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Salteñas – Bolivia National Dish – Day 37/Dish 20

February 13, 2010

Hello Foodies, meet Rudy!  Rudy is originally from Bolivia and we were lucky to have him over for dinner to judge the quality and authenticity of tonight’s dish.  I am happy to report that he liked the Saltenas and told me I nailed both the bread and the filling.  They WERE tasty so I would recommend this dish if you are feel culinarily ambitious on a snowy day like we are having.  Now, shall we explore a little?

Bhutan was a fascinating place.  I believe my gross personal happiness increased by being there, even just for a short stop.  But now we must sail to Bolivia in South America.  If you look on your map you will see that Bolivia is more or less in the central eastern section of South America above Chile and south of Peru but a bit inland.  To navigate to Bolivia, we must sail across the mighty Pacific heading east out of Asia.  The long journey will take us by the Hawaiian Islands and shortly before we make landfall, the Galapagos Islands.  When Charles Darwin sailed his small ship, The HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands and made the discoveries that would shape much of Evolutionary thinking, he must have felt like an adventurer, similar to us.  We make our landing at Arequipa Peru and must travel through mountain passes as we climb to La Paz, Bolivia high in the Andes Mountains.

La Paz is the seat of government although not the capital of Bolivia.  Located at 12,000 feet above sea level it is the highest elevation of any city on Earth.  It rests on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  It also happens to be the seat of the Inca Empire.  Between the influence of the Inca and the visible influence of the Spanish colonial Empire, Bolivia’s long and often bloody history begins to take shape in our minds.  This is going to be one ethnically and culturally diverse place! 

Nearby La Paz is Tiahuanaco a massive archaeological site which is home to the famous Gate of the Sun, and is considered the oldest ruins in the world.  It is often mistakenly credited to the Inca but was probably built long before the Inca arrived.  The link above gives us a unique look inside one theory on the Pre-Inca, Pre Spanish Colonial civilizations of the area and the creation of Tiahuanaco.

Bolivia is divided geographically between the Altiplano or High Plains in the west, the low lying Yungas and Amazon Basin in the Northeast and the Southeast semi tropical plains of the Chaco.  Primary languages include North and South Bolivian Quechua, Aymara and the national language of Spanish.  Bolivia as it is known today was founded in 1809 after declaring independence from Spain.  The battle for independence lasted 16 years and the name Bolivia was chosen in 1825 from Simon Bolivar the most famous Libertador (freedom fighter) in the war for independence.     

The national dish of Bolivia is Saltenas, a type of Empanada that is fashioned uniquely in Bolivia.  The bread crust contains an ingredient that we have seen before in another country by another name.  The ingredient is Achiote Spice, which is the same as Red Recado from Belize that we seasoned chicken with.  If you have access to a Latino Grocery Store, look for Achiote de Adobo.  Basically it is crushed seeds of the Adobo Bush with additional spices and herbs including cumin and oregano and it lends a unique color and flavor to the bread that is essential to authentic Bolivian Salteñas.

The name Salteñas comes from the first recorded Baker of these yummy treats.  She was from neighboring Argentina and the city of Salta.  In Spanish speaking places, when a person is from a place they may be referred to as “eñas” i.e. La Salteña, like a person from Boston being called a Bostonian.  And so when the women who made this particular type of empanada began to become popular for her cooking, they gradually referred to the dish itself as “de la Salteña” or “from the Salteña” and eventually simply called the dish Salteñas.  The thing that makes the dish unique from other regional Empenadas is the braided crust that is unique to Bolivian Salteñas.  This picture is a real Boliviano twisting up some delicious authentic Salteñas.

I give this dish a 3-4 for difficulty.  You need to prepare the filling and chill it the night before to let the Gelatin set.  The fillings vary by individual taste, but the bread is really the important part and can be tricky. 

The general preparation is simple, but the assembly of the pockets including the braiding takes some practice and knowing the technique is a challenge which I will attempt to explain here. When you have sealed the edge of the Salteña with water, you pick up the Saltena and press down on the edge of the corner closest to you with your thumb and forefinger making a flattened piece and then flip it over onto the edge and press it down with your thumb and forefinger making the next edge or braid in the rope, and continue this till you reach the other side.  Practice makes perfect.  A Bolivian Baker can make hundreds per day!


