Sweet potato and black bean empanadas

Being from the UK, I haven’t had many opportunities to eat empanadas – they’re not exactly common here, which is strange, because they were originally introduced to Mexico by Cornish miners. That’s right, empanadas are actually Cornish pasties in disguise! Once you realise this, you can totally see the link, as they’re pretty much the same thing: a tasty filling, wrapped around pastry, in a half moon shape!

I recently decided to try a black bean recipe for the first time in my life (black beans are also not a staple in English cookery!), as I’d been tempted so many times by a black bean chilli recipe in Jillian Michaels’ recipe book for Master Your Metabolism. As I had to buy a bag of these beans, and I had a sweet potato knocking around in the fridge from my organic veg box, I decided to give making sweet potato and black bean empanadas a go – and I’m really glad I did! I found them on Cooking Light’s website (I love that magazine, but you can’t get it here) under a section about great freeze ahead recipes. I’ve tested them out in the freezer, and they’re perfect to reheat later. Brilliant!

I’ve decided they make a great lunch, with a feta cheese, tomato, cucumber and rocket salad.

Here’s the recipe, translated into ‘English’, but you can also get the US recipe, and view the original, by clicking here. I kept in the cup measurements, because honestly, they’re much easier!


  • 9 oz plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup rapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  •  1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 dried chipotle chilli (you can buy these in Tesco)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato (about 1 large)
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tsp chilli powder, or smoked paprika
  • 1 egg white, beaten


  • Combine flour and salt in a bowl, and mix.
  • Combine rapeseed oil, cold water, vinegar and egg in another bowl, and then add slowly into the dry mix until just moist. Knead lightly in the bowl, then cover and allow to chill for one hour.
  • Rehydrate the chipotle chilli with boiling water and stand for 15 minutes. Then, chop finely.
  • Toast and grind the cumin seeds.
  • Combine the chilli and cumin with the potato, black beans, spring onions, coriander, chilli, and some salt. I processed mine to make it very smooth. Taste it carefully, and season to taste, because this mixture won’t really change much in the oven – it just gets warmer, rather than being cooked.
  • Divide the dough into 10 pieces, and keep the dough covered while you work.
  • Take one piece of dough and shape into a ball. It’s best not to do this with flour, as the shape forms easier without. But, you will need flour on the surface when you roll it out. Roll into a circle.
  • Fill the centre with 3 level tablespoons of the mix, then paint the edges with egg white, and seal.
  • Continue for all of your dough and mix.
  • Cut three vents on your empanadas, then bake in a preheated oven at 200c, on a baking tray coated with oil spray. Bake for 16 minutes, or until lightly browned.

CALORIES: 209 per empanada

When I froze these, I baked them for slightly less time. Then, just sealed them in a bag and placed them on a sheet in the freezer. When it’s time to cook, I defrost them and then heat them back up in the oven for about ten minutes.

Really, these are so tasty with a salad for lunch! I combine them with 35g of low-fat feta cheese, 1 tsp olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar, cucumber, lettuce and tomato, and it’s all under 350 calories. Quite high for me as a general rule of thumb, but I’m experimenting with eating more for meals and less for snacks! (Unhealthy snacks are now banned during Lent!)

Green bean, sweet potato and soy and balsamic vinegar chicken bento

I love the penguin pick in this bento. I bought it from J-List in a pack of sea-creature food picks, but I think the penguin is my favourite.

Inside this bento is a mixture of different recipes I was trying out for the first time. I think the sweet potato was a recipe from Wagamama, and included a honey and lime juice dressing. I’m not big on sweet potato, to be honest, and this one didn’t really sway me to the cause. This bento picture was actually taken over two years ago, and as you can see, I’d still not really perfected the art of packing onigiri… Ah well.

The orange bento box is from Daiso, and even though it’s one of the cheapest ones around, it’s still my favourite because it’s such a nifty oval shape. The front tier contains soy-balsamic chicken and spicy green beans, both adapted from Harumi’s Japanese Cooking – both of her English cookery books are great, although I prefer the second one!

Green bean, sweet potato and balsamic chicken bento

Spicy green beans


  • 150g green beans
  • 75g minced pork
  • 1 tbsp garlic oil (or use olive oil and some garlic puree)
  • Pinch dried chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar


  • If making for the bento, trim your green beans (or French, or fine…whatever you call them!) into halves or even thirds, so they can be picked up easily by chopsticks.
  • Boil for about four minutes, then drain and refresh quickly in very cold water. This is to retain their colour. Drain again, and shake off excess water.
  • Heat the garlic oil in the pan and add the pork, stirring to break up. Now add the chilli pepper and stir well to coat, then add the soy sauce and sugar.
  • Mix well, ensuring the sugar has dissolved, and then serve the beans with the mince on top.


You can increase or decrease the chilli powder according to your tastes, just ensure it’s all mixed in well or someone will be getting a surprise in their bento box…

Soy and balsamic vinegar chicken


  • Six chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp oil


  • Mix the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and sugar in a pan, then simmer. Allow to cook for several minutes, reducing the sauce until it’s thick and glossy.
  • Now wash and dry your chicken thighs, and place them in a hot pan with the oil, and allow to brown on one side. Turn them over and pour over the sauce, then cover and cook for five minutes, taking care not to let the sauce burn over too high a heat.
  • Remove the chicken and test it’s cooked by slicing a piece in half. Return to the heat if it needs longer.
  • For a bento, allow to cool before slicing and dressing with some extra sauce.


You will need about one or two chicken thighs, depending on size, per person for a bento lunch.

These recipes originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.