Judy’s Empanadas

Chamorro empanadas are high up on the list of my favorite snacks, but they can easily be a meal in and of themselves.  In fact, when I was on Guam recently, I would visit the village store and buy empanadas, fresh out of the fryer, for breakfast.

My mom taught my sisters and me how to make empanadas years and years ago.  It’s quite the labor of love, although you can make the filling ahead of time, thereby cutting back on the actual preparation of the empanada.

A tortilla press, while not essential, is a great tool to have when making empanada.  While you’re at it, a bunch of kitchen helpers is good too. 😉  I remember when I was younger, we only had one tortilla press to share among my three sisters and mom; someone usually got stuck with using the much slower rolling pin.  We did it assembly-line style, with a couple of us flattening the dough, another couple of us filling it, and then someone sealing it tightly.

I’ve had a lot of requests for my empanada recipe, but my good friend, Judy Fernandez Dillinger, has an amazing recipe and she was gracious enough to allow me to feature it here.

As a side note, this is the packet of achote powder used in Judy’s recipe below.  Each packet contains 1/3 ounce of powdered achote, which is roughly 2 teaspoons.  Use this as a guide.  Some people like more or less achote to make the crust lighter or darker.  I also know someone who doesn’t use achote at all.

So, without further ado, here is Judy’s empanada recipe.  Give it a try.  I KNOW you’ll love it. 🙂

Judy's Empanadas
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Chamorro
Serves: 2 dozen
  • ½ cup cream of rice mixed with ½ packet of achote powder*
  • 2 cups of chicken broth (you can use water but will have to season with salt)
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup chopped chicken or imitation crab meat
  • black pepper to taste
  • hot pepper (optional)
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 packet achote powder*
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons oil
  • 1½ - 1¾ cups chicken broth or water (if using water, increase salt to 2 teaspoons) - warm
*If you don't use achote powder, just make sure you soak achote seeds in the broth or water for color.
For the filling:
  1. Saute onions and garlic in a large pot. Cook till onion becomes transparent. Add chicken and saute for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add chicken broth or water. Remember, if you use water you'll have to season it with salt (to taste). Bring to a boil.
  3. Using a whisk, gradually add the cream of rice. Keep stirring so that there are no lumps. Bring heat to medium and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add hot pepper (as hot as you want it) and then remove from heat.
  5. Completely cool before filling the shells.
For the crust:
  1. Mix masa harina, corn starch, salt and achote powder in a bowl. Add oil and broth or water to the flour mixture. Kneed with hands until dough is pliable.
  2. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Use a tortilla press to flatten to form a circle. Be sure that you press the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper.
  3. Fill the bottom half of the circle with the cooled filling. Fold over the top of the dough to meet the bottom and press to seal the edges.
  4. Deep fry until nice and crispy. The trick is to fry at a very low heat. I like to set my dial at the 4th interval, right below the middle. If you fry it at high heat it will burn and the crust will not be crunchy but stale.


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  1. ejy says:

    i followed the recipe, but when it came time to frying, my crust wasnt crunchy. could it be that i had the heat up too high? fry it a little longer maybe on the heat setting you recommend.?

  2. Donna M Daugharty says:

    I want to make empanadas for my family, the only problem I have here in the mainland is finding the Masa harina. Did not realize there are several types of Masa, can you please let me know which one to buy. I remember the one from back home, but didn’t see it here in the mainland.

