Easy and Quick Empanadas de Yuca

If any recipe that holds dear to my heart is this one, my grandmother's famous Empanadas de Yuca! It has always been a favorite in my family and it's only made on special and not so special occasions.

My mother who loved my grandmother's Empanadas requested from my grandmother that she bring her 1 empanada from Puerto Rico to Chicago so she could taste it one last time before she passed away from Cancer. My grandmother who was in the beginning of her Alzheimer's and who's my father's mother and my mother's ex-mother in law of 2O years+ traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to Chicago to bring my mother her favorite food and to say goodbye one last time. My mother, who hardly couldn't eat or drink made the effort to eat every piece of empanada. I can still remember how happy she was while eating, and how mad she got at me that it took too long, in her case, to be done. In the evening of November 18th, 2010 she ate her empanada, and tried to hold it down the best that she could because of her Chemo, and in the early hours of November 19th she passed away. Making this dish, my mother's last meal.

Empanadas were not only my mother's favorite dish, but also my sister who lives right now in Connecticut and is pregnant with her first child and will be my first niece/nephew! I've been meaning to writing this recipe so she, could have it but I've just been too lazy, but in reality it's just too emotional for me.

So this post is dedicated to the 3 women that I love most! My grandmother Mama Taty, the best chef in my family and the one who showed me how to make this, now she can't remember because of her advance Alzheimer's, so I am blessed that I paid attention! To my sister Tatiana, I love and miss you dearly! and to my mother Ingrid, till we meet again mom, I love you!

F.Y.I- Sorry I kept blabbing with my story...a Empanada is similar to a pastel de yuca, but instead of being boiled in water, it's baked in the oven. It's also similar to what other people from hispanic countries call "Tamale" but this is made with Cassava Root. Most empanadas are made with ground beef, my grandmother always used pork. The only difference between her original recipe and my quicker version, I buy the Cassava/Yuca already pureed, she always bought the Cassava/Yuca and she would peel it and process it. Which took a lot longer. I'm saving you about 2-3 hours time.

Easy and Quick Empanadas de Yuca- makes 12


For Maza:
1 package [2lbs] of Bohio or Goya 100% Yuca/Cassava puree
1 can Evaporated Milk
1-1/2 cup liquid from your meat
2/3 cup Annato Oil- Aceite de Achiote- Click here to learn how to make Annato Oil
1 Tbsp. Salt

For Meat
3 lbs[approx. 6 cups] cubed Pork- I used bonless country style ribs
1 cup Smoked Ham, small diced
1 small potato, small dice
12 Green Olives, sliced in halves
1 can Sweet Red Roasted Pepper, small diced and liquid reserved
3 Tbsp. Sofrito - Click here to learn how to make sofrito
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
2 Chicken Bullion Cubes
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1/2 cup Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup Annato Oil,- Click here on how to make Annato Oil
1 Bay Leaf, medium
3 cups Water
1/4 cup Chopped Cilantro or Culantro

You will need:
12-15 Banana Leaves, approx 8"x 8"
New, clean dish rag
Aluminum Foil
Cheese Cloth or Clean White Tee Shirt
2 large bowls
1 medium bowl
1 small bowl
2 Large Serving Spoons
1 Slotted or Perforated Spoon
1 small Spoon
Sharp Knife
Cutting Board


1. Start by getting your banana leaves ready. Using a brand new dish cloth, wet and squeeze excess moisture and clean your banana leaves. Than turn on the burner of your stove to medium heat so you won't get burned and carefully and quickly pass your banana leaf over the flames, you will notice that the leaf will change color to a glossy darker green. Work fast moving your leaf so it heats up completely because these leaves can burn rather quick if you leave it in one spot for too long.

2. Set your banana leaves to the side. There are other methods that I've personally used to prepare my banana leaves are: freezing- Freeze your banana leaves and than let them thaw before using, or Steaming- boil about 3 cups of water in a medium size pot, place metal pasta strainer over boiling water, make sure the pot isn't touching the water, and neither the banana leaves, place bananas in strainer and cover for a few minutes. The steam will also help you achieve what burning does.

3. Cut your pork in 1.5 cm cubes. Place in bowl.

4. Cut smoked ham, potatoes and peppers in 1 cm pieces.

5. Cut olives in halves.

6. In a large pot, heat about 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil, add ham and quickly sautee to bring out its flavor.

7. Add pork, potatoes, sweet peppers and it's liquid, olives, bay leaf, bullion cubes, sofrito, garlic powder, black pepper, tomato sauce, water and annato oil.Cook until meat and potatoes are tender and sauce starts to thicken. Turn meat off.

Don't forget to add the liquid of the canned peppers

7. Get your two large bowls ready and place your cheese cloth or clean white tee shirt over one bowl, this bowl you will use to collect the water from the cassava, the second bowl you will add the dried cassava fibers in. Work in 1-1/2 cup batches to be able to squeeze all the moisture out completely.
Note: Leaving the water of the cassava isn't healthy and can cause you to become dizzy when consumed. Also it leaves you with a rubbery batter, which you don't want.

8. Once you've squeeze out all the moisture from the cassava you can discard it or click here to learn what you can do with the starch. Break up the cassava fibers with your fingers, add annato oil, evaporated milk, liquid from the meat you just cooked, and salt. Mix well. Your batter should be smooth and a medium orange tone. Set aside.

9. Get your work station ready. In a small bowl, add about 1/4 cup of annato oil, in a medium size bowl fill with meat, using a slotted or perforated spoon, this is so you can leave as much liquid behind in the pot. Add chopped cilantro and mix. If your work space is small you may want to put your cassava batter in a smaller bowl to save space. Cut your aluminum foil into 12" x 12" squares. and get your banana leaves ready.

10. Place your foil on the table first, than add a banana leaf, using a small spoon take a small amount of annato oil and rub it over the leaf using the back of the spoon, this is so the batter doesn't stick to the leaf, using a serving spoon grab about 1/2 cup of batter. Place in the middle of banana leaf and using the back of the spoon spread making an oval of about 5 inches by 3 inches. Than add a spoonful of meat, making a line from end to end.

11. Fold aluminum and banana leaf in half, than fold in half again. Fold ends downward and place on baking sheet. Your empanada should be about 2 inches wide and about 6-7 inches long.

12. Bake for 35 minutes in a 375°F/190°C. Serve hot!

Note: You can use this exact same recipe for pasteles, instead of using foil use special paper that is made for pasteles, and you have to tie them with string. Than instead of baking you will boil in salt water for 45 minutes.

Make sure when you buy frozen Cassava puree that in the ingredients say 100% Cassava. Do not buy if it's mixed with other ingredients. The two brands that I like to use is Bohio and Goya.