Crab and Chili Empanadas


Happy New Year! And let’s hope it is a lot happier than 2020, huh?  It has been a very hard year in so many areas of life. The myriad ways in which people have been affected is astonishing. If you are someone for whom it has been particularly difficult, I sincerely hope the new year brings a vastly improved situation for you. 

As I have been attempting to advocate all season, I think that it does a lot for our own spirits to continue to keep a positive attitude and keep to the things we would normally have done as much as is allowable. 

With the new year here, I encourage a jovial evening, even if it is at home among roommates or family or the ever-present zoom relationships we all seem to be engaged in these days. And watching the ball drop in New York City will be an interesting activity this year, since it will still drop but there will be no one there in Times Square. Odd for sure.

Good food makes things a little more pleasant, and something bubbly goes a long way toward a festive mood. Some years, for me, it’s low brow frozen snacks, and some years it’s going all out with fancy hors d’oeuvres and canapés. But, there is always champagne! Sparkling cider works well too, if wine is not your thing. Just as long as it sparkles and bubbles, it makes it an occasion.

Under the category of fancy, I offer this incredible delicious recipe of mini empanadas stuffed with fresh crab and green chilis and two different kinds of cheese, brightened by the addition of lime and cilantro.

Many cultures make a small hand held kind of pastry, filled with meats and vegetables. Poland and Russia have the pierogis. There are Indian samosas and Cornish pasties, and, in many Latin countries, empanadas. The fillings and pastry differ from place to place in Latin countries, but the concept remains the same- a moon shaped pastry, filled with a variety of meats and vegetables.

Empanadas are traditionally made as larger full-size ones meant to serve as a meal in themselves. What I have done, here, is miniaturize them into small bite-sized ones, perfect for a party. So, let’s get to it.

Make the pastry first so it can rest in the refrigerator, briefly, while you put the filling together. The pastry for these is easily made in the food processor, and it is made soft and flaky with the addition of cream cheese. A bit of poppy seeds give it a little lift in appearance.

Begin with a mix of all purpose and cake flour placed right into the bowl of your food processor, fitted with a blade. Cake flour helps keep the dough soft and pillowy. Add some salt and poppy seeds and pulse those dry ingredients together to sift them a bit. 

Cut butter and cream cheese into cubes and begin, with the machine running, to add the cubes a couple at a time until they are well incorporated. Your dough should be crumbly but hold together if pinched.

Finally to bring it all together. Add ice cold water to your dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice between each addition. It is important not to keep the machine running at this point so it doesn’t get overworked.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and bring it together into a round disk. It should look a little ragged but with a few pushes and pulls, it will come together easily. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

The filling is amazing. I used local dungeness crab, but whatever crab you have available to you will work great. Just break up any larger chunks, especially claw meat.

Next come the chilis. I happened to have a couple of Hatch chilis I had roasted and frozen in early fall, but, canned green chilies work fine in this recipe too. Chop them fairly small and add them to the crab meat.

Now comes all the good flavors. Roughly chop some cilantro and finely chop a bit of shallot, adding them to the crab meat. Zest and juice of lime go right in, along with some salt and pepper. My limes were huge so I just used half but if yours are smaller, use the whole thing.

Aren’t these just a gorgeous array of colors?

Finally, add in equal amounts of Monterrey jack and cheddar cheeses. Combine everything with a spoon or a fork and you are ready to start rolling out your dough and fill up your empanadas.

Take the pastry dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a floured board to about 1/4” thick. You don’t want these too thick, but you don’t want them too thin either. Cut circles, using a 3” round cutter. 

Place a small about, about 1/2 teaspoon, of filling in the center of each circle.

Fold the circle in half and using a small fork, press all-around the edge to close the dough around the filling. Make sure to crimp well so they are sealed when you place them on a lined sheet pan.

Bake in a 400° oven for 15-18 minutes. They do not get incredibly brown, because of the cream cheese, but you do want to see a bit of golden brown on the tops.

The little empanadas are so tasty. The combination of crab and lime is light and flavorful and the chilis add that punch of spice without being overwhelming. I can’t wait to ring in the new year with these little nuggets!

Serve them warm or at room temperature.

And, don’t forget the bubbly! Here is to a better 2021 in every way!

**I ended up with a little leftover filling. If that happens to you, make a quesadilla for lunch tomorrow! I promise you will not regret it!**

Crab and Chili Empanadas

Mini empanadas stuffed with fresh crab and green chilis and two different kinds of cheese, brightened by the addition of lime and cilantro.
Servings 32 pieces
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 30 mins


  • food processor- see notes
  • sheet pan
  • medium mixing bowl



  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp poppy seeds
  • 8 tbsp butter cut into cubes
  • 6 tbsp cream cheese cut into cubes
  • 5 tbsp iced water

Crab and Chili Filling

  • 6 oz crab meat
  • 1/4 cup green chilis chopped
  • 1/8 cup cilantro chopped
  • 1 tbsp shallot finely chopped
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black peppeer
  • 1/4 cup Monterrey jack cheese grated
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese grated



  • In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a blade, place the flours, salt and poppy seeds. Pulse a few times to sift.
  • With the machine running, add the butter and cream cheese, a few cubes at a time, until completely incorporated. Dough should be crumbly but hold together when pinched.
  • Begin adding iced water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice between each addition, until you have added a total of 5 tablespoons. The dough should come together easily into a ball.
  • Turn dough out onto a floured surface and pull it together into a round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Crab and Chili Filling

  • Place all the ingredients for the filling into a mixing bowl. Break up any large chunks of crab. Stir together to combine.

Assembling the Empanadas

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to 1/4" thick.
  • Using a 3" round cutter, cut circles from the dough. Re-roll the dough and cut more circles until you have used all the dough.
  • Place about 1/2 teasoon of filling in the center of each circle. Fold the dough over the filling and use a small fork to crimp and press the edges closed around the filling.
  • Place on a lined sheet pan and bake for 15-18 minutes until they are just slightly golden on top.
  • Serve warm out of the oven or at room temperature.


If you do not have a food processor, you can still do this by hand. Simply sift the dry ingredients together. Work the butter and cream cheese into the dry ingredients, using a pastry cutter or your fingers. Add the water and stir between each addition until the dough forms a ball. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe instructions.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Latin American
Keyword: crab, green chilis, pastry

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