  3. Lizela Sabiranju says:

    Thanks for your site, and for sharing your recipes. I landed on Guam in 1974 (Navy brat) and grew up in Agana, Big Navy and NCS before leaving back for mainland in 1981. While in Big Navy, I went to school at Mt. Carmel. I remember driving towards either Piti or Yona to an elevated general store with a tin roof. I remember it was a drive, and nothing was anywhere but jungle until you arrived. It was a common pit stop when touring the island. Inside, the mother or grandmother of the current owners at the time (easily in her 70s-80s) was always making bunelos aga and empanadas that were sold through the store. This Chamorro treasure (I no longer remember her name), taught me to make both. Even when I was older, we would drive down to her store from Dededo and NCS base to spend a few hours making these wonderful foods at least once a month. I remember that she never used masa harina at all in the recipe. She said that using the masa harina was …”the way the younger peoples made it” and said the same for using cream of rice or cream of wheat. I learned to make the entire empanada from toasted rice. We would toast batches of rice on cookie sheets, stirring the rice around until it was lightly toasted, never brown. Then once cooled, we would grind it in this huge volcanic stone molcajete. Then she would prepare the dough similarly to your posted recipe, adding more achiote to the center than the outer dough, so when you bit into it, the center was darker and more flavorful with bacon and onions and boonie peppers – a little bite of Chamorro heaven. As a now retired chef, I find it awesome to learn how a culture’s favorite dishes evolve over the generations. Site’s like yours are wonderful historians to those moments in time. Thanks again for all the comments of others in discovering and sharing these wonderful changes. Li

    • Thanks for sharing such great memories of your childhood on Guam! What an amazing experience that must have been, to learn the old Chamorro ways of cooking our beloved dishes from the best teachers, our man-åmko’.

  4. Sheila Manglona says:

    Si yu’us ma’ase for not making your page private and fir sharing our food recipes with others to enjoy! S.Manglona

  5. Christi Zelaya says:

    This recipe is very similar to my sister-in-law’s recipe for “pastelitos”. Apparently pastelitos are the latín version of empanadas. For Latinos, an empanada is actually similar to a “hand-pie” made with plantain or young banana.

  6. Justin C. says:

    Unfortunately, I am having a real hard time finding the powder in such a short time, and can only find the achote SEEDS. Is there a way I can use that? Thank you for your time!

    • Yes, just scrub the seeds in water until all the coloring has come off. Start out with about 1/4 cup seeds with 1 cup of water. If the seeds are fresh, 1/4 cup seeds is plenty. If they’ve been dried for a while, you may need more to color the water a dark orange-red. Add enough water to get the measurement called for in the recipe.

  7. VJ Santos says:

    Hi Annie,
    I love your Empanada Recipe and I had a great deal of compliments from my friends. They all love the Empanada and yes it was not spicy. They had to put the Tabasco because I can’t have peppers. They still loved it.

  8. Tata says:

    My empanadas cracked. How to prevent

  9. Steve says:

    I lived in Guam from the 60’s through the 80’s and use to go to Mom ‘n Pop stores to eat Empanada’s made by an old lady. I love ’em.

    The problem I have with this recipe is that the amount of Achote (Annatto) powder is not exact. My grocery stores here in California have different size packets. All recipes should be precise so that they can be made exactly the same way time-after-time. Please revise your recipe to note the exact AMOUNT of Achote (Annatto) powder that is needed in both the filling and crust. If you do this, then you’ll show you’re an expert cook and give readers a perfect recipe. 😉

    • My friend, Judy, uses the Mama Sita’s brand of achote powder. Each package contains 1/3 ounce of powdered achiote, which is roughly 2 teaspoons. This should help you. By the way, this is my friend’s recipe, so I have no creative license to change it in any way, so the recipe will stay as it is. I will, however, add a photo of the achote powder to my post in case other readers don’t review comments, so thanks for pointing it out.

    • June Reynolds says:

      Does anyone know how to use tact? I think that is something we all can use from time-to-time. I think we can all be an “expert cook” with just a little tact! Just saying.

    • Chris says:

      I had the same issue. Thanks Steve for bringing it up and thanks to Annie’s for putting up a photo of the packet.

  10. Tina Munoz Flaugher says:

    Can you tell me whT creme of rice is? Is it cambells or a bix? What is the brand?

  11. Don says:

    Can I substitute cream of rice with something else

  12. Shirley - Tacoma WA says:

    Yum! ♫I want to try this one too.

  13. Lilang says:

    Why does my empanadas get soft after it cools, it doesn’t stay crispy for long

  14. janet says:

    C u keep dough in refrigerator

  15. Jess says:

    Can I use cream of wheat instead

  16. Marlinda says:

    I really would like to make this. However I do. It know what cream of rice is or where I can purchase this.

  17. Thomas Worle says:

    Far outshines the rest, thank you very much for this.

