Last year, Chef Sumito Estévez shared with us how to make a classic Venezuelan soup and a holiday dessert. Now, he’s back with three different versions of one fuss-free empanada party snack, all taking cues from culinary traditions around the world. We have a Caribbean-inspired stuffing with fish, a sweet European interpretation with cheese, honey and nuts, and a veggie-packed version with Asian influences. Pick your favourite or, even better, make all three for a deliciously international holiday party.

These recipes all use phyllo dough; for the uninitiated, what is phyllo dough, and how is it different from traditional puff pastry?

Chef Sumito: Phyllo dough is one of the most delicate technical achievements in pastry. Its origin is very ancient, first created during the Ottoman Empire, and therefore it is common to both Arab and Mediterranean cultures. It’s made with flour, warm water, salt and vinegar until you get a dough so incredibly thin that it’s see-through. Unlike puff pastry, it does not involve any form of fat in its preparation, and therefore, to get that layered effect, you need to place several sheets one on top of the other. It’s quite difficult to make it at home, so it’s best to just buy it pre-made.

What dishes from these three cuisines (Latin American, European and Asian) did you use as inspiration to create the fillings?

Instead of looking to specific dishes as inspiration, I tried to recreate flavours that are consistent with the imagination and with people’s flavour memories. For this reason, I used the Latin American penchant for stir-fries and achiote (or annatto), the European use of honey, cheese and nuts, and an Asian filling with elements that relate to Chinese cuisine.

For the Latin American filling, you mention that we could use any white fish. What is your personal recommendation?

I wouldn’t recommend a specific type of fish – the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, all offer different fish (this is a great continent for sea life!). This said, my recommendation is to look for whatever fish is usually offered in fillet form. You can ask at your local market for the best fish for boiling and shredding – good shredding will give the best texture to the filling.

Would you recommend serving any particular dip with the empanadas?

Two years ago, we launched an amazing project on our YouTube channel with a special empanada made from cornmeal and stuffed with fish. In that video, I explain how to make an herb and garlic sauce that is ideal for these types of flavours – all three. Without a doubt, that is the one I would recommend.

What other snack could pair well with the empanadas at a holiday party, without overshadowing them?

Venezuelans have a dish that has become universal to the point of being an everyday snack, even in taverns in Spain. Called tequeño, it’s a cheese stick wrapped in a spiral of puff pastry. On my YouTube channel, I explain the technique for making both the dough and the preparation of the tequeño. I believe that a table topped with all three empanadas we made for this Tastemakers special next to a platter of tequeños would make for a great balance of flavours.

If you were to create a ‘universal’ filling – using an ingredient with which any culture in the world could identify – what would it be?

It would most likely include cheese. Anyone who hasn’t fallen at the feet of a string of melted cheese hasn’t truly lived!

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