If there aren’t tequeños at a party in Venezuela, it’s not a party, says one of our favorite Venezuelan home cooks Liliana Hernández.
You are sure to be served this fried-cheese-and-dough traditional appetizer or pasapalos at every self-respecting gathering back home, she explains. What’s not to love? Gooey-melty good and totally addictive, tequeños are made with a local, soft, white cheese—queso fresco—and wrapped in overlapping layers of thin handmade dough. They are called tequeños because they are said to be first created in the city of Los Teques in northern Venezuela, Liliana explains.
As savory-delish as these starters are with a cocktail, Liliana says she has been known to serve tequeños for breakfast, mid-afternoon snacks and even dinner if she or her family craves them. Her hosting trick: She makes and freezes them by the several dozen, ever ready to take out of the freezer and fry if visitors drop by. They can be made with either cheese and chocolate inside, and both freeze beautifully.
The Taste of Home in Venezuela: Fried Queso & Dough
Like so many traditions we don’t fully appreciate until we leave home, Liliana didn’t start making her own tequeños a mano until after she had moved away, relocating with her family in 2000 to Mexico. “In Venezuela, you can buy trays of frozen tequeños in any grocery store, for almost nothing. But when I was living in Mexico, since they were not available anywhere, I started making them myself. And everyone loved them.”
Tequeños are supposed to be popped in your mouth piping-hot, with no salsa or condiments, their cheese pulling apart in your mouth with each velvety bite. But Liliana learned that when she made them in Mexico, her guests would invariably start looking around for something to dip them into. “They were used to guacamole, of course. They are used to putting salsa on everything. They don’t like to eat their food dry, as we do in Venezuela. They would look at me, as if asking, ’¿Y la salsa?,’” Liliana says.
So she started setting out a bowl of guasacaca, the Venezuelan traditional salsa traditionally used as a condiment with grilled meat at parillas, alongside the platter of tequeños. This Wizard of Oz-bright-verde sauce is not usually served with them back home, she knows, but her new friends and neighbors in Mexico loved them paired, so Liliana is not opposed to serving it as a dip from time to time. But mostly she whips up big batches of guasacaca for parrilla grilling parties—like the good Venezuelan that she is.
Nothing is better than homemade, por supuesto. So, once Liliana started cooking tequeños from scratch, she never stopped. Her kids and husband beg her to make them regularly. And she does: at least once a month.
Yes, they take work—”it is trabajocito to make the dough, wrap them one by one, and fry all the tequeños—but you must make them,” Liliana says, promising: tequeños are one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. Ever.
“¡No puedes dejar de probarlos!”
For more of Liliana’s authentic Venezuelan family recipes, try her life-changing bienmesabe cake, asado negro main dish for celebrations, handmade toasted corn flour arepas, reina pepiada and carne mechada arepa fillings, and her mother’s go-to ensalada rusa potato salad. All are 100% delicioso. And be sure to check out Liliana on her YouTube channel Mi Show de Cocina, where she is working her way through favorite Venezuelan dishes like these tequeños!