What can I substitute for empanada dough?

Empanadas are savory pastries that are a popular snack and appetizer in many Latin American countries. The traditional dough for empanadas is made from flour, butter or shortening, egg, and water. However, there are several substitutes for traditional empanada dough that can be used to accommodate dietary restrictions or personal preferences.

Gluten-Free Substitutes

For those avoiding gluten, there are several gluten-free options for making empanada dough:

  • Cassava Flour: This flour made from the cassava root is naturally gluten-free. Combine with egg and butter/oil for a substitute empanada dough.
  • Almond Flour: Almond flour provides a nutty flavor and can be mixed with egg and butter/oil to create a gluten-free empanada crust.
  • Coconut Flour: While more absorptive than other gluten-free flours, coconut flour can help bind gluten-free empanada dough. Use with caution and limit to about 30% of the flour blend.
  • Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour: A blend of various gluten-free flours can be used in place of wheat flour for the dough.

Xanthan gum or guar gum can be added to help give these gluten-free doughs more structure.

Whole Grain Substitutes

For a more nutrient-dense empanada dough, try using these whole grain flours:

  • Whole Wheat Flour: Replace up to half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour.
  • Spelt Flour: The nutty flavor of spelt flour complements empanada fillings nicely.
  • Buckwheat Flour: Highly absorptive, so best mixed with all-purpose flour which provides more structure.
  • Oat Flour: Adds great fiber and a subtle oat flavor.

Because whole grain flours absorb more liquid, you may need to slightly increase the moisture in the dough. Add an extra egg yolk or a tablespoon more water if needed.

Dairy-Free Options

To make dairy-free empanada dough:

  • Use vegetable oil instead of butter
  • Substitute unsweetened non-dairy milk for whole milk when making dough
  • Bind the dough with chia or flax eggs instead of chicken eggs

The vegetable oil substitution is straight forward, but with non-dairy milk and egg substitutes, you may need to adjust moisture levels. Add water, a little at a time, if the dough seems too dry.

Low Carb Empanada Wrappers

Cutting back on flour reduces the carb content of empanada dough. Here are some low carb substitutions:

  • Almond Flour – Very low in net carbs. Replace up to half the flour in the dough with almond flour.
  • Coconut Flour – Higher in carbs than almond flour but still low. Use sparingly in dough as it absorbs a lot of moisture.
  • Psyllium Husk Powder – Adds structure without the carbs. Can replace about 20% of the flour.
  • Cheese Wrappers – Grated parmesan or other hard cheese makes an excellent empanada shell if you press it into the baking sheets.

When reducing the flour in empanada dough, you may need to increase eggs, cheese, or other binders to hold the dough together.

Vegetable-Based Wrappers

For vegetarians/vegans or anyone looking for a vegetable-based empanada wrapper, here are some options to try:

  • Mashed Sweet Potato – Replace up to 1/4 of the flour with mashed sweet potato. Adds moisture and binds well.
  • Pureed Butternut Squash – Similar to mashed sweet potato, you can replace some flour with butternut squash puree.
  • Mashed Beans – Black beans, pinto beans, or chickpeas can be mashed and incorporated into empanada dough, replacing up to 20% of the flour.
  • Beet Powder – For color and nutrition, add a couple teaspoons of beet powder to empanada dough.

Because vegetable purees add moisture, you may need to adjust the flour or other binding agents. Start slow and add more veggie puree as the dough can handle it.

Meat Fillings

While empanada dough can be substituted in many ways, the fillings also characterize the empanada experience. Traditional meat fillings for empanadas include:

  • Ground Beef – Often seasoned with onions, tomatoes, olives, raisins, hard boiled eggs, etc.
  • Shredded Chicken – Enhanced with peppers, spices, onions, garlic, etc.
  • Shredded Pork – Flavored with citrus, chili powder, garlic, and cilantro.
  • Chorizo Sausage – The smoky spiced sausage is an excellent empanada filling.

However, almost any cooked meat can be used as an empanada filling. The key is to heavily season the meat with spices, aromatics, and garnishes to create a flavor-packed filling. Sauté onions, peppers, and garlic along with the meat, and season boldly with spices and herbs. Chopped olives, raisins, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and herbs make great garnishes in meat empanadas.

Seafood Empanada Fillings

In coastal regions, seafood fillings for empanadas are also very popular. Some tasty seafood empanada ideas include:

  • Tuna – Season tuna with peppers, onions, garlic, olives, capers, parsley, and chili powder.
  • Salmon – Sauté salmon with red bell pepper, spinach, lemon, and dill.
  • Shrimp – Sauté shrimp with tomato, garlic, cumin, coriander, and cayenne.
  • Crab – Mix crab meat with celery, bell pepper, mayo, lemon juice, and Old Bay seasoning.
  • Lobster – Diced lobster tails seasoned with tomato, onions, brandy, and saffron.

The seafood can be chopped, shredded, or diced and then cooked on the stovetop before filling the empanadas. Any juices from cooking the filling should be reduced to a thick sauce consistency to add flavor without making the dough soggy.

Vegetable Empanada Fillings

Empanadas are also terrific vehicles for all kinds of veggie fillings. Get creative with seasonal produce!

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Spinach Empanadas

This empanada filling combines cubed, roasted sweet potatoes with black beans, spinach, onions, garlic, and Southwestern spices. It’s protein-packed for a satisfying vegetarian hand pie.

Summer Veggie Empanadas

When summer produce is at its peak, make empanadas stuffed with corn, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, basil, manchego cheese, roasted peppers, and chili powder.

Wild Mushroom Empanadas

Chopped wild mushrooms like oyster, shiitake, and cremini sautéed with shallots in butter and finished with sherry make an earthy, savory filling.

Dessert Empanada Fillings

In addition to savory empanadas, dessert empanadas with sweet fillings are also popular in Latin American cuisine and beyond. Dessert empanada fillings include:

Guava and Cheese

A sweet and tart filling with guava paste and queso blanco or mild feta cheese.

Coconut and Pineapple

Tropical flavors of coconut flakes and crushed pineapple simmered in sugar make a delicious fruity filling.

Apple and Raisin

Sautéed apples, raisins, cinnamon and sugar rolled into empanadas for fall flavors.

Berry Mascarpone

Fresh summer berries folded into mascarpone cheese and dusted with powdered sugar.

The filling ingredients are simply mixed together or cooked briefly on the stovetop before being enclosed in the empanada dough. Brushing the empanadas with butter or egg wash before baking gives them a glossy, golden finish.

Tips for Making Empanada Dough Substitutions

When working with substituted empanada dough recipes, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start by substituting only half of the called for flour, then increase alternate flours as the dough allows for it.
  • If using whole grain or gluten-free flours, you will likely need extra moisture in the dough from extra egg, oil, or water.
  • Because alternate flours absorb differently, watch dough consistency and add liquid or flour as needed.
  • Nuts, seeds, cheese, and pureed veggies can add flavor and nutrition but absorb moisture too.
  • Binders like eggs, oil, non-dairy milk, or xanthan gum help hold dough together if reducing flour.
  • Season dough with a pinch of salt, sugar, spices, or herbs to add flavor if omitting dairy.

The great thing about empanadas is their versatility – both the dough and fillings can be varied based on taste, diet, and occasion. With the right substitutions and tips in mind, you can enjoy empanadas however you like them!


Empanadas are the ultimate hand-held snack, but traditional empanada dough made with wheat flour, eggs, and dairy isn’t right for everyone’s diet. Luckily, the dough is very forgiving and can be adapted endlessly to meet dietary needs. Swapping in flours like almond, cassava, spelt, and oat makes empanada dough gluten-free. Vegans can use chia or flax eggs and oil instead of dairy products. Mashed vegetables like sweet potato and butternut squash add nutrition and moisture when replacing some of the flour. Just keep an eye on dough consistency as you substitute and adjust liquid and binders as needed. Filling your empanadas with all kinds of delicious ingredients from seasoned meats to hearty vegetables to sweet fruits and cream cheese ensures you can satisfy any craving. Empanada dough is the perfect canvas for global flavors, so get creative with substitutes that fit your diet!

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