Making arepas is an inexpensive way to put a quick yet filling sandwich together for yourself and your family, and it has now become a worldwide recipe and culinary sensation. This South American favorite, which is largely corn-based, is split in half and stuffed with various fillings, such as cheese, meat, shrimp, and vegetables. Arepas can be grilled, baked, boiled or fried, and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a snack as well.
Recently, I rolled up my sleeves and had the pleasure of getting an up close and personal look at making some handmade Venezuelan arepas with my friend Jordana. I was amazed that such a simple dish could be so delicious and so easy to personalize. I love that you can stuff arepas with your favorite fillings and change it up depending on your mood when you make them. I’m always up for experimenting, but I usually stick with ham and cheese.
Makes about 12 small arepas and produces 5-6 servings.
2 cups 100% pre-cooked white corn meal
2 cups warm, filtered water
1 pinch salt
2 tsp. canola oil
2 cup warm filtered water, reserve for arepa making
Heat up 2 cups of water until warm to the touch. You must be able to keep your fingers in it. Dissolve a pinch of salt in the water.In a medium-big bowl, place the 2 cups of corn meal and slowly begin to pour in the 2 cups of warm water, while thoroughly mixing the corn meal by hand. Squeeze out any clumps so the mix is even. The mix should not be too wet or too dry. If it’s too dry, use some of the other warm water adding very little at a time and mixing evenly. Make sure to mix in the meal that gets stuck on the sides of the bowl. Let the dough rest for 3 minutes.
Making the Arepas:
The extra cup of warm water will be used to wet fingers and dough while forming the arepas. This prevents the dough from drying, sticking to hands, and breaking.
Take enough dough to form a golf-sized ball and then carefully flatten the ball by hand until it’s 1/2 inch thick. Wet fingers in the water and smooth out the edges and any rough spots so it’s disc-shaped (about 3 inches in diameter).
Place the arepas in the pan or on the grill, without letting them touch (they’ll stick together). Cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side at medium heat, until a light brown hard shell forms on the outside. Once both sides have a light brown shell, turn the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes on each side or until they’re slightly firm. When the arepas are cool, slice down the middle, leaving the shells as though they were an oyster; you don’t want to separate them completely. Spread a little butter (or mayonnaise) inside each half and stuff with cheese, meat, or whatever you desire. Some of my favorites are ham and cheese, pulled chicken, pulled pork, pulled beef, avocado with mayo, black beans and cheese, and scrambled eggs and cheese.
Eat while warm and enjoy!
Photo by William Neuheisel from DC, US (Arepas con Chorizo) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons