Tequenos with Guasacaca (Venezuelan Fried Cheese Sticks with Avocado Sauce)

Tequenos are cheese sticks that are wrapped in dough and then fried. They're a staple of Venezuelan get-togethers. In fact, my parents say that one of the factors for deciding if a party was great is whether or not the hosts ran out of tequenos. Now that you are learning how to make these, you won't be in that tough spot. I like to eat them with guasacaca, which is an avocado sauce that we put on nearly everything. It takes a little bit of searching to find the right cheese for the tequenos, but you can always substitute mozzarella. Depending on how many you're making, wrapping them may take a while, so we love to sit down and do this as a family. By Larisa Alvarez for Food Network Kitchen
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 50 min
  • Active: 50 min
  • Yield: 25 to 40 tequenos, depending on the cheese purchased
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Ingredients

14 ounces queso duro (hard cheese) or queso duro viejo (aged, hard dry cheese), 8 ounces queso de freir (white cheese for frying) or 16 ounces mozzarella (see Cook's Note)

Kosher salt

One 20-ounce package empanada discs, thawed

Neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola, for frying

Guasacaca, for dipping, recipe follows

Guasacaca:

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup packed)

1 avocado, cut into eighths

1/2 cup white vinegar

3 cloves garlic

1/2 medium white onion, chopped

1 to 2 jalapenos, cut into fourths, seeded if desired

Pinch of sugar (honey or agave would do well here, too)

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

  1. Cut the cheese into 3-inch-long planks, then cut them into sticks. Ideally, each one would be 1/2-by-1/2-by-3 inches but the shape of your cheese will dictate the dimensions and number of sticks. If the cheese is hard and crumbles easily, you may want cut it into wider rectangular planks instead of sticks. If using white cheese for frying or mozzarella, heavily salt the cheese, then place on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and let the liquid release while you prepare the dough.
  2. Working with one empanada disc at a time (keep the rest stacked with their liners, or they'll start to dry out the when you separate them), cut it into six 1-inch-wide strips. Remove the liners in between the discs and reserve them; they will come in handy if storing the tequenos later.
  3. Fill a small bowl with water. Dab water onto one end of each of the 2 shortest strips, overlap and press them together to create a strip that's as long as one of the remaining four strips.
  4. Spread the strips out, then dab the ends of one with water and slightly flatten. Place a cheese stick on the strip at an angle and wrap to cover the top of the cheese, pinching if necessary. Once the top is secure, wrap the dough around the stick, overlapping as you go, until the whole stick is covered with no cheese peeking through. You may need to pull and slightly stretch the dough to completely cover the end of the cheese stick. Cut off any excess dough and reserve it to patch up other tequenos, if necessary. If you need to attach another half strip with some water to completely seal, do so. Give the stick a very gentle roll and a tap on either end to seal. Repeat with the remaining cheese and discs. Depending on which cheese you use, you may have discs leftover. Save these for another use.
  5. The wrapped tequenos can be stacked in an airtight container, each layer separated with the reserved liners, and frozen for up to 3 months or they can be fried immediately.
  6. If frying right away, heat 2 inches of oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot to 325 degrees F. Place a couple of tequenos in the oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry, flipping once or twice, until golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Bring the oil back up to the correct temperature in between batches.
  7. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Let cool slightly before serving with the guasacaca, for dipping.

Guasacaca:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or sugar, if necessary. The guasacaca can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes 1 3/4 cups.

Cook’s Note

Look for queso duro (hard cheese), queso duro viejo (aged, hard dry cheese), or queso de freir (white cheese for frying) at a market that carries Latin American products. A good cheese is what takes these from good to great, so if you can spend the extra time searching for the queso duro, it really makes a difference.

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