Pastelitos Salvadoreños – Your Guide + Recipe

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Also known as Salvadoran empanadas, these little half-moon-shaped crunchy turnovers are usually made using minced meat, such as chicken, pork or beef and vegetables. You can also make these tasty parcels vegetarian by leaving out the meat. Traditionally an El Salvador dish, they are similar to pupusas and are served with curtido, which is al El Salvador cabbage slaw, and a fresh tomato sauce.

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pastelitos salvadoreños

What are the different types of pastelitos salvadoreños?

Below is a list outlining some of the different types of pastelitos salvadoreños, and what their main ingredients are:

How do I make pastelitos salvadoreños?

Firstly, you’ll need to start off by preparing the dough, which is made from corn flour. Traditionally, this dough is orange in color, thanks to annatto powder, and is seasoned with chicken bouillon powder. If you are planning on making these vegetarian, be sure to leave out the chicken bouillon.

The meat is first cooked separately in water, while the vegetables are grated and chopped. When the meat is cooked, the vegetables are then sauteed with the chicken, which makes up the amazing flavor of the stuffing.

The dough is then rolled into small circles and the filling added to the center of the dough. This is then turned over and pressed together to make the semi-circle shape. The pastelitos are then fried to cook the dough.

Find the detailed recipe below!


For this recipe, I have chosen my favorite – chicken pastelitos salvadoreños.

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 30 minutes

As the process for making pastelitos is quite long, I would recommend making the curtido and tomato sauce the day before in order to save you time on the day, especially if you plan on making other food bits too!

For the dough

  • 1 cup instant corn flour
  • 7 oz. water divided
  • tsp chicken bouillon (powder)
  • 1 tsp annatto seeds ground
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil, or any high smoking point oil
  • 1 cup curtido (recipe below)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (recipe below)

Tomato sauce

  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped (can used tinned tomatoes)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp achiotes (ground annatto seeds)
  • cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the stuffing

  • 2 chicken breasts, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 chayote
  • 3 oz. green beans, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon powder
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Method for making pastelitos salvadoreños

Starting with the filling

  1. In a dutch oven or deep frying pan, add your chicken, water, bay leaf and salt. Cook over a high heat, bringing it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer on a medium heat.
  2. Take care to skim the foam from the top of the water at regular intervals.
  3. Once the foam stops foaming, cover the pot and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Before removing, check the chicken is cooked throughout before removing and letting sit on a chopping board for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
  5. Shred the chicken further and set aside.
  6. Again using your dutch oven or deep pan, heat oil on a medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, pepper and tomatoes and saute for 2 minutes.
  7. Then, add your potatoes, carrots, chayote, green beans and chicken bouillon powder.
  8. Mix these all well and bring the pot to a rapid boil. Reduce your heat to low, cover and cook all of the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until everything is tender.
  9. Next, add the meat and pepper, then mix. Season with salt and pepper.
  10. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool completely. Transfer to a bowl to speed up this process.

Making the dough

While the chicken is boiling, you can use this time to make the dough!

  1. Add all of the ingredients except the water to the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Mix the ingredients at a low speed, and occasionally adding a small bit of water until all of the water has been added in.
  3. Once all the water is added, take out the dough mixture and begin kneading for 5 minutes, or until you’ve obtained a soft dough.
  4. If the dough is too dry, you can add more water, adding just 1 tsp at a time.
  5. Divide your dough into 15 equal small balls.
  6. Wet your hands and press each ball in between the palms of your hands, flattening them into thin discs, roughly 3 inches in diameter.
  7. On a sheet of parchment paper, place each of your flattened discs of dough equally spaced apart.

Adding the filling and frying

  1. Place a small amount of the filling mixture in the center of the dough disc, roughly 1 tablespoon per disc.
  2. Fold the discs in half to make a half moon shape and seal the edges of your discs with your fingertips, securing all the filling inside of the pastelitos. You may want to use a fork to completely seal the edges.
  3. In your dutch over or deep frying pan, add the vegetable oil until it is approximately 3 inches deep. Heat the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Fry the pastelitos until golden orange.
  5. Remove from the oil and place on some kitchen roll to soak any excess oil
  6. Serve with curtido and tomato sauce, and enjoy!

Tomato sauce

  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped (can used tinned tomatoes)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp achiotes (ground annatto seeds)
  • cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Recipe for the tomato sauce

  1. Using your dutch oven or saucepan over a high heat, combine the tomatoes, water chicken bouillon powder, garlic cloves, onion. cilantro, annatto, salt and pepper.
  2. Allow the water to boil and then reduce it to a simmer at medium-low heat. Cover with a lid and cook for roughly 30 minutes. Remove this from the stove and let it cool.
  3. Add the mixture to a food processor or blender. Blend on high for roughly 2 minutes, or until the mixture is completely smooth.
  4. Return your mixture to a saucepan on the stove and heat over a medium to high heat, while continuously stirring. once boiled, reduce again to a medium low heat and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add your dried oregano to top before serving

This can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


This is best if you marinate the curtido overnight for all of the flavors to combine.

  • 2 cups green cabbage shredded
  • 1/2 cups carrot shredded
  • 1/2 cup onion thinly sliced
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes or serrano pepper, finely chopped

Recipe for the curtido

  1. Using a large glass or ceramic bowl, preferrable with a lid, combine all of the above ingredients.
  2. Cover tightly with the lid or if you don’t have a lid, you can use plastic wrap. This will allow the juices to marinate together and combine to create the delicious flavor of the slaw.

What are other variations of pastelitos salvadoreños?

Each country has its own variation of these tasty pastelitos. I will give a short run-through of a few different variations of pastelitos and where they originate from.


