We're nuts for these vegan picadillo empanadas

LOS ANGELES, CA- March 11, 2020: Picadillo Empanadas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The best toddler-birthday-party food I’ve ever had were picadillo empanadas. Fede, a boy from my daughters’ daycare, turned 3, and his mom baked a huge batch of them. She had made the dough by hand and she pulled out tray after tray while the kids played.

After the party, I asked if she’d teach me how to make them. She explained that she never followed an actual recipe, particularly for the picadillo. The word simply means “mince,” so she would mince whatever meat she had on hand, but always seasoned the mix with sauteed onion and garlic and included a salty-sweet mix of olives and raisins.

Inspired by her lesson and advice, I make the filling, often beefy, vegan. Crumbly bits of pecans mimic the texture of browned ground beef but retain a nice crunch. Once it’s simmered in the spiced tomato sauce, it ends up as satisfying as meat.

The making of Picadillo Empanadas; rolling and filling dough.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Mixing, rolling and cutting empanada dough from scratch is worth trying if you’re into playing with dough. Plus, most store-bought doughs aren’t vegan, so you’ll want to keep this recipe handy if that’s how you eat.

Because this dough is oil-based, it’s easy to handle, unlike butter- or lard-based ones, which can melt and get greasy on hot days. Although twisting the rim into a rope takes some practice, it’s fun to attempt, and the results will be delicious no matter what. (Sealing the edges with a fork works just as well.)

Once baked, the empanadas can be enjoyed hot, warm or room temperature. A cooling, tangy avocado dip is just the thing to balance all the big flavors on the inside.