Salteñas have always been, for me and millions of others growin' up in Bolivia, a long-term addictive drug. Every day, we'd wake up, dress and run out on the streets like rabid dogs towards the nearest salteñeria, our mouths watering in anticipation. Nothing tastes quite like a salteña that's just been cooked, and the cholitas behind the stands sold them restlessly from the wee hours of the morning until stocks ran out. The fact of the matter is, salteñas are empanadas that only Bolivians make, and incredibly, like most of Bolivian cuisine, it has little to no recognition in the worldly world of international gastronomy. Because I find this to be unjustified and because everyone should be able to taste the spicy gooey tender filling of the salteña, I have decided to put this recipe up, for those who feels adventurous enough to try.

First off, you should know that making this delicious dish is messy work and must be done over two days. The reason for this is that the calf leg marrow (yes you read correctly) must be boiled into the sauce, then left to congeal before encasing it in dough. For the sake of practicality though, one can replace the marrow with Gelatin. Less traditional I admit, but just as good.

The Filling: (for about 15 turnovers)

Cook and shred el pollo. If using ground beef, cook and drain. Set aside. This being done, the best way to go is doing the aguado (the base of the sauce) in a large pot.
Gently sauté the onion and garlic in vegetable oil for about 10 min. Don't let the onions brown! Add the salt & pepper, cumin spice, and oregano. Lastly, pour in the broth of choice.
Cover & simmer on low heat for approximately 35 min. until a reddish oil starts to rise to the surface.

While you have time to waste, boil, in a separate pot, about 5 cups of water with another pinch of salt.
Dump in the chopped potatoes and peas, leave for about 7 min. Remove ingredients to a holding bowl and set aside.

When you see that red oil at the surface of the broth mixture, put in the minced meat, the potatoes and the peas.
In a small bowl, dissolve the marrow/gelatin powder with boiling water and pour it in the pot as well.
Mix thoroughly for about 10 minutes, then let it cool. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The Crust :

  • 1/4 cup (60ml.) of vegetable oil
  • 3 cups (330d.) of flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pinch of salt, 2 pinches of sugar
  • 1 big spoon of ground achiote (optional)

Now, it may not seem like it at first, but making the dough is the most important part of making the salteña. You know you got the recipe right when, once cooked, the dough does not leak the yummy juice hidden inside. Last thing you want is for the filling to ooze out, turning your salteña into one big soggy post-apocalyptic blob.

So here is how it goes. Mix flour, sugar, salt and achiote. Now that last one may not be easy to find* but it's really what gives it the extra-special look and flavor, so if you have a Latino hanging at a corner store or a Latino lover in your closet, ask if he knows where to find some. Beat together eggs, oil, and half a cup of water. Stir into the dry ingredients ( ie. the flour mixture) to form a soft yet slightly sticky dough. The best way to get the right amount of dough for the 15 circles we need to to make after that is taking about the size of a golf ball for each empanada and flattening it so it lays fairly thin on a floured surface.

That Final Touch:

Heat it up! Turn your oven to 425°F (210°C) and put 2 tablespoons of "that-strange-filling-from-last-night" in the center of each circle. Carefully close the deal with a twist seam for braided-effect or however you like it. In certain Bolivian regions, like Tarija, it's common to add an olive, raisins or beaten eggs on top of the mix before closing. Finally, brush up egg whites on the turnovers and bake 15 minutes untill golden brown!

Aaah the sweet sweet smell of the salteña...

* shaogo informs me that the achiote is in fact easily available via Goya Foods in the US.

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