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Jezabel Careaga demonstrated her empanada-making skills for the audience at the chef series on June 7. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News
Jezabel Careaga demonstrated her empanada-making skills for the audience at the chef series on June 7. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News

AL DÍA Chefs with Jezabel Careaga

The Argentinian empanada expert brought her specialty dish and cooking advice to the Chefs series last month.

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The “Queen of Empanadas” Jezabel Careaga was welcomed to the AL DÍA Chefs series on June 7, teaching on-lookers how to make the perfect, traditional Argentinian empanada. 

Guests at the Chefs series got a firsthand look at how Careaga delicately and masterfully creates her flavorful Argentinian empanadas, a skill which she first developed as a child, helping her mother in the kitchen. As she demonstrated her cooking process, she spoke of her home province of Jujuy in the northwest of the country. The finger food, a staple in most Latin American countries, differs greatly from the southern flavors of Buenos Aires, and is influenced more by the spices of neighboring Chile, Bolivia and Peru. 

First, Careaga mixed white wine, peaches, banana, red grapes and orange and apple slices to make clerico, the sangría blanca - white sangria - famous in South America. The drink was sweet, fruity and refreshing, a complementary pairing to her spicy empanada recipe. Not only did the entrepreneur and chef elaborate on the steps to making her Argentinian empanadas, but she also gave some tips on how to be be more effective in the kitchen, like how to slice a whole onion evenly without having to stop to readjust the knife. 

Careaga then went through how to make her famous empanada de carne, made with beef. She brought with her the specially-selected ingredients she uses at her cafe, and got to work browning the meat with onions and spices (paprika, cumin and chili flakes) before rolling out and cutting her dough in precise circles. 

She told guests that it is much easier to prepare the meat overnight and let it cool because warm inner ingredients make it more difficult to seal the empanada, arguably the hardest step of the process. Careaga recommended that beginners practice sealing the dough around an egg, which is about the size of the amount of filling she puts into her empanadas. She also emphasized how vital it is to keep the dough moist and flexible, and said it is a good idea to wet the edges of the dough circles if it appears dry. 

In addition to the beef, Careaga mixed diced olives, a hard-boiled egg and raisins into the empanada filling, pairing the spice of the beef with the added bitterness, saltiness and sweetness of the other ingredients. Careaga then deftly sealed each empanada, demonstrating to guests the five different designs she uses at her cafe to differentiate the fillings. Though she made only her carne recipe, she joked and showed guests the variations of her empanada designs, one of which she named “laying on the couch” because of the way the the dough is formed in a slouching position. 

She finished off the exclusive cooking presentation by dunking the empanadas in egg wash, which adds a crispy shell to the dough when they emerge from the oven. Careaga was prepared to feed the crowd, and brought a batch of pre-made empanadas for guests to enjoy at the conclusion of her lesson. She even offered her personal recipe to guests, who could sign onto an email list and receive it with step-by-step directions on how to make her unique and delicious empanadas. 

The Chefs series event was like stepping into one of Careaga’s cooking classes, which she holds in her studio in West Philadelphia. At Jezabel’s Studio, her self-designed, new teahouse on 45th Street, the chef and entrepreneur features her handmade furniture, explores tea culture and gives cooking classes and workshops. Careaga also owns the original Jezabel’s Cafe in Filter Square, where you can get a taste of her empanadas, tartas, alfajores, and other Argentinian specialties. 

The next opportunity for Philadelphians to experience the close-up expertise of the city’s most celebrated Latino chefs will be on July 12, when the AL DÍA Chefs series will welcome Vista Peru’s Rene Arroyo. Arroyo will be serving up his Peruvian specialties in the studio at Independence Live. Guests can buy tickets here.

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