Bolivian Salteñas are a traditional Bolivian street food that is filled with a delicious beef or chicken filling and is slightly sweet and savory.
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by: Daniel Barker
Between 2005 and 2007 I was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bolivia. I lived there for two years, changing from one part of the country to another every few months. I met a ton of wonderful people who changed my life and whom I will always cherish. One of my only complaints was the food.
At the time I wasn’t a big fan of rice, and rice is one of the main staples of Bolivian cuisine. It wasn’t just a little bit of rice on a plate either – it was a huge plateful of rice, usually accompanied by some type of meat and lots and lots of potatoes. I can’t say that all of the food was bad though – there were some things that I really loved – and one of those was a delicious, empanada-like food called a Bolivian Salteña.
I tried my first Bolivian Salteña probably a couple of weeks after arriving in Bolivia. I wasn’t sure what it was, but the other missionaries said that I had to try it and that they were so delicious – and delicious they were! The bread has a delicious, slightly sweet taste, and the filling is so savory and delicious. They come in different varieties – made with chicken, shredded beef, ground beef, and more. They traditionally have a slice of hard boiled egg on the inside, as well as an olive and sometimes even raisins (although I omitted both the olive and raisins from my version, because I am not a fan).
One thing about Bolivian Salteñas is that they are very juicy. They have been known to ruin more than one missionary’s shirt because of the juice that drips out if you aren’t expecting it.
In one of the little towns where I lived, Arani, which is close to Cochabamba, the majority of the people spoke quechua, a native language that is pretty cool, but pretty hard to speak and/or understand. A lot of the people spoke both Spanish and Quechua, but some only spoke Quechua. While I was there, one of the members of the Church that cooked for us sometimes shared her recipe for Bolivia Salteñas with me and I wrote it down so that I could make them when I got home.
Well, like most of the paperwork and letters that I brought home from Bolivia, that recipe was buried in a notebook, in a box in my garage – until just a couple of days ago. When I was going through my things, I found the recipe on a piece of paper that I had written on it all those years ago. I decided that I really wanted to try to make it, so I gathered up the ingredients, and checked out a few other versions online to compare and make sure that I had the process down and I set to making them.
I really hope that if you set out to make these, that you enjoy them and that they become one of your favorites, like they have become for me. Enjoy!
For The Filling
- 1 pound ground beef 95% lean meat (or 2 chicken breasts)
- 1 Packet of unflavored gelatin
- 4 cups beef broth
- 3/4 stick butter
- 2 tablespoons turmeric or Achiote - ground or in paste form - you can find this in the Hispanic aisle at most grocery stores -
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 3 Large potatoes Diced
- 1 cup peas
- 1/2 cup parsley finely chopped
- 1/2 cup granulated white Sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- **Optional - 3 Hard Boiled Eggs Olives, Raisins
For the Dough
- 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 Eggs
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 1 Stick of Butter melted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups of boiling hot water
- 1-2 teaspoons of yellow food coloring.
For the Filling
- Cook the diced potatoes in boiling water until cooked, but still firm.
- Melt the Butter together with the Achiote or ground turmeric until well combined and incorporated.
- Add the Onions and the Diced Potatoes and Season everything with the Cumin, Salt, Pepper, and Oregano.
- Add the Peas and the chopped Parsley and mix well.
- Add the Sugar and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.
- Add the already cooked and seasoned ground beef and stir well.
- Add the Beef Broth and Bring to a boil.
- Add the packet of unflavored gelatin, stir well, and remove from heat.
- Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (overnight is best, but not necessary).
For the Dough
- Combine the Flour, Sugar, and Salt together in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the yellow food coloring (this is to get the traditional color of the Salteña, which is actually obtained by adding a natural colorant that is only found in Bolivia).
- Add the Eggs Mixture to the Flour Mixture and mix until well combined.
- Add the hot (almost boiling) water to the mix and knead until a large, yellowish ball of dough is formed (it should not be too sticky, so add more flour if necessary).
- Let sit for about 10-20 minutes and then separate into smaller, more workable pieces.
- Roll out each piece on a flour surface and cut into large circles (about 6 inches in diameter and about 1/8 of an inch thick)
How to Make the Salteñas
- Preheat your oven to 500 degrees
- After you have rolled out a piece of dough to the indicated size, add a slice of hard boiled egg to the middle (an olive and raisins if desired) and about 1/4 cup of the filling (more if you are not adding the other filling ingredients).
- Wet the edges of the dough, and fold over the top, pinching the edges together.
- In order to ensure that the Salteñas do not open during the cooking process, pinch and twist the edges to form a "braided look." (This was the hardest part for me, so they don't look perfect, but just do it enough so that you create a strong seal).
- You can also beat an egg and brush the Salteñas with it right before baking to get a shinier look.
- Place on an aluminum foil lined baking pan, right side up, and bake for 15 minutes or until browned.
- Let sit for at least 10 minutes and then enjoy.