I’ve been offered the opportunity to collaborate with State Farm Insurance in a campaign to promote safety in the kitchen. As a spokesperson, I am able to educate others about preventing cooking fires and keeping the kitchen safe and happy, especially during the holiday season. As part of this campaign, I got to travel to beautiful New York City a couple of weeks ago. It was my very first time doing a Satellite Media Tour (SMT) and addressing TV and radio outlets in English and Spanish throughout the country. SO. FUN.
Being Latina, I grew up helping my mother and Mamaita (my grandmother) in the kitchen since a very young age. I know how important it is to have basic guidelines to keep everyone safe–for adults and children! I’ve been reminiscing about the days where I got to help the family make hallacas (Venezuela’s version of tamales, a traditional dish made for the holidays) and remembering Mamaita’s kitchen rules to keep the little ones safe–from establishing an imaginary line to define a ‘safety zone’ around the stove to giving us easy-to-handle tasks like washing leafs or kneading the dough. The point was having everyone involved. Making hallacas can be a lot of work!
Even now, the kitchen is the heart and center of my home (and as I’ve seen, of many people’s homes). It is where we create and consume our daily meals but also where we gather with family for celebration. Entertaining is such a big part of my culture and upbringing! When people are in the kitchen, chatting and trying to catch up, I can be easily distracted. This is why I like planning a menu with dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. And keeping up with Mamaita’s tradition, I just make sure to establish a buffer zone around the stove so my guests are safe. I usually have the oven going to keep my food warm so things are still hot, hot, hot.
I developed an exclusive recipe for State Farm’s Cooking Fires Safety campaign. And I wanted to share a dish that was great for entertaining but that also allowed me to share a bit more of my culture and the food I grew up loving in Venezuela. “Empanadas de Cazón” are made with fish and wrapped in a slightly-sweet, crispy corn shell. A great way to introduce fish to your holiday menu–they are delicious and great for entertaining! Cazón is a “meaty” fish from the Caribbean so I make this recipe with swordfish, which has a similar texture. I’m glad my Mama was in town while I worked on this recipe to make sure I had THE BEST recipe tester. We both agree–it is just like the real deal! I hope you try this dish at home and tell me what you think.
If you want to read more about the Cooking Fires Safety campaign, click here.
Fish Empanaditas with an avocado-jalapeño sauce
You may scroll down all the way for printer-friendly versions of the recipe in English and Spanish
- 1 ½ lb swordfish, skin-on
- 6 sprigs of cilantro
- 1 clove of garlic
- Coarse sea salt
- ¼ cup grape seed oil
- 1 cup brown onions, finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp achiote
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup red bell peppers, finely chopped
- ½ cup scallion greens, finely chopped
- 1 red jalapeno, minced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
Masa for empanadas
- 2 cups warm water (plus more, as needed)
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt
- 2 tbsp raw sugar
- 2 cups Arepa flour—Harina Pan, Masarepa (do not use Masa Harina)
- 2 liters grape seed oil
- 2 large avocados, seeded, roughly chopped
- 1 jalapeño, roughly chopped (seed to make less spicy)
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- ½ cup green bell pepper
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Add water to a large pot and add cilantro, garlic, and coarse sea salt. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Slowly add swordfish to water and cook for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fish to a platter and allow cooling down. Remove and discard skin. Using a fork, break fish apart until finely minced.
Heat ¼ cup grape seed oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cumin, curry powder, smoked paprika, achiote, and black pepper. Add garlic, red peppers, scallions, and jalapeños and cook for another 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium, then add minced fish and tomatoes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break fish apart and mix until everything is fully incorporated. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to platter. Mixture needs to cool down in order to make empanadas. (You may make ahead and refrigerate overnight.)
In a bowl, mix water, sugar, and salt. Pour in flour slowly and mix with a wooden spoon until ingredients have incorporated (although masa may feel a bit runny). Let it stand for 5 minutes (this is to allow it to hydrate). Gather dough forming a ball with your hand, place it on a board or clean surface, and knead with hands for a couple minutes. Make sure to moisten your hands as you work with the dough. Break into equal-sized portions and form balls (about 12-15, depending on size) with your hands.
Working one dough ball at a time, sprinkle with a bit of water, then place on a lightly oiled heavy-duty plastic wrap (I use a resealable bag and cut the seal out) and flatten down with your fingers to approximately a 4” circle (make sure your hands stay moist during this process). Place 2 tbsp of filling in the center of the dough. Use plastic to fold the dough over the filling and lightly press to seal all over. Trim into a clean half-circle shape using the edge of a small bowl. Remove the plastic and save any leftover masa (you may make more balls with leftovers). Place each empanada on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Heat grape seed oil in a very large caldero (cast iron pot or Dutch oven works) until a deep-fry thermometer registers 370-375 degrees F. Deep fry the empanadas in batches until golden, about 4 min each batch. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined platter; then transfer to baking sheet to keep warm in the oven, if necessary.
Combine the avocado, jalapeno, cilantro, bell pepper, garlic, and lemon juice in a blender. Add salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Thin out the sauce with up to a little water, if necessary. Serve with empanadas.