Saltenas are the ultimate Bolivian empanada. Some of my memories of this pastry are of riding the train as a kid and looking forward to the lunch hour when we’d stop at some tiny village station. Women carrying large bowls or baskets on their heads would walk along the side of the train crying out “saltenas, empanadas de queso, tamales!” while those on the train leaned out the windows waving money and calling for their favorite food.
Recent trips to Bolivia have been disappointing in that the original recipe for saltenas has morphed into a sickly sweet empanada. I prefer, and will share, the original recipe.
Saltenas are a love- and labor-intensive food. For my recipe, I’ve simplified the whole process, but it still took me three days to prepare (having to squeeze prep time between other duties). But you could do it all in one afternoon if you had to–especially if you follow my shortcuts.
Original Bolivian Saltenas
1 roasted chicken
1 cup frozen peas
2 small cans tomato paste
1 packet plain gelatin
2 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
3 tsp cumin powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 cup green olives, chopped
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cut up
1 1/2 cups hot water (or part broth)
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 Celsius). Debone and hand-shred the chicken. Put chicken bones in a pot and add 3 cups of water. Cover and simmer until the water cooks down to 2 cups of broth. Stir the gelatin into the hot broth until it is dissolved. Pour the broth through a sieve and add to the shredded chicken. Add the chopped olives, 2 tsp cumin, 1 can tomato paste, and paprika to the chicken. Mix well and set aside.
Saute the onion in a large frying pan until golden brown. Microwave potatoes for 3 minutes, then chop and add to the onions. Repeat with the carrots. Add the second can of tomato paste, 1 tsp cumin, and salt to taste and stir thoroughly. Add the frozen peas, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.
Combine the chicken and vegetables.
For the dough, add the salt to the flour and cut the butter into the mixture. Mix well with a pastry knife (or fork). Beat the eggs lightly and add them to the flour mixture along with the hot water. Knead only until the dough is well mixed and smooth.
To put the saltenas together, make balls about the size of a golf ball and roll them out thin (the video below will show this whole process). Wet the outer edge of the dough with water to make it sticky. Spoon a large spoonful of saltena mix onto the dough. Fold the dough over and press the edges together. Flute the edges with your fingers. Brush the tops of the saltenas with egg white or milk. Place the empanadas on a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown.
Makes about 20 saltenas.
Use the recipe above, but leave out the chicken, use only one can of tomato paste, substitute 1 cup of hot water for the two cups of broth, and use 1 tablespoon of agar agar (Japanese gelatin) instead of regular gelatin.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup hot water