Empanadas: The Perfect Portable Lunch

Sha Cehum of Salud PGH shares his favorite recipe for these easy-to-make hand pies.


Now that the back-to-school rush has passed, we are all trying to get into a new routine.  For me, that means getting back into packing lunches for two of my kids five days a week. But also, with the fall season upon us, I am intent to rack up as many picnic days as I can. School lunches and picnics require a repertoire of non-fussy food that easily can be put together, packed and eaten on the go.

Sandwiches are a no-brainer. But why not make something more fun? Elevate the sandwich to a handheld pie and your options suddenly expand. I am talking about empanadas. Hand pies filled with whatever ingredients that strike your fancy. They’re an easy-to-transport, no-mess food. Just make a bunch and freeze. Then take them out when you need them.

Empanadas are a staple in Latin American and Caribbean cooking (many countries have their own versions of these handheld pillows of goodness). Until recently, empanadas were hard to find in Pittsburgh. But more and more food entrepreneurs are offering this popular staple. Salud PGH is one of them.

Sha Cehum started Salud PGH as a tribute to his native cuisine. His family is from Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, and a lot of his cooking is influenced by Puerto Rican and Latino flavors (we definitely need more of that in Pittsburgh!). He puts a healthy slant on the food he grew up with. As he says, “My father’s a farmer. So I’ve seen life beyond cuchifritos [or fried food].” Take one bite of his baked empanadas, and you know he means business.

Cehum shares the recipe for his gandules guisado (my favorite filling!) and sweet-potato empanadas, perfect for the fall. For the gandules, you can replace pigeon peas with black-eyed peas. Cehum also shares his recipe for the dough; when I am in a pinch, I use my favorite store-bought pie crust — make sure yours doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils. The dough he uses is a healthier version of a typical empanada because it is baked, not fried.

Salud PGH offers a rotating selection of many flavors at the Bloomfield Saturday Market from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (until Nov. 1), on certain days at StartUptown in Uptown and soon via his own cart. Follow Salud PGH on Twitter and Facebook to get updates.


Empanada Dough

From Sha Cehum of Salud PGH
Makes about one dozen empanadas


  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups coconut oil
  • ½ cup applesauce


  1. Combine flour, salt and baking powder in mixing bowl.
  2. Add coconut oil and mix until small pea-sized lumps form.
  3. Add applesauce and continue mixing. Then add water.
  4. Once dough moves away from sides of bowl, take dough out and let sit in fridge for 3 hours before using. Be careful not to knead dough too much or the dough will be tough.
  5. Roll out dough and cut into circles, fill with your favorite filling and bake at 375 degrees for 18-25 minutes or until the empanadas are golden.

(Here is a great tutorial on how to shape empanadas.)


Gandules Guisado Filling (Sautéed Pigeon Peas or Black-eyed Peas)


  • 3 cans green gandules (frozen)
  • 2 tablespoon sofrito (available in the Spanish foods section at Giant Eagle)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 13-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • Black pepper and sea salt, to taste


  1. Heat pot on medium high, add olive oil and sofrito.
  2. Let simmer for 1-1½ minutes.
  3. Add gandules, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, cumin, tomato sauce and water, cover and let cook 20 minutes or until gandules soften.
  4. Add black pepper and salt to your taste. 
  5. Then remove lid and let some of the liquid evaporate for another 10 minutes.

Sweet-Potato Filling


  • 1 bag sweet potatoes — about 2 pounds 
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Black currants
  • ¼ cup butter or Earth Balance
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Boil sweet potatoes until soft, drain and mash.
  2. Add Earth Balance, nutmeg, cinnamon, currants (as much as you’d like) and half a can of coconut milk.
  3. Continue mashing and mixing until desired consistency; the mixture should be fluffy but not runny.


Categories: Brazen Kitchen