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Oct 12, 2009 11:07 AM

What are the properties of a great saltena?

Saltenas are a Bolivian stuffed bread ( i.e., empanada, knish, calzone).

I prefer my saltenas to be served as follows:
football shaped
hard pastry shell with soft interior.
gushing with liquid
served with a spoon and on a curved dish or bowl to catch the liquid.

I adore the photo and short description in this Bolivian food blog:

In my expereince, if they are not eaten the day they are made (probably by lunch time) they start becoming more like a stew inside, they dry up, or the bread becomes soggy.

To paraphrase another Bolivian food blog:
They are really juicy inside and when they’ve been sitting around for a while or are frozen, the juice seeps into the dough and they dry out. In fact, that’s why you won’t want to buy a salteña in the afternoon at any bakery because they’ve most likely been drying out.

Apparently there is some disagreement with other Chowhounds. Does anyone have any insight into the general discussion?

DC Board Discussion:

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  1. I am a saltenaholic; lord grant me the wisdom... I lived in Bolivia for 4 years. The first morning I awoke, I went for a stroll and found El Horno, sat down saw what every was eating, ordered 2 and a cuppa coffee and was hooked. Took a dozen back to the hotel and the family was hooked. During our time in Bolivia, I drove over 40,000 k. around Bolivia, in an old Land Rover 109 and feasted on saltenas in every part of the country. Every day in our cafeteria I would eat 2 saltenas and a mango or strawberry baltida at 10: am.
    Now, a saltena is a morning snack, ususlly chicken, but sometimes beef and in the Altiplan, occasionally mutton. They are of meat gellitin, meat, diced olive, onion, potato, diced hard boiled egg and maybe a raisin or two. Baked in a very hot oven, they are spicy sweet and VERY juicy (Old ones or ones that have been frozen, lose their juice into the dough.).
    Saltenas, in Bolivia are either wrapped in a napkin or on a small saucer, held in the napkin held upright w/ the non-nobby end pointing up, bite off the end, dig into the juice and filling w/ the (real pros don't even use a spoon), nibble on the dough down to the liquid level and repeat; real sense of satisfaction, not spilling a drop.
    Steve I hope this is helpful. I looked at the thread about saltenas on the DC board and am pleasantly surprised to see the number of Bolivian restaurants (There is only one we go to 500 mi away in NYC and bring back frozen saltenas.) We have a kid lining in Falls Church and look forward to a "swingin' saltena safari" (ugh) when we visit.
    Finally, when our daughter was living at home ( we adopted a Bolivian street kid) we used to make doxens, one a year. They are a lot of work, a 2 day process, but fun to make.
    El Kego

    4 Replies
    1. re: Passadumkeg

      That's a lovely story and so descriptive that I can taste them. I feel the love. Thank you.

      1. re: Passadumkeg

        We've spent time in Bolivia, too. In Cochabamba, the saltenas are offered dulce (sweet), picante (spicy), and pollo (chicken). The chicken ones seem to have a different sauce than the beef. All of the ones I ate had a whole olive, including the pit. Once we got them from a place that put in whole, hardboiled quail eggs. Those were really good. In La Paz I had one called hojas (leaves) which had a shell like puff pastry. The filling wasn't quite as juicy because the shell was so fragile. The same restaurant had vegetarian ones, which made my veggie daughter very happy. We've made them at home several times. They're never as good as the real ones, but they fill the need. I never use half a cup of pepper. I have bags of aji colorado picante from Bolivia and I use 2 Tbsp of that. Sometimes I use the Goya empanada wrappers. They're much easier than making the dough and rolling it out. Wrapping them so they don't leak is the hardest part, but we get better at it each time. My husband and I get a production line going and it goes pretty quickly. Hmmmm I guess I'm about due to make them again. I frequently cook Bolivian for my adopted kids. Usually something easier like chairo or silpancho, though.

        1. re: Passadumkeg

          Where can you find them in NYC? Manhattan preferred. Thank you !

          1. re: StansDad

            After a little search, I found two older queries for this same request, and there were no responses for places in Manhattan, so the salteña sojourn may require a trip to the outer boros. The only other place I can come up with is Mi Bolivia, mentioned downthread and located in Sunnyside. I have to say that I don't even know if they're open at this point, as the very good reviews are over a year old:

            44-10 48th Ave
            Woodside, NY 11377
            No. 7 train to 46th St.

            I wonder if the Red Hook (Brooklyn) ball field vendors offer salteñas? Even if they aren't available there, the ball fields are a wonder of Latin cuisine goodness, and worth the trip, if you haven't already. Saturdays, open now:


            Good luck!