Appearance: 4 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15


I have left the instructions almost entirely intact as I find them both fun and well written. 


The Filling: (for about 15 turnovers)

2 big tablespoons of Vegetable Oil

1/2 cup of Onions, chopped

3 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped

3 to 4 Potatoes, diced

1 cup of Green Peas  (canned or frozen)

1 pound (450 g.) of Boneless Chicken or Ground beef

1 cup (250 ml.) Chicken or Beef broth

1 envelope of Unflavored Gelatin

Pinch of : Salt, Oregano, Cayenne Pepper and Cumin Powder (about ½ tsp) to taste

Preparation of Filling:

Cook and shred el pollo(chicken) or Beef. If using ground beef, cook and drain. Set aside. This being done, the best way to proceed is making the aguado (the base of the sauce) in a large pot.

Gently sauté the Onion and the Garlic in the Vegetable Oil for about 10 minutes stirring regularly.  Don’t let the Onions brown!  Add the Salt & Cayenne Pepper, Cumin Spice, and Oregano.  Lastly, pour in the broth of choice.

Cover & simmer on low heat for approximately 35 minutes until a reddish oil starts to rise to the surface.

While you have time to waste, boil, in a separate pot, about 5 cups of water with another pinch of salt.

Dump in the chopped potatoes and peas, leave for about 7 min. Remove ingredients to a holding bowl and set aside.

When you see that red oil at the surface of the broth mixture, put in the Minced Meat, the Potatoes and the Peas.

In a small bowl, dissolve the Marrow/Gelatin Powder with boiling water and pour it in the pot as well.

Mix thoroughly for about 10 minutes, then let it cool. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The Crust :

1/4 cup (60ml.) of Vegetable Oil

½ cup of Water

3 cups (330d.) of All Purpose Flour

2 Eggs

1 pinch of Salt, 2 pinches of Sugar

1 big spoon of ground Achiote Spice (optional)

Now, it may not seem like it at first, but making the dough is the most important part of making the Salteña. You know you got the recipe right when, once cooked, the dough does not leak the yummy juice hidden inside. Last thing you want is for the filling to ooze out, turning your salteña into one big soggy post-apocalyptic blob.

So here is how it goes. Mix the Flour, Sugar, Salt and Achiote in a large glass mixing bowl.  Now that last one may not be easy to find* but it’s really what gives it the extra-special look and flavor, so if you have a Latino hanging at a corner store or a Latino lover in your closet, ask if he knows where to find some. Beat together the Eggs, Oil, and half a cup of Water. Stir into the dry ingredients (ie. the flour mixture) to form a soft, yet slightly sticky dough. The best way to get the right amount of dough for the 15 circles we need to make after that is taking about the size of a golf ball for each empanada and flattening it so it lays fairly thin on a floured surface. Too thin and it will break, to thick and it will be chewy.

That Final Touch:

Heat it up! Turn your oven to 425°F (210°C) and put 2 tablespoons of “that-strange-filling-from-last-night” in the center of each circle. Carefully close the deal with a twist seam for braided-effect or however you like it. In certain Bolivian regions, like Tarija, it’s common to add an olive, raisins or beaten eggs on top of the mix before closing. Finally, brush up egg whites on the turnovers and bake 15 minutes until golden brown!

Aaah the sweet sweet smell of the salteña…

Recipe Source:

Info resources:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jihad permalink
    February 13, 2010 3:45 pm

    SO Yummie!

  2. February 15, 2010 7:55 am

    The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

  3. medalitmendoza permalink
    July 18, 2011 10:04 am

    Wonderfully explained, thank you for the funny way to put it. “post-apocalyptic blob” well, tomorrow I will try them as I need to patiently wait for the filling to cool in the fridge overnigth.
    I have been my whole life in the knowledge that the saltenas were Peruvian, as I have always ate them in Arequipa-Peru. If in fact, they are Bolivian invention.Then this was one of the best inventions our neighbours have done! Thanks again.
    Medalit, London

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