  18. Joseph Daga says:

    ALOHA… how can I order

  19. Lynda Heck O'malley says:

    Thank you so much for the recipe.. Last time I had this was from a vendor, while waiting to change buses in Agana back in 76 <3 took me back to a special time.

  20. Esther llanes says:

    Thank you Annie for sharing this recipe, I made it and it was awesome for my first try. But I do have a question if you don’t mind. Just how much of the filling do you place in the middle of the crust? I encountered a few, where the filling was not enough. I love this recipe and I posted a few pictures on my facebook page. Thank you, Esther

  21. Rose Fleet says:

    Love those empanadas. Thanks for the link.

  22. Sandy Hart says:

    I think I will try and make it

  23. Vivian Davis says:

    Thank you for this recipe. Looks yummy.

  24. Joana says:

    I can’t find cream of rice is there any substitution to that

  25. Mary says:

    Just made this tonight and it was spot on! Thank you for sharing this recipe ♡

  26. Dixie Rae says:

    For cream of rice what do you mean? Do I have to make it?and how

    • Cream of Rice is sold in a box. Look for it in the hot cereal aisle next to Cream of Wheat.

      If you prefer, you can toast uncooked rice then grind it into a fine powder-like consistency. I explain how to do this in my recipe for Chalakiles.

  27. I’m def not an expert in cooking and I’m so technical…. With that being said, what exactly is half the packet of achote? The only place I’ve seen The packets is at a mexican store, their packet is about 2oz. Before I attempt this recipe, could you approximate what half of the packet is that you are referring to? Thanks.

  28. darleiaj says:

    Hello, Is there any other tool to use to flatten the dough? Oh and can I just use jasmine rice?

    • You can flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Cut a large ziplock bag down the two sides so it opens flat. Place the dough on one side of the bag the fold the other side over. Roll the dough between the plastic sides.

      You can use jasmine rice, but toast it first then grind it into a fine powder before adding to the filling.

  29. Angie says:

    Is it ok to freeze some for later?

  30. Shirley says:

    Mhmmmmm!!!! I have an aunt back home and she makes empanadas and it’s just too good. I grew up on hers and the ones at mom and pops stores especially in the morning before school!! But I must say I’ve always loved hers but I need to try making these on my own . Quick question what can I use if u don’t have a tortilla press? Thank you ! Btw I’ve tried making your corn soup recipe MY FIRST TIME MAKING IT ON MY OWN AND I LOVED IT!!!!

    • Thank you, Shirley! I’m glad you liked it! As for the tortilla press, take a large ziplock bag and cut it open down the sides (do not cut the bottom). Place a ball of dough in the middle of one side of the bag then flip the other side over to cover the dough. Use a rolling pin or large glass to roll the dough flat (you can even press it flat with a plate). If the dough sticks to the plastic, sprinkle masa harina before rolling/flattening. Good luck!

  31. Jake Storm says:

    I taught at GW High School 35 years ago and, at lunchtime, used to buy the homemade fried empanadas that were sold in the student store every day. A student told me that they were made from pumpkin but, unlike the dessert buchi buchi recipes I’ve found on line, these empanadas that I remember had red pepper flakes, were wonderfully spicy, and the filling was very smooth.

    Can you direct me to the recipe I’m seeking?

    Or was the student mistaken, and the empanadas probably were made from Cream of Rice?


    Salem, OR

    • Hafa Adai, Jake. The filling sounds like it could very well have been made with cream of rice. If the empanadas you remember were savory and not sweet, it was probably chicken empanadas and not pumpkin (those are the sweet buchi-buchi). You can make the filling spicy as well, which explains the red pepper flakes.

  32. Gerri says:

    Good recipe! With my recipe I use pan roasted white rice and grind them in the pestal and mortar or a food processor. I would also add some unbleached flower (depending on the amount of empanadas I am making) to the masa! I find that it makes the dough easier to handle and it does not affect the taste or texture of the turnovers and if anything it improves it! At least for me it does! And since I am a vegan, I use organic vegetable broth and strips of fried organic tofu to my filling and off-course, lots of fresh booney peppers! It makes me happy that I don’t miss out on one of my favorite Chamorro snacks growing up as a child in the islands! Absolutely delicious!

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