If Your Abuela Was a Vegetarian, These Are the Empanadas She Would Make

by Gabriella Rivera

Every year, my favorite part of the holidays is gathering around the table with family or friends to enjoy a good meal.  After I started eating more plant based, I realized how many foods at my family’s table were meat centered. As I discussed this with more of the Latinx community it has become essential that we create recipes mending the gap between our culture and the vegetarian community. With this in mind, I set out to create one of my favorite meals for the holidays, beef and cheese empanadas but vegetarian. These won’t put your abuela to shame, but they will provide the tender loving care we all need during these months. 

Can’t Believe It’s Not Your Abuela’s Empanadas


  1. 3 tablespoons of sofrito (frozen or canned kind, I prefer the frozen) 

  2. Two 12oz bags of Morning Star  or any other vegetarian beef substitute

  3. (Goya Para Empanadas) – Goya Empanada Discs

  4. Half of a block of cheddar cheese

  5. A small can of tomato sauce

  6. Adobo (to taste)

  7. Sazón (to taste) 


  1. Make sure your empanada wrappers are fully defrosted before you start to cook. They should be cold so they are easy to handle but not too warm as to not be able to hold their shape.

  2. Start by heating a large deep pan to medium high head and add a little oil.

  3. When the oil is hot, add your sofrito and heat until melted. (if you are not using the frozen sofrito, skip this step and add your sofrito when you add your meat substitute)

  4. Add your “beef” into the pan and stir to coat and cook for about two minutes. Remember since this isn’t meat we are only heating it so it is not going to take that long.

  5. Pour about half the can of your tomato sauce into the pan and stir until combined.

  6. Sprinkle with adobo and Sazón to taste and cook until “beef’ is hot. Remove from heat and transfer into a bowl to leave off to the side to cool.

  7. While the beef is cooling create an empanada making station. Grab a small bowl of water, cut your cheese into small squares, set your empanada wrappers in the middle of the table and lay out a sheet of parchment paper. I did this with two of my friends and we finished within seven minutes.

  8. When “beef” is warm and not hot, you can start the assembly process! Hold an empanada wrapper in your hand. Add a cube or two of cheese, covering with 2 tablespoons of filling. Dip your finger into the bowl of water and trace the inside circumference of the empanada before folding it onto itself and crimping the edges together with a fork.

  9. Start to heat a shallow frying pan to medium high with about an inch or two of oil.

  10. When your oil is hot, place each folded pocket into the pan, laying it away from you to avoid splatter. Fry each empanada until golden brown and crispy before placing onto a paper towel-lined plate and wait about 5 minutes before eating (if you can) because you will burn your mouth. We have the tongue burns to prove it.

This recipe will allow everyone to feel included at the dinner table at your next holiday get-together and when you make them with friends, it really feels like the holidays are already here.

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