These Costa Rican empanadas de chiverre are the perfect mix of sweet and savory. Made from scratch and baked to golden perfection, these traditional Costa Rican Easter treats are delicious and fun to make with friends.
It’s Holy Week in Costa Rica, and that means we are cooking and eating all kinds of delicious food. Traditionally, Holy Week is one of the hottest weeks of the year in Costa Rica. It’s also the most sacred days of the calendar year in Costa Rica, a time when schools and businesses close in observance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter celebrations.
While the majority of Costa Ricans flee the heat at the beach, almost everyone observes the gastronomic traditions of this time of year. You’ll find many kinds of tamales (like our popular tamal de masa recipe) and of course, the empanadas de chiverre.
What are empanads de chiverre?
Empanadas de chiverre are small, half-moon pockets of deliciousness. While there are many types of corn-based empanadas throughout Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America, these empanadas are made from flour-based dough. These empanadas are also baked, not fried, making them have a different texture.
Coincidentally (or maybe not?) the chiverre squash comes into season in great abundance at the beginning of Lent. That gives plenty of time to use parts of the chiverre squash to make a sweet, dark brown honey-like substance to fill the empanadas.
When you combine the savory empanada dough with the sweet miel de chiverre, you have a perfect flavor that is uniquely Costa Rican, and 100% delicious.
What is a chiverre?
In short, the chiverre is a squash.
The long answer is that the chiverre is a huge squash that is native to many Latin American countries, and goes by different names in Spanish. In English, it is known, among other names, as the fig leaf gourd. It is closely related to the pumpkin-like the pumpkin, the seeds are edible.
The chiverre is huge, very hard-shelled, and tough to break open and use. There’s more info on it from this Wikipedia article on chiverre.
When do Costa Rican eat empanadas de chiverre?
The empanadas are an Easter season tradition- so they are eaten in US late winter/early spring. However, miel de chiverre, which is the filling for the empanadas, can last up to 6 months in the refrigerator, so you can find the empanadas for a good part of the year if you are patient enough.
Empanadas are generally eaten with coffee. The Costa Rican coffee tradition which happens around 10 am and 4 pm each day. They are also a breakfast food, snack food, and generally the perfect vegetarian seasonal indulgence during Lent.
How do you make miel de chiverre filling?
The short answer is that 99% of people buy miel de chiverre and make the empanadas from scratch. You can buy about a kilo of miel de chiverre for less than $5, and that will last you through about 4 batches of empanadas.
The ingredients for miel de chiverre would cost almost $3.50, and it takes hours to make. In my opinion, you have to be a pretty diehard traditionalist to make miel de chiverre at home.
But if you really want to make it, you open up the chiverre and cut it up. Then you boil the insides with a tapa de dulce, which is the burned top of a sugar cane after making brown sugar. Add some cinnamon, fig, etc. Let it cool and use!
What do I serve with empanadas de chiverre?
Definitely Costa Rican coffee. I love to eat them with a glass of ice cold Diet Coke. Also traditional to eat them with hot chamomile tea.
What’s most important is that empanadas de chiverre aren’t eaten alone. Since a single batch yields 25 empanadas it is very common to make several batches and share empanadas with friends and family.
Of course, in smaller communities, people compare the flavor and texture of the empanadas de chiverre in what becomes an informal competition to have made the best empanadas de chiverre that year. And since no one eats empanadas alone, there is plenty of time to gossip about the year’s empanadas.
What if I can’t get miel de chiverre?
Such a good question. Since I think miel de chiverre might be almost impossible to get in the US. If anyone knows where to get it, or even if I can get a chiverre squash, you must message me immediately.
The empanadas dough is a basic one, so you can use it to make all kinds of different empanadas. Dulce de leche, pineapple, guanabana (the paste of which is often easy to find at Latin food markets across the country.).
So if you can’t get miel de chiverre, you can substitute for your favorite filling. I even experimented this year and made some savory mozzarella with Argentine chimichurri empanadas using this dough. So good.
What are some other Costa Rican Easter week traditions?
Food wise, definitely the tamal asado (also known as tamal de masa). It’s a sweet corn based dough, so it’s gluten-free. You can find our Costa Rican tamal de masa recipe here. My kids love to eat it for breakfast.
