Spanish empanadas are large, savory tarts filled with beef, seafood, or vegetables. These smaller tuna empanadillas, however, still boast an abundance of Mediterranean flavor, but are handheld and so easy to make ahead. Traditionally fried, this tuna empanadilla recipe is baked for a lighter and easier adaptation of the classic.
Tuna Empanadillas may seem unusual, especially if you're more familiar with Latin American empanadas. However, these savory hand pies originate from Galicia on the Atlantic coast of Spain — a region renowned for its seafood.
In fact, these handheld delights have been a classic of Iberian cuisine for centuries, where they first appeared in a Catalan cookbook as far back as the early 1500s! Empanadillas get their name from the verb empanar, which means “to bread” or “wrap in bread."
To make this smokey, rich filling simply combine canned tuna, olives, capers, sweet bell peppers, paprika, lemon zest, and a rich hard-boiled egg. Once the filling is ready, portion out the dough, fill it and seal it. And don't worry if you're not a dough-making aficionado! This dough recipe requires very few ingredients and very little resting time.
Ingredients for Tuna Empanadillas
With high-quality canned tuna, olives, capers, garlic, and lemon zest, these empanadillas meld the briny and bright flavors typical of Galicia’s coastal region.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Use a Spanish EVOO, like our Hojiblanca, to coat the flour and make a tender, flaky dough.
- Salt and pepper: Used to bring out the flavor of the homemade empanadas.
- All-purpose flour: Creates a sturdy but tender dough that’s strong enough to hold the filling.
- Onion: Use a milder, sweet yellow onion like Spanish, Vidalia, or Walla Walla.
- Red and green bell pepper: Red and green peppers add a bittersweet mix of fruity and grassy flavors.
- Bay leaf: Minty, piney flavor of the bay leaf is subtle but essential for rounding out the flavor.
- Canned tuna: Use good-quality tuna packed in olive oil.
- Pimentón dulce: Spain is famous for its paprika produced in la Vera. Use Spanish smoked or sweet paprika for an authentic flavor.
- Tomatoes: Grate fresh tomatoes on the coarsest side of a box grater into a large bowl. Use both the flesh and the juice, but discard the skin.
- Capers: Capers are the preserved buds from a bush that grows across the Mediterranean region. They somehow manage to be salty, savory, and floral all at once. They are a wonderful addition to anything with tuna or salmon.
- Garlic: When it comes to Spanish food, garlic is an essential part of the cuisine. I use it here to add a savory depth of flavor and to balance out those briney capers.
- Fresh parsley: Use flat-leaf Italian parsley for its bright and herbaceous aroma.
- Lemon zest: Citrus balances the salty, rich flavor of the filling and brings everything to life.
- Egg: Hard boiled egg is a traditional, but optional, addition to the filling. While raw egg is brushed on to make the empanada crust golden as it bakes.
- Black olives: Black olives, like Kalamata or Niçoise, are fully ripened before harvest. They're milder than green olives and add some earthy depth to the filling.
How to Make Tuna Empanadillas
In this empanada recipe, the simple dough needs a just quick rest. You’ll be surprised how easy and quickly these savory hand pies come together.
- Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk ½ cup olive oil, ½ cup water, and ½ teaspoon salt. Gradually add 3 cups flour, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the dough comes together, switch to kneading by hand until the dough no longer sticks to your hands or the counter. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.
- Make the filling: Dice 1 small onion, green bell pepper, and red bell pepper. In a large frying pan set over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the diced vegetables, and a bay leaf. Cook until they soften and begin to caramelize, 6-7 minutes. Next, add 2 cans of drained tuna, 2 grated tomatoes, 1 tablespoon chopped capers, 1 teaspoon paprika, and ¾ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper.
- Simmer: Reduce the heat to low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. To finish the filling, add one minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves, and the zest of one lemon. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and stir in one chopped hard-boiled egg and ¼ cup chopped olives. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Get ready: Arrange oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400°F. While the oven heats up, go ahead and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Assemble the dough: Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and form into balls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent the dough from drying. Working with one piece at a time, use your palms to press each ball of dough into a circle about 5-inches in diameter. Once your circle is formed, add about 2 tablespoons of the filling to the center.
- Fold the empanadillas: Fold the dough over the filling and gently seal the edges with your fingers. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges and make a decorative crimp.
- Bake: Arrange the empanadillas on the lined baking sheets. For the finishing touch, make an egg wash by whisking together 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Next, simply dip a pastry brush into the egg wash and brush the top of each empanadilla with the egg wash. One you've brushed all the empanadillas with egg wash, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. To ensure even cooking, rotate the pans and switch shelves halfway through.
What to Serve with Tuna Empanadillas
La merienda is the Spanish tradition of enjoying a late afternoon snack. It can be savory or sweet, served with hot coffee or a cold drink. It’s the perfect time for an empanadilla and a caña (small beer), or a refreshing cocktail, like Spanish Sangria.
Enjoy a Taste of Spain!
Browse all Mediterranean recipes.
Visit Our Shop.
Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bold and peppery, our Spanish olive oil is harvested from 100% Hojiblanca olives.
Spanish Tuna Empanadillas
For the Dough:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 (12 ounce) cans tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
- 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely grated or finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained and coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon pimentón dulce or paprika
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 egg, (optional), hardboiled and diced
- ¼ cup pitted black olives, chopped
For the Egg Wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, water, and salt. Gradually add in the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the dough comes together and no dry bits of flour remain. Scrape the dough onto a clean work surface and knead by hand until the dough is smooth, malleable, and no longer sticks to your hands or the counter. Transfer the dough back into the bowl, cover, and let rest while preparing the filling.
- Saute the vegetables: In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onion, peppers, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened and beginning to caramelize, 6-7 minutes.
- Make the filling: Add the tuna, tomatoes, capers, paprika, salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Scrape the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon to loosen the flavorful browned bits. Reduce the heat to low and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
- Add the aromatics: Add the garlic, parsley, and lemon zest and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the hard-boiled egg and olives. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Preheat your oven: Arrange oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Get the dough ready: Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll into balls. Cover the dough with a clean damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying. Working with one piece at a time, use your palms to press into a circle about 5-inches in diameter.
- Fill the empanadas: Add about 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling and gently press the edges together with your fingers. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges and make a decorative crimp.
- Bake: Arrange the assembled empanadas on the lined baking sheets. Place 8 on each sheet without touching each other. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with one tablespoon of water. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of each empanada with the egg wash. Bake on the lower rack for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake on the higher rack until golden brown, about 10 minutes more.
- Serve: Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
- Empanadas reheat well, so it’s worth making a big batch and freezing half for later. To freeze, arrange them (unbaked, with no egg wash) on a baking sheet without touching. Freeze about 6 hours, or until fully frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag. Brush with egg wash and reheat in the oven, adding a few extra minutes at each step.
- If you like the tuna empanadillas try this beef empanadilla recipe. They are easy to to batch cook and have at the ready.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams and spices.