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Chaya Empanadas

These crispy, corn masa, empanadas de chaya are a Yucatecan antojito (snack) that will conquer your heart. The masa is studded with chaya, filled with cheese, and served on a tomato-habanero sauce.  
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 12 large empanadas
Calories 144kcal
Author Dora S.


  • tortilla press
  • comal (cast iron skillet)



  • 2 cups Masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour)
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • 1 ¾ cups Warm water
  • cup Chopped chaya watercress, or Swiss chard (20g)
  • 8 oz Vegan cheese grated (about 2 cups)

Tomato sauce

  • 1 tsp. Avocado oil (optional)
  • ½ White onion diced (95g)
  • 1 Habanero pepper whole (18g)
  • 4 Plum tomatoes medium, pureed (593g)
  • 1 Garlic clove minced (4g)
  • Oil for frying (optional)


  • To make the dough: In a large bowl combine masa harina and salt. Pour in the water while slowly mixing the masa harina with your hand. The dough should be moist, but not sticky, like a soft playdough. If necessary, add more water until you reach the right consistency. Stir in chaya and knead for 5 minutes by hand inside the bowl, cover with a moistened kitchen towel and let rest while you make the tomato sauce.
  • To make the tomato sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet to medium heat and add the onion and habanero pepper . Sauté until tender and translucent, 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Pour in tomato puree and simmer until the sauce has thickened and become a deep red color, 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • To make the empanadas: Roll the dough into balls the size of a golf ball (50g)(1.7 oz.). Line your tortilla press with two sheets of plastic (cut grocery bags work the best). Place one ball of dough in the center of the press, and press down to about 1/4 inch (6mm) thick. Open the press, and remove the sheet of plastic on top of the dough and place 1 ½ tablespoons of the cheese in the center. Fold the dough over the filling, making the edges meet, press edges to seal, forming an empanada. Peel the remaining plastic off and place the empanada on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat this process with the rest of the empanadas.
  • To cook the empanadas: Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet to 360°F. Drop in empanadas and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. To cook these without oil: Heat a seasoned large cast iron skillet or comal over medium heat. Add two empandas to the skillet. Cook until the edges start to dry out and change color, 3 minutes. Flip the empanadas, the cooked side should be crisp and with brown spots. Cook the other side until golden brown, 3 minutes.
  • Serve the warm empanadas on top of the habanero tomato sauce.


I love the brand Masabrosa Instant Corn Masa, they have an organic version that is very affordable and available at my local HEB. Bob’s Red Mill also has a version of masa harina that is organic. There’s also Masienda that's made with non-GMO heirloom corn.
I used Vegan Chao cheese, but you can use your favorite vegan cheese. You can also fill these with sauteed mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, and cheese, or your favorite veggie saute.


Serving: 1empanada | Calories: 144kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 235mg | Potassium: 164mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 451IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 48mg | Iron: 2mg