Also a tamal mudo- which is a traditional Costa Rican tamal just with only black bean paste in the middle. I don’t have a tamal mudo recipe- yet, but I do have the black bean paste recipe, which also doubles as the famous Costa Rican Black Bean Dip recipe.
Finally, almost every day of Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday, there are Catholic processions to commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross. Catholic houses put crosses with purple fabric in a prominent position to let the community know they are Catholic and many processions start and end in private houses.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday are sacred in Costa Rica- outside of major tourism areas, everything is closed. No liquor is sold in the entire country, and public buses do not run. Everyone has time off, making Holy Week a very happy and relaxing time to be in Costa Rica!
Making the empanadas requires a mix of ingredients and tools- for fun I’ve pictured the Costa Rican ingredients here- but you can get every ingredient in the States with minimal effort (except the chiverre of course!)
Making the empanadas is a multi-step process, best done with friends, gossip and beverages of your choosing.
You’ll start by mixing the dough:
Forming it into balls and then smashing them down into circles with your tortilla maker:
Filling the empanadas with miel de chiverre:
Fold, seal, and mark with a fork before putting on the baking pan!
Ok- so without further ado, here is the Costa Rican Empanadas de Chiverrre Recipe.
Costa Rican Empanadas de Chiverre Recipe
- 3 cups white flour + 2-3 tablespoons extra
- 2 stick margarine can use butter- room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 cups miel de chiverre
- 1 egg
- spray on cooking oil such as Pam
- Large bowl
- Plastic shopping bag cut up into 15-20 3 x 3" squares
- Tortilla maker
- 2-3 baking pans
For the dough:
- In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of flour and 2 stick of margarine. Suing your hands, combine until all of the four is integrated into the margarine. The mixture will be a bit crumbly.
- Measure about 1/2 cup whipping cream and add to the dough. Using your hands, combine. From here on out, add cream until the entire mixture is the consistency of cookie dough.
- Tips: It is much easier to add the whipping cream slowly to gain the right consistency than to have too much cream and a sticky dough. However, if you do end up in a situation where you added too much whipping cream, you can simply add flour to the dough until you have the right consistency. Once you do, spend a couple of minutes kneading the dough on the counter top just to get everything worked in.
- Note- if you used butter instead of margarine, the dough will come out much lighter. The flavor, to me, is about the same.
To form the empanadas:
- Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into 1" balls.
- You can place the balls back in the large mixing bowl until you have completed all of the dough, or you can do each step one at a time. Typically many people are involved in the preparation of the empanadas in Costa Rica, so each person will take a station.
- Open your tortilla maker and place one of the pieces of the plastic bag in the center.
- Place a single ball of dough in the middle of the plastic bag on the tortilla maker.
- Place another piece of the plastic bag on top and close the tortilla maker.
- Press down until flat. Note- I used Ziploc bags for this once, and they didn' t work as well as a shopping bag.
- Remove the top plastic bag pice and place it back in the tortilla maker.
- Move the circle of dough for the empanada, with the plastic bag, to the side.
- Using a fork, place about a tablespoon of miel de chiverre on half of the circle of dough.
- 10. Close the other half of the dough over the miel de chiverre and lightly seal.
- 11. Using a clean fork, make hash marks all around the edge of the empanada (not on the seam)
- 12. Repeat these steps until all the dough has been used.
To bake the empanadas:
- Lightly grease a large baking pan.
- Lightly place flour on top of the baking pan.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and add a tablespoon of water.
- Place the empanadas on the baking pan. These will not expand, so they can be quite close together on the pan with no problems.
- Using your finger or a small cooking brush, gently spread the egg wash on the top of the empanadas.
- Once the baking tray is full of empanadas, place the empanadas in the oven. They will bake for about 20 minutes- do not remove until they are golden brown. Note- it's pretty hard to outright burn these, but it is easy for them to be undercooked. So let them in a bit longer than you'd think to make sure they get nice and crispy.
- Cool, share and eat!
- Heat oven to about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If your oven heats fast, then you don't need to do this step until later- it takes about 25 minutes to prepare the first round of empanadas for baking. And if you want to bake them all at once, even longer.
- Note: It is typical to make many rounds, or "tandas," of empanada dough. However, this recipe does not double well so it is better to make each batch of dough separately.
Note: It is typical to make many rounds, or "tandas," of empanada dough. However, this recipe does not double well so it is better to make each batch of dough separately.
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