Photo by Sonia Mendez Garcia

Beef and Vegetable Empanadas Infused With Annatto

Cuisine: Latin
Prep Time: 2 hours
Servings: 6 servings
Annatto gives these beef and vegetable empanadas a pop of color.

I have prepared a variety of dough and tortilla recipes, both corn and wheat flour, infused with different flavors, including annatto. Also known as achiote, annatto comes in a variety of ways. The seeds are a rich red color and are ground into a powder or mixed with other spices to make a paste. The seeds are great for infusing into different oils, such as olive oil or canola. For this recipe, I steeped them with some vegetable shortening, strained the seeds out and added that to my flour mixture to create this bright orange/red dough for empanadas. The annatto does not really have a strong or distinct flavor, in my opinion. It is great for adding color to marinades and rice dishes. The seeds can be found in most spice isles these days. I would suggest finding a market that carries a bigger selection of Latin products for good quality spices at reasonable prices. I chose beef guisado for my filling, but you could most certainly use chicken or roasted vegetables for a vegetarian option.


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  1. In a large skillet, preheat 2 tablespoons of olive oil to medium/high heat. Add the beef and season lightly and to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and cumin. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes until nicely browned.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, jalapeño, poblano and cook for another few minutes. Add the tomatoes, corn, tomato sauce, water, bouillon and oregano. Stir well to combine; taste for seasonings. At this time I like to re-season with a little more cumin, garlic powder and pepper. Reduce heat, cover and continue cooking until it thickens and most of the broth has reduced.
  3. While the filling is cooling prepare the dough. Combine the shortening and annatto seeds to a small sauce pan. Heat to medium/low and steep the seeds for about 5 minutes or until it turns a bright orange-red color. Do not let it boil. Strain the melted annatto shortening into a large bowl and let cool slightly.
  4. Sift together the dry ingredients for the dough. Gradually add the flour into the shortening until a dough forms. Drizzle in a little of the warm water until you get a smooth dough. It will feel greasy because of the melted shortening. if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Cover and let the dough rest for 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. Roll 12 equal dough balls and keep loosely covered. Flatten the dough ball using a tortilla press line with plastic or with the bottom of a flat plate. Fill one half with about 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling, fold sides up and gently pinch and fold over to seal the empanada. You could also lay it on it’s side and seal with a fork if you prefer. Transfer to baking sheets and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time. I like to finish them under the brolier for just a minute or two to brown the crust a little more, but that is optional. Serve with your favorite salsa.
  6. Let empanadas cool completely before storing loosely covered in the refrigerator. Reheat in oven or microwave.
  7. In our house, we really enjoy a quick pickled onion salsa for garnish. Great on tacos and empanadas. 1 cup onions, cover with just enough vinegar or lime juice to cover. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Let set and marinate for at least an hour before serving.

Chef Notes

beef-and-vegetable-empanada-filling A simple carne guisada is a good option for empanadas. You want to always cook it low and slow until most of the broth has evaporated. Makes it less messy when filling the empanadas. annatto When steeping the annatto seeds, keep the heat at a low/medium. It only takes a few minutes once it reaches the right temperature. Cool at room temperature before storing the oil. empanadas-baking This dough recipe is pretty easy to work with. It’s not elastic like pizza dough and is easier to form and seal. The stand-up form I prepared above is just another way you can serve them.    

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