Humans of San Luis: Empanadas with Tema

Making empanadas as easy as one, two, three steps.

Born and raised in San Luis de Monteverde, Tema has over 40 years of empanada-making experience. Last week, we were lucky enough to spend the afternoon with Tema and her family at her home in Alto San Luis. The mother of 7 children, ages 16 to 31, and the grandmother of 10 grandchildren, Tema was excited to teach us about this important tradition that has been passed down in her family for generations.


Step 1: Make the dough
  1. Start by measuring out the corn flour. We were able to make 12-15 empanadas with approximately two and a half cups.

  2. Add a tablespoon of salt.

  3. Simultaneously mix the batter while adding about a third to a half of a cup of water. The water should be enough to make the batter a consistency that resembles pizza dough. Once you are done kneading the dough, you are ready to prepare the individual empanada.                                                                            

    *Optional: You may dust your hands and the surface with a bit of flour to help with the kneading process

  4. Depending on how large you want the empanada, take as much dough as you need and place it on a plate or a piece of plastic. We carved out a ball about the size of a small meatball.

  5. Mold the dough with your hands to about a half of an inch in thickness. If it is too thin, it will be difficult to fold over into the standard half-moon shape when it has filling inside.

Step 2: Add the filling

The beauty of empanadas is that they are entirely customizable. Put the pre-cooked filling of your choice towards the middle of the dough and fold it over into a half moon shape.

“We typically eat empanadas for breakfast,” Tema tells the group. “Sometimes I will even put gallo pinto in the empanada. [Making empanadas] is also a great way to use leftovers.”


Common fillings here in San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica are:

  1. Meat (namely chicken, beef, or pork)

  2. Refried black beans (frijoles molidos)

  3. Cheese (queso)

  4. Red and green peppers (chile dulce)

Empanadas can be savory or sweet, the latter involving regular flour rather than corn flour. Sweet empanadas often have a fruit-based filling and are baked.


Step 3: Cook the empanada

Since the filling is already cooked, Tema recommends setting the burner to medium-high. Using the oil of your choice, fry the empanada for a few minutes on each side until it reaches a rich golden-brown color.


Blog post contribution by Bilan Haji-Mohamed, UGACR Photojournalism Intern

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