Lisa’s Panamanian Empanadas de Carne

empanadas de carne

Panamanian empanadas de carne mean friends and familia for one of our favorite Panamanian homecooks Lisa Kear. Whenever she bites into one of these delicious stuffed-dough pastries, they bring back fond memories of her childhood growing up on a farm in that country, surrounded by family. Especially her Panamanian grandmother, who first taught her how to make both the sweet and savory versions of these crescent-shaped turnovers—still one of her favorite things to bake.

The now-Knoxville, Tennessee resident remembers reaching for empanadas in Panama pretty much any time of day, for a snack on the go or a full-on meal. It seemed like there was a shop or stand selling empanadas almost wherever she went. Her childhood neighbor made a living selling empanadas to the workers at the nearby oil refinery. On Sundays when her family didn’t want to cook dinner, they would walk over to his house and eat the empanadas he made fresh that day.

The Two Kinds of Empanadas in Panama

Another reason Lisa loves empanadas is how versatile they are, since they can vary greatly depending on their filling, dough, and preparation. Different Latin American cuisines have their own take on empanadas. In Panama, there are two kinds of empanadas: baked wheat-flour empanadas, like the one below, and empanadas fritas, which are corn flour tortillas stuffed with ground beef, turned into a half-moon patty, and then deep fried.

While classic Panamanian empanada dough is similar to bread dough, Lisa remembers how their differences expanded the world of baking and empanadas for her. It was not sold in Panamanian grocery stores when she was growing up, but cream cheese was easily available in the military commissaries there. Her sister even won an empanada contest with her signature dough consisting of butter, flour and cream cheese. Lisa loved this special dough and found it softer, richer, and more flavorful than the classic empanada dough she grew up eating. She continues to make it today.

Panama empanada
Lisa bakes—not deep-fries—these flaky, savory Panamanian beef empanadas, made with homemade dough.

Lisa knew she preferred her empanada dough with a pie-crust like consistency, and worked to perfect her pie crust recipe—with empanadas in mind. A Martha Stewart cookbook given to her for her wedding anniversary called for egg yolks, inspiring Lisa to realize that adding yolks is the key to the flaky empanadas she was dreaming of. (Not sure how empanadas are different from arepas or pupusas? Check this out!)

Now that Lisa has perfected her recipe, she enjoys baking them for her own family and makes sure to have this treat always ready at a moment’s notice. That’s why she recommends assembling them ahead of time and freezing for future use. Because empanadas are la comida perfecta to feed hungry people—any time of day, she says.

For more Panamanian recipes from Lisa’s childhood, check out her Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest-winning Panamanian flan, her sweet guava-and-cheese empanadas, her Panamanian pollo guisado (stewed chicken) with spaghetti, her hand-made corn tortillas, her sister’s family-famous beef, red pepper and-olive empanadas, and their family recipe for ron ponche, just the thing for celebrations and fiestas.

Ready to Make These Panamanian Empanadas de Carne?

Lisa’s Panamanian Empanadas de Carne

Recipe by Lisa Kear
4.1 from 12 votes
Cuisine: Panamanian


Prep time


Cooking time




  • For the Dough
  • 4 cups flour

  • 1 cup salted butter, cold, cubed

  • 2 tsp salt

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 6 Tbsp cold water, more or less

  • For the Filling
  • 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef

  • 2 Tbsp neutral oil, like grapeseed

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 red pepper, chopped

  • 3 garlic, minced

  • 1 habanero pepper, minced (optional)

  • 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

  • 1/4 cup Spanish manzanilla green olives pimento stuffed, minced

  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste

  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

  • 1 tsp dried oregano

  • 1 tsp dried thyme

  • 1 tsp dried basil

  • 1 tsp ground paprika

  • 1/2 tsp ground annatto

  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin

  • salt, to taste

  • pepper, to taste


  • Make the Dough
  • In a food processor, combine flour and salt, pulse for a second. Add cubed cold butter, pulse until the dough is “pea” size.
  • Mix the egg yolks and water together in a bowl, then add to the flour butter and pulse for a few more seconds.
  • Divide dough in two parts, then wrap each dough in plastic wrap.
  • Don’t overwork the dough with your hands.
  • Refrigerate while the filling is cooked and cooled.
  • Make the Filling
  • On medium-heat, heat oil in skillet, add onion, red pepper, and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, cover and cook for another 5 minutes on low heat.
  • Remove cooked beef to a bowl, cover and cool completely.
  • Putting It All Together
  • Roll dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut into a round-shape size, to the width of your choice. (Lisa makes her about 5 inches across.)
  • Add enough cooled beef to the center of the dough and fold in half.
  • Press and seal the edges tightly closed with the tines of a fork.
  • Brush the empanadas with egg wash.
  • Bake in a 375° preheated oven for about 18 minutes until they are golden brown.
  • Depending on the width of your dough rounds, this batch makes 24 to 36 empanadas.


  • Empanadas freeze beautifully. Wrap and freeze extras for impromptu entertaining, says Lisa.
Lisa, center, with daughter Sarah and Mary-Elizabeth Kear
These Panamanian empanadas from her childhood are a favorite treat in the Knoxville home of Lisa Kear, center, here with her daughters: Sarah and Mary Elizabeth.

Empanada photographs by Michelle Ezratty Murphy

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