Empanadas and Hand Pies Are the Solution to Your Leftover Problem

Wrap leftover roasts, stews, and braised meat and vegetables in homemade or store-bought dough for an easy weeknight meal.

<p>By Eve Livesey / Getty Images</p>

By Eve Livesey / Getty Images

I have a few friends who absolutely won’t eat leftovers, but I am pretty sure I could win them over with my favorite trick for repurposing food. At my place, what I didn’t eat yesterday often becomes delicious empanadas, hand pies, or turnovers. During the week, my Gen Z daughter and I are busy getting through the hurdles of work and high school, so if I can make one meal easily morph into two — and get her attention in the process — I’m winning the weeknight dinner game.

What I’m talking about here is wrapping tender dough around savory leftovers like tender beer-braised pot roast, leftover rotisserie chicken, or cooked vegetables to make flaky individual pastries . Trust me, you’ll turn to this meal planning hack often. Check out my advice and ideas for converting leftovers into fun dinner time turnovers your crowd will be thrilled to eat.

Related: 35 Big-Batch Recipes for Easy Meal Prep

Which leftovers make great empanada and hand pie fillings?

Any time I have leftover stew, roasts, braised meats, casseroles, or greens, I know I have the basis for hand pies. If I’m using leftover chopped or shredded roast chicken or something like Chicken with Mushroom Hash, I’ll freewheel the filling with other tasty additions pulled from my fridge, like salsa and black beans or green onions, cilantro, and juicy fresh pineapple. I especially lean on moist and flavorful dark meat — chicken breasts can become dry the second time around. If you’ve got a favorite spice blend, start there to season the chicken. Add leftover sautéed greens like kale or spinach and a delicious melting cheese and you’ve got a hand pie filling.

Related: 37 Roast Chicken Recipes for Cozy Everyday Dinners

Slow cookers let me get on with my life when I’m cooking meat that needs a lot of time to break down into fork-tender bites, so I never knock using them. Leftover Barbecued Pulled Pork will work as a filling as-is or you can augment it with chopped pickles and a little extra sauce. (I am not above ordering barbecue from a beloved spot and using the leftovers to make empanadas.)

Related: Our 25 Best Crockpot and Slow Cooker Recipes

Firm leftover vegetables like butternut squash, corn, and onions are great to use in hand pies. If you’ve made a dish like this Butternut Squash Casserole with Leeks, Prosciutto and Thyme, encase the leftovers in dough and give it new life a day or two later.  Add cubed pieces of melty cheese like Fontina for added richness and creaminess.

Related: Chickpea and Spinach Stew

What’s the best dough for making hand pies and empanadas?

When time is on my side, I’ll lean on a good homemade flaky dough; I’ve usually got a disk or two of pie dough stored in the freezer. But if I don’t have any on hand or didn’t remember to thaw it in the fridge the night before, I'll turn to store-bought refrigerated pie dough (truth be told, my daughter loves it.) You can also look for prepared empanada discs in the grocery store, usually in the freezer section. Choose discs that indicate they are for baking as opposed to frying, unless you're set up to do some deep-frying. For another easy option that elevates your turnovers, use puff pastry. You can purchase frozen puff pastry sheets, or  make this quick and easy puff pastry dough. And you can always use the dough from a favorite empanada recipe like these for these Mini Panamanian Beef Empanadas or these Natchitoches Meat Pies

How do you form and bake the empanadas or hand pies?

1. First, prep your filling. If the leftovers are very saucy, make sure to spoon off excess sauce or liquid so that the crust doesn't become soggy. Taste and adjust the seasonings. If the filling is straight from the fridge, I let it stand for about 15 minutes while I handle the dough.

2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. I prefer to roll dough on lightly floured parchment paper — it helps keep too much of flour from being incorporated into the dough, which will make the dough tough. Plus it makes for easy clean up — another win for weeknight cooking. If you’re using refrigerated pie dough, you'll just need a couple of passes with a rolling pin. Aim for dough about 1/8 inch-thick. Dust off any excess flour with a dry brush.

3. Cut the dough into circles or squares. (If you’re using empanada discs skip this step.) For main-dish size hand pies or empanadas, cut the circles or squares about five inches wide. For mini, snack-size empanadas, go for a three- to four-inch width. Use a round biscuit cutter or drinking glass to cut out dough circles.

4. Add the filling. Be careful you don’t use too much, since you need to fold the dough over the filling. I tend to use a scant 1/4 cup of filling for larger hand pies and about one to two tablespoons for mini pies. Placing the filling slightly off center will ensure that the dough can be folded over and the edges can be sealed without any filling getting in the way.

5. Fold and seal the dough. I like to dampen the dough edges with an egg wash. Don’t skip this step — egg wash is the glue that adheres the edges so the filling doesn't seep out. Fold the dough over the filling to form a half moon shape for circles of dough or a triangle shape for a square pieces of dough. Press the dough edges together and pinch them with your fingers or press them lightly with a fork to crimp and seal the edges. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg wash;  you just need  a light coating to create a beautifully glazed pastry. Use a paring knife to cut a couple of small slits into the top of each hand pie to allow steam to escape.

6. Bake until golden and the filling is good and hot. I usually preheat my oven to 425°F. and line my baking pan with a silicone mat, but parchment paper also will work. Baking times will vary depending on the type of filling and the hand pie size, but generally large empanadas will need about 20 minutes and minis are ready in about 12 minutes. It's a quick way to get dinner on the table.

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