Salteñas, A Bolivian Empanada Love Story

outside 7venth Sun

So there we were.  Betty, our friends Chad and Kathy, and Chad’s father, all partaking in a few craft beers from 7venth Sun Brewing.  The beverages were going down nice and smooth on this particular evening and by the end of the night I was feeling just dandy.  We took advantage of the delightful Florida weather and conversed at the storefront high tops.   Being Floridians, it doesn’t take much of a temperature drop to lure us to a warmer atmosphere.  Needless to say the temperature probably dropped to a whopping 68°F and all of us ended up inside the comfy confines of the brewery.  Warming up with all the other patrons and enjoying some more conversation.

I could tell Kathy was feeling good because she turned the talk to food and kindly volunteered me to cook for her family one evening.  Which is fine and all, but she mentions that I should cook some authentic stuff that her mother would just love.  Her mother is Bolivian and I knew next to nothing about their culinary history.  Kathy lets me know that I can’t just whip up some carnitas for tacos and call it a night.  Shit, “What have I gotten myself into?”, I thought to myself.  Apparently, salteñas are pretty big in Bolivia.  Kathy told me that her family loves them, but her mother, Sophia, doesn’t make them because she has a difficult time with the dough.  This does not sound promising for me, a newbie to this cuisine.  We agreed on a night when the whole family would bombard grace the Beck household and I was committed to making a salteñas dish that would be adequate enough to get me through the evening and not receive a slap in the face for bastardizing this beloved dish.

Kathy with Zombie Killer

Research ensued the following day and I found a salteña recipe that sounded authentic enough.  Come to find out I would need to use gelatin in the savory filling, which I thought was odd.  Come to find out it helps thicken and hold the mixture together better.  I forged ahead with locating all the ingredients.  I had everything except the aji amarillo, a yellow chili paste that is unique to this dish.  So I picked up the lone brand at my local Whole Food grocery store and I was “all in”.

The evening arrived where I was to present this unsung Bolivian dish.  Two of Chad and Kathy’s daughters couldn’t make it, they were probably as scared as I was and wanted no part of this mess, but everyone in attendance really enjoyed the salteñas and the alfajores (a South American  cookie) that I prepared.  There was a quiet sigh of relief from me once people started biting into the golden Bolivian empanadas and the room was soon filled with sounds of approval.  Sophia brought some pan-fried plantains and some yellow rice to accompany my dishes.  The evening was a success and I’m happy that I passed the salteña test with flying colors.  Now I need a beer, but not with Kathy.  I’ve run out of tricks up my sleeve.

♥Click here for the adapted salteñas recipe from Dulce and Salado


  • I braised chicken thighs instead of boiling chicken breasts, this will produce a more flavorful filling.
  • Use a bit of vinegar when boiling potatoes, this will help them hold their shape and not fall apart
  • My dough was pretty wet after adding all the ingredients.  If this happens to you, just add enough flour until you get a cohesive mass that doesn’t stick to the bowl or cut back on the water and don’t add all of it at once.
  • The recipe says “In order to obtain the traditional color for our salteñas we use a natural colorant from Bolivia called Urucu.”  I used annatto pebbles that are popular in Mexican food for coloring.  I boiled a couple tablespoons of these in the water.
  • I added golden raisins to the filling and a quarter of a hard-boiled egg to each salteña.



bitten saltena