        2. I lived in Tarija Bolivia for three years in the 70s. There are no such things as old or frozen - or daily saltenas. The two or three bakeries around the plaza central would make them on Sunday mornings. Everyone - and especially all of us under age 30 - would come down and have a few fresh and hot out of the oven. Along with Pacena (the best was from Huari) or the local Astra beer. The saltenas were crunchy crusted, braided along the edges, toasty golden with a touch of darkeness. Insides were steaming hot with meat, potato, olive, egg, seasoning, and a bit of stewy liquidy goodness. People would play cacho - a local five die in a cup gamew that required lots of banging the cup and loud exclamations. Everyone would later stroll around the plaza, and get together in little groups to chat. Guys checking out the gals and vice - versa. The mornings would meld into late lunches at one of the restaurants or at someone's house; or a trip out to the countryside or to someones finca. Great food, wines, beers, company, friends, landscapes, and times.

          13 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Clarification, the dry were the Saltenas we took home and late, for night time snack and the frozen were the ones we bring back from NYC, I know my shi..saltenas. This was also directed toward the DC thread, Steve noted. Sam, did you ever notice a difference in saltenas around Bolivia? A couple of time in small villages, in the willy wags in the Altiplano, I had them w/ mutton. different but good.

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              In perusing saltena recipes on the web, some of them included a large quantity of yellow aji or cayenne. I'm not familiar with the aji, just the fresh dolces, but the quantity of cayenne was extreme, to say the least. Did you find saltenas to be very spicy?

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                Yes, saltenas are spicy, but not overly so. Aji is a yellow chile pepper powdr available at Latino markets. Bushgirl, I see you're a Big Appler, may I suggest you jump on the 2 or 5 train switch to the 7 and head out to Woodsideside Queens to Mi Bolivia where we overindulge in sultenas,; let me recommend the sopa de mani, the chicharon, coca tea and, Sam's favorite, Pacena Beer. the place is cheap, definate a hound, not a foody destination.
                718 784 5111
                44-10 48th St
                Bien provecho,
                El Pacena Kego

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  In my experience, saltenas are not spicy. I'd always have to add a bit of picante.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Not to beleaguer the point but I found a recipe that called for a cup (!) of cayenne to 11/2lb of meat, as well as the gelatin, potatoes, peas, stock, olives, raisins and slice of hard boiled egg. Seems RATHER extreme. Then, the other recipe I found called for a 1/2 cup a cayenne. Mentioned as well was the use of the yellow aji, more the choice of seasoning than the cayenne. We're talking some serious heat here, I didn't think the Bolivians were into that.
                    Jeez, maybe I'll just go out for these...

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a half cup of cayenne? Must be a mistake, saltenas are just a wee bit spicy.

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        OK, will adjust accordingly. Porbably just an internet (burp)

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Passa, where are you? My parents live in Island Falls, my sister in Shermans Mills, where ever the hell that is, and Dad was born in Millinocket.
                          Lived in Waterville when I was young. I have a little ME in me.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            I'm in Ellsworth, on the coast near Acadia, email me from profile.
                            This is close to the recipe we used, it is Carla's, we always used chicken.

                            My MIL was a Camel too.

                        2. re: bushwickgirl

                          Not necessarily; Some are very spicy depending on the "aji" ; because in Bolivia There are several kinds of "aji's" They have the spicy kinds and the ones that just give it flavor. By the way I am Bolivian From La Paz. ,and I moved to NY almost 10 years ago.The only place in New York where you can find them is in "mi Bolivia" restaurant located in Sunnyside. I believe everyone should try them; they are one of bolivia's best tasting foods.. sorry for my english...

                          1. re: nenamallea05

                            Nothing wrong with your English!

                            Last week I sat at the same table as a Bolivian gentleman eating my saltenas. He said that, as a teenager, when he would get together to eat with his friends - the first to spill the soup from the saltenas would have to pay for the next round.

                            He also said that the aji sauce they serve here is not really the same as in Bolivia. In the DC area, it is a pureed green sauce made in advance. He said in Bolivia it is usually fresh chopped with tomatoes.

                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    You guys are frikkin lucky to have led such full lives and are alive to tell about it. I have had empanadas and chicken pot pies; both in the US. I have left the US but a handful of times.
                    Thanks for sharing!

                  3. For Passadumkeg and Sam, I thank you for those great, great stories. They will make me appreciate all the more the next time I bite off the tip of a saltena.

                    So far, though, now matter how careful I am, I still wind up getting juice trickling over my hand. They can't be eaten like an empanada unless one is very, very experienced. Or they have dried out.

                    In the DC area, you will not find them spicy at all. You have to add a salsa verde for that. but there are places that will make them only on weekends. In fact, quite a few Bolivian places here will have a limited menu during the week and prepare all kinds of large platters of food on the weekend.