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Three Sisters Empanadas

By Megan Gordon/

This article was published January 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Three Sisters Empanadas

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.

According to Iroquois legend, beans, corn and squash literally supported one another in the growth chain. Native American farming communities would plant them next to one another because in doing so, they’d need less tending. Beans need no pole if they can send their vines up a stalk of corn, for instance. This is the reason they were called the three sisters. They are used together frequently by home cooks and in restaurant kitchens because of their vibrant colors and complete protein — and mostly, because they just taste great.

This recipe for empanadas is a new favorite of mine for a few reasons. First, 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 it’s always nice to have a few options for quick lunches or dinners that you can just pull out of the freezer. To do that, you can double the dough recipe and throw a ball of dough into 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, double the recipe altogether and freeze a batch to bake when you have a particularly harried weeknight.

Three Sisters Empanadas

Makes 10 empanadas

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup 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, thawed if frozen

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 extra for garnish

2 tablespoons diced green chilies

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 water


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.

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 1 hour.

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

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 brown around the edges.

Transfer to a bowl. Fold in the black beans, cheese, green onions, cilantro, chilies, cumin and chili powder.

Prepare the egg wash by mixing the beaten egg and water in a small bowl.

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.

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.

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

You can easily freeze these empanadas, either baked or unbaked, to enjoy later on a busy weeknight. To freeze, wrap the empanadas well in aluminum foil and label. When you are ready to use, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake them for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and hot all the way through. Do not thaw the empanadas before baking — simply toss them into the oven frozen.

Cooking time is roughly the same to as to warm previously baked empanadas or to fully cook the unbaked empanadas.

Megan Gordon is a writer for, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit comments or questions to


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