Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Pumpkin Piñon Empanadas

A plate of freshly baked pumpkin piñon empanadas. Photo by Liddie Martinez


Liddie Martinez, Author, The Chile Line.

We have talked about empanadas before. In my January 2019 column we reminisced about their humble beginnings in Spain or, more accurately, the Iberian Peninsula during medieval Moorish invasions and the fact that these small packages made eating on the go possible and delicious. Some of the first cookbooks published in Spain in the early 1500s included empanadas filled with seafood, but the pumpkin empanada, while its roots are firmly planted in Europe, is a new world variation.

It is believed that pumpkins originated in North America; seeds from gourd-type plants found in Mexico date back to 7000 BC. New Mexico history establishes trade routes between the indigenous tribes of Mexico and the Native American Pueblo Societies  of the Northern Rio Grande Valley around 1000 AD.  We know they actively traded long before colonization and so, it is safe to say that pumpkin cultivation in northern New Mexico has been a practice dating back thousands of years and since empanadas arrived with the Spanish in the late 1500s, pumpkin empanadas would have materialized very quickly thereafter.  

What I love most about these wonderful pockets is their contribution to our mobility. Just slip one into your backpack and an instant and delicious meal can happen whether you are hiking on a trail, bike riding in the mountains, or plowing on a tractor. The traditional cooking method is to fry these in hot oil and, I do that often, but just as often I crave the flaky crust of baked pastry and this recipe lends itself to this method. If you decide to fry, use the sopapilla dough I shared last month instead as the pastry does not hold up as well in the oil and will deposit small crumbs that will quickly burn at the bottom of your pot. I have added piñon to this recipe as the native, nutty flavor also enhances the texture but, you could leave it out or add chopped pecans, which also provide a nice crunch.


3 Cups Flour

1 ½ tsp. Kosher Salt

1 Cup Cold Butter cut into pieces

About 2 cups of iced water (you won’t use it all)

Egg Wash (1 egg plus 1 Tbsp. Water whisked together)

Coarse Sugar

Combine flour and salt and cut butter into the mixture using a pastry knife until it resembles coarse sand. Add cold water a couple of tablespoons at a time raking mixture across and around the bowl with fingers spread out until dough clumps begin to form. Gather into five small dough balls, don’t knead, cover with a tea towel and refrigerate while you make the filling.


2 Cups Solid Pack Pumpkin

1 Cone Piloncillo or 1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

3 Tbsps. Butter

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. cloves

1 cup Piñon Nuts, shelled

Melt butter over low heat in a heavy sauce pan and stir in piloncillo grated or chopped into small pieces to melt, stirring often. Add pumpkin and spices and cook stirring often until the mixture is smooth and the melted sugar has been incorporated. Meanwhile, lightly toast piñon over low heat in a cast iron skillet stirring constantly. When nuts begin to brown, fold into pumpkin mixture and refrigerate to cool.

When filling has cooled, pre-heat oven to 425˚ and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Take dough balls out of the refrigerator one at a time and divide into fourths. Roll out each dough piece into a 5 inch disk using a little flour and place a scant tablespoon of filling on the bottom half of the disk. Dip finger into a small bowl of cool water and dampen the edge of the top half of the disk and fold over pressing edge lightly to seal. Flute edge using a fork and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. When sheet is full (10 empanadas), brush tops with eggs wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Use scissors to snip one small vent hole in each empanada.

Pumpkin piñon empanadas ready for the oven. Photo by Liddie Martinez

Bake at 425˚ for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350˚ and bake for an additional 35 minutes or until empanadas are golden brown. While first cookie sheet is baking, work on the second sheet. 

Makes 20 empanadas.

Editor’s note: Author Liddie Martinez and Pajarito Press LLC invite the public to attend one of three events unveiling her newly published book—The Chile Line: Historic Northern New Mexican Recipes—and to receive a signed copy of this beautifully illustrated, long-awaited cookbook.

Martinez is sharing her traditional farm-to-table recipes that have been handed down for centuries. Now these delicious dishes can be carried on by you and your family—just in time for holiday giving!


  • Sunday, Nov. 17, 2-4 p.m. at the Los Luceros historic site, 253 Co Road 41, Los Luceros;
  • Tuesday, Nov. 19, 5-7:30 p.m. at Fuller Lodge. 2132 Central Ave. in Los Alamos; and
  • Friday, Nov. 22, 5-7:30 p.m. at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market in the Santa Fe Railyard.

Register to pre-purchase a copy of the book, meet Martinez and enjoy refreshments and celebrate together. The price for each event is $35. Contact:

To order books, click here.



Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Pumpkin Piñon Empanadas, story courtesy of the