Originating from the Portuguese word ’empanar’, which means to coat is a good description of what an empanada is.

Coated in dough, the empanada is a small turnover which is usually stuffed with meat, fish, potatoes, cheese or eggs.

The stuffing is usually dependent on locality as each stuffing is typical of different nationalities.


Pastels are actually derived from empanadas, and pastelitos are basically just smaller pastels.

These turnovers are a common traditional cuisine from across Latin American countries, such as the Caribbean, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

They are also found in Hawaii, but are known as pateles.

What types of pastels are typical to which country?

Central America

Central American pastels are the same as pastelitos.

The filling is put in the center of a disc of dough which is folded back on itself, the edges are sealed and then fried. It is often served with curtido.


Pastels are a typical Brazilian fast-food dish. With a thin-crust exterior, these semi-circle turnovers are filled with an assortment of different fillings and fries.

Unlike the orange color of pastelitos salvadoreños, the Brazilian version is more crisp and brownish. The most popular fillings in Brazil are mozzarella, cod, cream cheese, chicken, or shrimp.

They are also served as a dessert and come with sweet fillings too, such as guava paste with minas cheese, chocolate, or banana.


The filling of Colombian pastels is more vegetable orientated and is a type of tamale, which is made from rice. The rice is soaked in vinegar, achiote, and oil and left out in the sun for several hours.

Chicken, pork, potatoes, carrots, capers, peas, onions, bell, peppers, olives, cabbage leaves, and raisins are all common fillings, which are placed on a layer of rice. Another layer of rice is placed on top of the filling and then wrapped in a banana leaf, tied up, and cooked.

These pastels are popular year-round, and particularly popular at Christmas.

various latin american pastries

Costa Rica

Instead of frying, sometimes their pastels are oven-baked, in either puff pastry or short crust pastry, and in multiple different ways. They can come with either sweet or spicy fillings, much like enchiladas.

Dominican Republic

Pastels are a truly traditional part of the Christmas eve menu, or new years eve dinner menu.

In the Dominican Republic, their version is made from banana paste are used along with 2-3 added tubers (green or ripe plantains, yautias, green bananas, squash or yams).

This is then stuffed with ground meat, which is sauteed in ground annatto and cooked with garlic, pepper, red onion and tomato paste. This is served with beef, chicken, pork or even vegetables.

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, the dough is produced using banana, yautia, potatoes, and chayote.

The meat usually contains any combination of pork shoulder, ham, bacon, raisins, chickpeas, and olives, which is usually seasoned with bay leaves, recaito, tomato sauce, and annatto. The meat varies from poultry, fish, pork, and game.

To assemble these pastels, a large sheet of parchment paper is needed. They next use a strip of banana leaf that has been heated over an open flame which makes it flexible and they add a little annatto oil to the leaf.

Next, the dough is then places on a banana leaf and the meat mixture is placed inside the dough. The pare is then folded and tied with kitchen twine. Aluminum foil can also be used as an alternative to parchment paper.

Yuca pastels are also a common traditional Puerto Rican dish, which are similar to that of the Dominican Republic tamales I previously described.

The Puerto Rican version has dough that is typically made of yuca and contains potatoes, taro, and yams. The filling is traditionally made from a stew of raisins, shrimp, crab, or lobster, which is seasoned with basil, adobo, and annatto oil.

Pastelitos Salvadoreños – Your Guide + Recipe

Trinidad and Tobago

Pastels in Trinidad and Tobago are produced using corn flour. Usually they are stuffed with meat, fish or vegetables, flavored with raisins, olives and capers. They are also seasoned with fresh herbs.

The result is then steamed in a banana leaf. Christmas time is the typical time this dish is prepared and eaten.


Moving towards Europe where the pastel originated from, the Portuguese pastel refers to several types of desserts or appetizers. The most popular one is the pastel de nata.

Uruguay and Argentina

In Uruguay and Argentina, a pastel is a type of sweet empanada which uses puff pastry that is fried. They are cut into squares and stuffed.

Usually, these are stuffed with a sweet filling, such as fudge, dulce de leche, or quince jelly, and typically dusted with sugar.

pastel pastry


What are pastelitos salvadorenos?

Pastelitos salvadorenos are a traditional fast food pastry from El Salvador. They are the most popular fast food snack in the country and they taste really good!

What ingredients are in pastelitos salvadoreños?

The interior filling of pastelitos salvadoreños usually consists of chicken or mined beef, paired with vegetables. The vegetables in these little parcels are usually red or green pepper, green beans, onion, potatoes, chayote and tomatoes. The exterior is a corn flour dough that is deep-fried to give that crispy texture.

What is la masa harina?

Otherwise known as masa, masa flour or simply la masa harina, this is the corn flour that is used for making the exterior dough.

How many calories are in pastelitos salvadoreños?

An average pastelitos salvadoreños will have about 326 calories in it. This will of course vary, depending on the filling you put in it, for example meats may raise the calories, but this would also improve the protein content too.

Pastelitos Salvadoreños – Your Guide + Recipe

Pastelitos Salvadoreños – Must Try!

Hopefully, you’ll find the recipe actually isn’t that difficult, and while it takes a little longer, you’ll find the results will be well worth the time spent making it!

If you think that it might be too time-consuming, I would recommend preparing the tomato sauce and curtido a day before, or even using store-bought.

Let me know in the comments how they go for you!

By Anna

Anna Brooks, the voice behind, is a seasoned writer and editor with an insatiable love for food. While not a professional chef, her culinary adventures and unique insights have captivated readers for years. Anna believes in the transformative power of food, stating it "feeds the soul." Dive into her writings for a mix of inspiration, entertainment, and culinary wisdom. Author Pinterest Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Tumblr Reddit Quora

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