Portuguese Pastry with the Devil Inside

This Brazilian appetizer gets its name from the hot peppers in the filling. Be sure to use fresh tuna, if available, because the hot pepper marinade permeates the raw fish and gives it a more pungent flavor. The combination of sweet potato, cornmeal, and tuna may seem strange at first, but just one bite will convince you otherwise. “Fantastic” will be your response. Double the recipe if you are planning a party. These pastries, along with soup and salad, also make a nice lunch.–Cherie Hamilton

Portuguese Pastry with the Devil Inside Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 2 H
  • 3 H
  • Makes about 24 pastries


  • For the pastry
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal or regular cornmeal
  • For the filling
  • 1 pound fresh tuna, chopped fine by hand, or 2 (6-ounce) cans tuna
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red-pepper flakes, or 2 chile peppers, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • Vegetable oil, for frying


  • Make the pastry
  • 1. Wash potatoes and place in a 5-quart pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). When potatoes are done, remove from pot, cool, and save the water. Peel potatoes, cut into cubes, and mash until all lumps disappear.
  • 2. With a wooden spoon, stir in cornmeal, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to add flour until mixture forms a soft dough. If dough becomes too dry, add a teaspoon or two of the water from the boiled potatoes. Roll dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
  • Make the filling
  • 3. Place tuna in a small bowl. Add salt, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and vinegar and mix well. Marinate tuna for 30 minutes.
  • 4. Heat oil in medium fry pan, add chopped onion and saute until soft and transparent. Add tomato and tomato paste, mix well, and simmer 5 minutes or until tomato is soft. Stir in the tuna mixture and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes (or, if using canned tuna, until mixture is heated through). Add water from potatoes, as needed, so that the mixture remains moist. Remove from heat and cool.
  • 5. Remove dough from refrigerator. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on counter. Place 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough, about the size of a golf ball, in the center of the plastic wrap. Press with the heel of your hand to form a circle 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough. Fold plastic and dough over filling to form half circle. Pull back plastic and pinch edges of dough to seal. Repeat with remaining filling and dough.
  • 6. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet to a temperature of 350°F (180°C) or until a test piece of pastry sizzles. Fry pastries until golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook's Notes

  • Cornmeal
  • I have made this recipe with both finely ground cornmeal (harina) and regular cornmeal. The regular cornmeal gives a coarser texture to the dough and a more substantial pastry. The harina makes a lighter dough.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

May 10, 2001

Here this recipe has been, hiding out on this site for years, just waiting for me to find it. It may have taken a while, but I’m so glad I finally did. The spicy tuna filling is such a great contrast to the sweet potato shell. It is really an interesting combination that I find irresistible. I used fresh tuna, as the author suggested, and it was certainly worth the effort. While the filling is quite spicy from the chile flakes, the mild sweet potato balances it out, so the overall effect is is just a mild kick.

Now I’ll be honest here, these are a bit fussy to make. The sweet potato dough is very, very soft, which makes it hard to work. I added a couple handfuls extra cornmeal to get it a bit drier. The good news is that the method outlined in the recipe of patting out circles of dough on plastic wrap and folding them over using the wrap does work very well, so I really didn’t have any problem with the pastries falling apart. When you pat out the dough, it will help if you wet your hand first (and keep rinsing in between each one), and shape the dough using very quick, light taps with the heel of your palm.

I found I got the best frying results with the oil just a little hotter than specified, about 370 degrees F. (Remember, the oil temperature will drop when you add the pastries.) My final yield was 22 pastries, just a bit less than promised, but I was patting mine out a bit on the large side. I did have a small amount of leftover filling, which tastes great on it’s own, so I think it will be nice tossed with some pasta for lunch. If the sweet potato crust doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’m sure this filling would work great in your favorite empanada dough.

  1. L.F. says:

    Fantastic! The tuna offset the sweetness of the sweet potatoes just right. It was great.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.


Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail