Freezer Recipe: Three Sisters Empanadas

published Oct 1, 2013
Three Sisters Empanadas
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(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

I sometimes look askance at people who complain about the glut of beautiful end-of-summer produce and fruit — what on earth to do with it? My immediate reaction is to just eat it. Eat it all. Enjoy it because we can’t in January or February or March.

But in all honesty, at times I’m one of those people, too. It can be difficult in August to use up all your vegetables and ripening fruit before they go bad. So in our house, a recent solution comes in the form of these delicious vegetable-stuffed whole wheat empanadas.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

These empanadas are made with a mixture of corn, beans and squash — a marriage that’s traditionally known as “The Three Sisters.” When I lived in Colorado, there were a number of Tex-Mex restaurants that offered burritos and enchiladas featuring a blend of three sisters vegetables. At that time I was a broke college student and a vegetarian, so I had my fair share.

If you’re not familiar with the blend, according to Iroquois legend beans, corn and squash literally supported one another in the growth chain. Native American farming communities would plant corn, beans and squash next to one another because in doing so, they’d need less tending. Beans need no pole if instead they can send their vines up a stalk of corn, for instance. For that reason, corn, beans and squash are still known as “The Three Sisters” and are used together frequently by home cooks and in restaurant kitchens because of their vibrant colors and complete protein. And, frankly, because they just taste great.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

This recipe for empanadas is a new favorite for a few reasons. The dough is delicious and flaky, and is made with half whole-wheat flour. With the recipe for this dough in your back pocket, you can venture off into your own empanada creations!

The second reason I love these empanadas is because they freeze beautifully. And as we get into the busy back-to-school season and a bustling fall for many of us, it’s nice to have a few options for quick lunches or dinners that you can just pull out of the freezer. To do just that, you can double the dough recipe and throw a ball of dough in the freezer, pulling it out to thaw in the refrigerator overnight if you know you’d like to whip up a batch the next day. Or, even better — in my humble opinion — is to double this empanada recipe altogether and freeze a batch to bake off when you have a particularly harried weeknight.

They’re that easy, simple and delicious. And they make planning ahead for fall meals less painful. I’d love to hear about any interesting new filling combinations you whip up, too!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Three Sisters Empanadas

Makes 10 empanadas

Nutritional Info


For the dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups

    (225 grams) whole-wheat flour

  • 3/4 cup

    (105 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    (8 tablespoons) unsalted cold butter, cubed

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1/4 cup

    ice water, plus more as needed

For the filling:

  • 1/2 pound

    zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/2–inch cubes

  • 1 cup

    corn kernels (from 1 medium ear) or 1 cup frozen kernels, thawed

  • 2 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

  • 3/4 cup

    canned black or pinto beans, rinsed and drained

  • 3/4 cup

    shredded cheddar cheese

  • 1/2 cup

    thinly sliced green onions

  • 3 tablespoons

    chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

  • 2 tablespoons

    diced green chiles

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    chili powder

  • Sour cream, for serving, optional

  • Salsa, for serving optional

For the egg wash:

  • 1

    large egg, beaten

  • 1 tablespoon



  1. To make the dough, combine both flours and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut butter into the flour mixture until it’s roughly the size of small peas.

  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together egg and water. Pour over dry ingredients and mix with a fork until dough begins to come together. If still shaggy, add additional water to help the dough come together, 1 tablespoon at a time. Dump out onto a well-floured surface. Knead dough a few times and carefully gather together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for one hour.

  3. To make the filling, first preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

  4. Spread the diced zucchini and corn on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and a few grinds of salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the zucchini are softened and slightly browned around the edges.

  5. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in the black beans, cheese, green onions, cilantro, chiles, cumin and chile powder.

  6. In a small bowl, prepare the egg wash by mixing together the beaten egg and water.

  7. To assemble the empanadas, divide the dough into 10 equal portions (about 55 grams each). Shape each portion into a ball and roll into a 5- to 6-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick on a cool, lightly-floured surface. Working one at a time, place 1/3 cup filling into the center of the circle. Moisten the edges with the egg wash. Fold one edge over the top of the filling to create a half-moon shape and crimp the edges to seal.

  8. Place the empanada on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush tops with egg wash, and repeat with remaining dough. Slice a few small slits in the center of each empanada to help release steam while baking.

  9. Bake at 400°F for 22 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve with sour cream and salsa along with a garnish of cilantro, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Freezing Empanadas: You can easily freeze these empanadas, either baked or unbaked, to enjoy later on a busy weeknight. To do so, wrap the empanadas well in aluminum foil and label. To bake the empanadas, preheat the oven to 400°F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and hot all the way through. Cooking time is roughly the same to warm previously-baked empanadas or to fully cook the unbaked empanadas. Do not thaw the empanadas before baking — simply toss them in the oven frozen.

(Images: Megan Gordon)