Salteñas de carne are the iconic empanadas of Bolivia. However, they are named after the Argentinian city of Salta because of one woman who became a well-known figure in 19th-century South American politics.
Salteñas have two main features that differentiate them from most empanadas. The repulgue, or the "braided" seam that seals the empanada closed, is placed on top. Also, these empanadas are baked in an upright position, rather than on their side.
Salteñas can be eaten any time of day and are often served with the Bolivian salsa called llajua. They are especially popular as a mid-morning snack and are easy to find from street vendors. Be sure to eat them carefully from the top so you don't spill the juices down the front of your shirt.
- For the Filling:
- 2 medium potatoes
- 4 cups chicken stock (or beef)
- 1 large onion (diced)
- 1 red bell pepper (seeded and diced)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound stewing beef
- 2 tablespoons aji panca paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked)
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Dash salt (to taste)
- Dash black pepper (to taste)
- 1/2 cup peas (frozen)
- 1 (1/4 oz.) package gelatin (unflavored)
- 1/2 cup water
- 14–16 olives (green)
- For the Dough:
- 4 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 5 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or lard)
- 1 tablespoon achiote
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
Make the Filling
The filling of salteñas is also different from other empanadas. It's much juicier with lots of stewing liquid accompanying the meat and vegetables.
Gelatin is added to the filling while it is still hot. The mixture is then chilled until it thickens, which makes it easier to handle when shaping the salteñas. As the salteñas bake, the gelatin melts and the broth becomes a liquid again.
It's a nice trick that keeps the salteñas from getting soggy.
- Peel the potatoes and dice them into 1/2-inch cubes.
- In a saucepan, bring the chicken or beef stock to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, reserving the cooking broth, and set aside.
- Cut the beef into small 1/2-inch cubes.
- In a large, heavy skillet, add 2 tablespoons oil and sauté the beef until browned on all sides. Remove beef from the skillet and set aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat remaining in the skillet.
- Add the aji panca, onions, and bell peppers to the skillet and sauté until the onions have softened (about 3 to 4 minutes).
- Add the cumin, paprika, and oregano and sauté for several minutes.
- Add the beef back to the skillet and cook while stirring for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the reserved broth (from cooking the potatoes) to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Simmer beef and vegetables over low heat until the beef is tender (about 30 to 40 minutes). Add a bit more broth if needed.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cooked potatoes and peas and stir until heated through.
- Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 cup water. Add the water to the beef mixture and stir well.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a casserole dish. Refrigerate until cooled completely.
Prepare the Dough
While the filling is cooling, you can prepare the dough. Do this right away because it does need to rest for awhile.
- Place the flour in a large bowl.
- In a small saucepan, combine the vegetable shortening, butter, and achiote. Heat over medium until very hot.
- Add the hot fat mixture to the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Use your fingers to distribute the fat evenly through the flour until it is crumbly.
- In a small saucepan, stir the sugar and salt into the water and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot. Stir this hot water mix into the flour mixture, along with the egg.
- Knead mixture until it forms a smooth dough, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of water if the dough seems dry. Set the dough aside for 30 minutes to an hour.
Assemble and Bake the Salteñas
With both elements of the salteñas ready, it's now time to assemble and bake them.
- Divide the dough into 2-ounce balls (about the size of a golf ball). Press each ball into a flat round and let rest for 5 minutes.
- With a rolling pin, roll each round of dough into a larger oval shape that is about 5 to 6 inches in diameter.
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Place 2 tablespoons of the chilled filling in the middle of a dough round. Add an olive to the filling. Fold the dough in half over the filling and pinch the edges together to seal dough all the way around. If you want a shinier crust, brush a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk onto each salteña.
- Place salteñas on a baking sheet, braid up, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
The History of Salteñas
Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818–1892) was a well-known 19th-century female political writer who was originally from Salta, Argentina. She was a Salteña—a woman from Salta. When she was young, her family was forced to emigrate to Bolivia for political reasons.
They started a popular empanada business as a way to make a living in their new country.
The family is said to have modeled their unique empanadas after a popular Spanish pastry from that period. Bolivians came to love the interesting empanadas that the"salteña" made and sold. Today, salteñas are an iconic dish in Bolivian cuisine.
Juana Manuela Gorriti eventually ended up in Peru, where she led a very adventurous life as a feminist journalist and battlefield nurse. She was a revered yet somewhat controversial figure of her time and lived the last part of her life back in Argentina.