all that steam is released, your dish starts to really sing.
Makes about 16 oz.    Prep time: 25 mins
1 Green or Anaheim pepper
1/2 lb of sweet green peppers (ajies dulces)–be careful, they look like habaneros!
1 head of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 bunch fresh recao (culantro) leaves
1 bunch of  fresh cilantro
1/2 bunch of fresh oregano
How to:
Chop all peppers to medium sized cubes, clean and scrape off seeds.
Chop onions, fresh herbs, garlic just enough to fit the food processor easily.
Using a  food processor, puree peppers and onions first then add the rest of the ingredients.
Pulse ingredients together in medium / high speed until all ingredients are well incorporated and the consistency is smooth.  Use a little water or olive oil if the mixture needs to be smoother.
Pour mixture in a glass container like a mason jar, refrigerate or freeze if you want it to last longer.
Awesome Tip from Mom
Pour mixture in an ice tray and freeze until set.  The cubed size mixture makes a perfect size for using Recao in every PRican dish as its base.  Easy breezy!
Easy as 1-2-3

Easy as 1-2-3

Here’s a picture of the Scotch Bonnet peppers, so they’re easier to spot in the super market.  These peppers are mostly green but they can turn yellow and red with no huge flavor variations.
Sweet scotch bonnet peppers

Sweet scotch bonnet peppers