Salteñas, Bolivia’s National Dish

Salteñas are oven baked pastries (like empanadas made of wheat flour) and filled typically with beef or chicken. They are eaten all over Bolivia in the morning as mid morning snack.

According to the historian Antonio Paredes Candia, Salteñas’s came through an Argentinian woman, who was the first one that sold them! Her name is Juana Manuela Gorriti and she was born in Salta, Argentina. She married and a Bolivian Captain at the age of fifteen and he would later become the President of Bolivia. Sadly, he left her and their three daughters and Juana started making these pastries to sell to survive. Candia states that it was common to say to kids: “Ve y recoge una empanada de la salteña” (“go and pick up an empanada from the woman from Salta”). And little by little the news about these pastries spread and spread. If she only knew!

Salteñas are really hard to make. They take a very long time. Preparation is about 6 hours! I did it in 4 hours. I made only 4!

The recipe I used came from My Latina I found it had a few problems along the way which I will share with you.


For the Dough

  • 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Stick of Butter melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of boiling hot water
  • 1-2 teaspoons of yellow food coloring.

For The Filling

  • 1 pound ground beef 95% lean meat (or 2 chicken breasts)
  • 1 Packet of unflavored gelatin
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric or Achiote – ground or in paste form – you can find this in the Hispanic aisle at most grocery stores –
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 3 Large potatoes Diced
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1/2 cup parsley finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup granulated white Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • **Optional – 3 Hard Boiled Eggs Olives, Raisins


First start by cooking the beef and cutting the potatoes for the filling.

The meat.

I used beef stew meat and cooked it in boiling water to obtain the beef broth the recipe calls for.

The potatoes.

I peeled and diced the potatoes. Since I used half the ingredients, I only used 1 and half. Then I set them up to be steamed.

As these tow cooked, I made the dough.

The dough.

  1. Combine the Flour, Sugar, and Salt together in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the Achiote or yellow food coloring (this is to get the traditional color of the Salteña, which is actually obtained by adding a natural colorant that is only found in the Achiote in Latin Specialty Stores).

3. Add the Eggs Mixture to the Flour Mixture and mix until well combined.

4. Add the hot (almost boiling) water to the mix and knead until a large a bit at the time, use a spoon to stir it in. When cool get your hand in there and try forming a yellowish ball of dough (it should not be too sticky, so add more flour if necessary). * I found this recipe called for too much water, I used about half the amount and I still needed to add flour!

5. Let sit for about 10-20 minutes and then separate into smaller, more workable pieces.

Take care of taking the meat out of the boiling water after like 10 minutes and set to cool. Also remove the potatoes from the boiling water and let them cool.

The Filling

  1. Cut all the ingredients as needed: onions, olives into smaller pieces, and parsley.

2. When the meat is cool enough pull/shred it.

3. Set up all the ingredients near the pan you will cook. Start by adding the butter. I used about two tablespoons only. And I stir fried the onions in it.

4. Add the potatoes, the meat, the broth, the olives, raisins, the parsley, cumin, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir well and let it cook under medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Add the gelatin. (I chose to let it dry a bit and not use the gelatin.)

Now you are supposed to let this mix sit on the fridge for 3 to 4 hours. That way the gelatin will set and when you place in the dough, it won’t make the dough soggy.

Then after that time proceed to making the Saltennas:

  • Preheat your oven to 500 degrees ( I did 450)
  • After you have rolled out a piece of dough to the indicated size, add a slice of hard boiled egg to the middle (an olive and raisins if desired) and about 1/4 cup of the filling (more if you are not adding the other filling ingredients).
  • Wet the edges of the dough, and fold over the top, pinching the edges together.
  • In order to ensure that the Salteñas do not open during the cooking process, pinch and twist the edges to form a “braided look.” (This was the hardest part for me, so they don’t look perfect, but just do it enough so that you create a strong seal).
  • You can also beat an egg and brush the Salteñas with it right before baking to get a shinier look.
  • Place on an aluminum foil lined baking pan, right side up, and bake for 15 minutes or until browned.
  • Let sit for at least 10 minutes and then enjoy.

I tried to recreate the colors of the Bolivian flag in the plate with the yellow being the Salteña, the green the piece of parsley and the red the tomato. ^ ^

It was so delicious!!! I could eat that filling by the spoon on its own too!

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