Tequeños are Venezuelan party food par excellence, but you don’t have to wait for an invitation to a social event to find them. These cheesy sticks – sometimes called deditos de queso, little cheese fingers – with their characteristic spiral pastry shell, are everywhere: in cafés and restaurants, as snacks at the cinema, in supermarket freezer cabinets. They are commonly thought to have originated in the 1920s in the city of Los Teques, capital of Miranda state, invented by a pastry chef in the kitchen of a wealthy household. From Los Teques their popularity spread rapidly to Caracas and from there to the rest of Venezuela. They also became popular in Colombia and throughout Latin America, and the Venezuelan diaspora has taken them worldwide.
A dry, salty queso blanco is far and away the most popular filling, sometimes with the addition of quince paste or ham. Queso blanco is a semi-ripe, white cheese which is slightly salty and squeaky, and oozes whey. It’s available online in specialist outlets, but it may be easier to use halloumi (unflavoured) or feta.
As well as finger food on their own, tequeños can be served with a variety of sauces: guasacaca (an avocado dip, a bit like guacamole); ‘pink sauce’ (a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup with a little lime juice); ketchup on its own; garlic sauce; or hot chilli sauce. If you like deep-fried snacks and cheese, you will probably find them irresistible.
* Makes about 8
- 400g/14oz plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 125g/5oz butter
- 1 egg
- 75–100ml/3–4 fl oz water
- 250g/9oz queso blanco in a block (use halloumi or feta as an alternative)
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Combine flour, salt, sugar and butter by hand or in a food mixer. Add the egg and mix well. Slowly add water as required to bring together into a dough.
- Knead the dough on a floured work surface until smooth (2–3 minutes), then coverand allow to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Meanwhile, slice the cheese into sticks around 8cm x 1.5cm x 1.5cm (3 in x ½ in x ½ in); don’t worry too much about precision, as the size will depend on the shape of the block of cheese. A regular 250g/9oz block should yield about 8 sticks.
- Roll out the pastry thinly and trim to a rectangle. Cut into as many strips as you have cheese sticks. For 8 sticks, your strips should be about 32cm by 2cm (12in x 1in). Wrap the pastry strips around the cheese, overlapping the edges as you go and sealing the ends so no cheese escapes when frying. Try to wrap at an angle, to give a spiral pattern.
- Fry a few at a time in 1–2cm (about ½ in) of hot oil for 2 minutes, then turn over for 1–2 minutes until the sticks are golden brown. Lift out and drain on kitchen paper while you repeat with the remaining tequeños. The tequeños can also be baked in an oven at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for 15 minutes.
For more South American recipes, check out Ben Box’s book: