Cheese Empanadas – Costa Rica

Fully fried cheese empanadas with queso fresco.

Costa Rican cheese empanadas (empanadas de queso) are made from corn dough and filled with salty white cheese before frying. Empanadas are a popular Costa Rican street food, but you can make this gluten-free, vegetarian appetizer right at home with just three ingredients.

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About Costa Rican Cheese Empanadas

Costa Rican cheese empanadas are half-moon shaped fried appetizers made from a corn-based dough. They are then filled with traditional white Costa Rican cheese and fried up until hot- and the cheese inside is all melty. 

Costa Rican white cheese is literally only found in Costa Rica (as far as I know!) It’s salty, a bit watery, and served in cut squares about 5 centimeters in thickness. It’s homemade from fresh whole milk, and a lot of Americans call it “squeaky cheese” because it makes a little squeaking sound in your mouth when you eat it. It’s one of those things you either love or hate. I happen to love it.

For this recipe, I substitute mozzarella cheese for the squeaky cheese- I love mozzarella and the flavor is pretty close to that of the Costa Rican white cheese. Obviously, the texture is not at all the same, but the flavor is!

We usually don’t eat empanadas for a main meal (except occasionally a breakfast on the go). Instead, we eat them as a snack at coffee time or as a snack on a road trip. There are countless empanadas stand along the roads in Costa Rica. So much so that I often find myself craving an empanada when I get in the car to go somewhere in Costa Rica. (Like La Fortuna- my favorite place!)

Related post: 10 Awesome Reasons You Need To Visit Costa Rica This Year

Cheese Empanada Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups Maseca tortilla corn flour, preferably amarillo (also called masa harina)
  • 16 oz mozzarella cheese cut into 8 slices
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon or salt
  • 3-4 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

Kitchen Tools:

  • tortilla press with plastic bag inserts
  • pan for frying (I use a small cast-iron skillet)
  • paper towels

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, mix the water and masa into a corn dough. I use my hand for this, but you can also use a plastic spatula. 

Divide the empanada dough into 8-10 small dough balls. 

Using your tortilla press, place plastic inserts on each side and the dough ball in the middle.

Press the dough ball into a circle.

On half of the circle, place the cheese. Fold dough over the other half to make a half-moon shape.

In medium-high oil, fry the empanadas for about 10 minutes- until the empanada is golden brown.

Note- If your oil is on too high heat, the empanada will burn on the outside but the dough will be raw on the inside. So it’s better to fry for a longer amount of time at a lower temperature.

Drain excess oil and serve. 

Substitutions

Sometimes I make these with a big slice of queso fresco or queso panela as found in Hispanic grocery stores. So good.

Variations

You can make all kinds of Costa Rican empanadas with different fillings: cheese, potato, bean, bean and cheese, fish. Yum!  Empanadas are popular throughout Latin America, so you can pretty much find a local variation from any country.

Related post: Shredded Beef Empanada Recipe

There are also tons of Costa Rican dessert empanadas- they aren’t fried and instead baked and filled with different kinds of fruit. I love Pineapple Empanadas and Chiverre Empanadas.

Related recipes:

Costa Rican Empanadas – Serving Suggestions

Serve hot with good company. We generally eat fresh empanadas alongside a cup of hot coffee, agua dulce or chamomile tea. 

Sometimes we make empanadas arregladas topped with cabbage and salsas.

We alway serve empanadas with Salsa Lizano. Duh!

FAQ

What cheese is good for empanadas? – You can use almost any cheese, but the most traditional would be a white cheese that’s slightly salty. So mozzarella, queso panela, queso fresco, Monterrey jack. Now that I’m listing all these cheeses, I wonder how a nice Brie would taste in an empanada!

Where can I buy cheese empanadas in Costa Rica? – Such a good question! You can find cheese empanadas or empanadas de queso at lots of food stalls along the street. There are also food trucks specializing in empanadas along the highway. Bakeries also sell them, and they will usually heat them up for you. They are often sold at the front of grocery stores too. When id doubt, just ask “Dónde venden empanadas por aquí?” (where are empanadas sold nearby?) and you’ll find them!

How can I make cheese empanadas in the oven? – I think you could. It’s not common at all to do so, and I haven’t tried it. I did try them in the air fryer but I haven’t mastered that yet. When I do, I’ll definitely publish the recipe!

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Printable Recipe

Yield: 8 empanadas

Costa Rican Cheese Empanadas

Fully fried cheese empanadas with queso fresco.

Costa Rican cheese empanadas (empanadas de queso) are made from corn dough and filled with salty white cheese before frying. Empanadas are a popular Costa Rican street food, but you can make this gluten-free, vegetarian appetizer right at home with just three ingredients.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups Maseca tortilla corn flour, preferably amarillo (also called masa harina)
  • 16 oz mozzarella cheese cut into 8 slices
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon or salt
  • 3-4 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
  • Kitchen Tools:
  • tortilla press with plastic bag inserts
  • pan for frying (I use a small cast-iron skillet)
  • paper towels

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl, mix the water and masa into a corn dough. I use my hand for this, but you can also use a plastic spatula. 
  2. Divide the empanada dough into 8-10 small dough balls. 
  3. Using your tortilla press, place plastic inserts on each side and the dough ball in the middle.
  4. Press the dough ball into a circle.
  5. On half of the circle, place the cheese. Fold dough over the other half to make a half-moon shape.
  6. In medium-high oil, fry the empanadas for about 10 minutes- until the empanada is golden brown.
  7. Drain excess oil and serve. 

Notes

Note- If your oil is on too high heat, the empanada will burn on the outside but the dough will be raw on the inside. So it's better to fry for a longer amount of time at a lower temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 3248Total Fat: 341gSaturated Fat: 32gTrans Fat: 8gUnsaturated Fat: 293gCholesterol: 45mgSodium: 522mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 3gSugar: 1gProtein: 17g

Please double-check this information with your favorite nutrition calculator.

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