~Introducing food culture from around the world~
If you’ve ever traveled to the northern part of South America, you can’t help but see arepas 阿瑞巴 ā ruì bā everywhere. These small pancake-like round goodies are made with ground maize dough or cooked corn flour and can be eaten with literally anything.
Originating from the area formerly known as La Gran Colombia (modern-day Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and of course, Colombia), arepas remain a staple all over the region to this day.
It is traditionally eaten almost daily in these countries and can be served with an assortment of accompaniments such as cheese, a mix of tomato and onions, cuajada (fermented milk) or avocado, or even split in half to make sandwiches with meat or salads inside.
Sizes, maize types, and added ingredients widely vary its preparation. Arepas can also be found in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Canary Islands.
It is also quite similar in shape to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa.
Origin date unknown, arepas are one of the few pre-Columbus traditions left in Latin America and are certainly the most pervasive. Before Europeans came to the New World, indigenous women in the region would soak maize kernels, dehusk them, dry them, and grind them into a fine flour.
They would mix that flour with water to create balls of dough and then flatten them into disks. The pale, golden disks would then go on a budare, a hot clay surface that would toast the cakes on both sides but leave the inside soft and moist.
A recent NPR article had this to say about arepas in Venezuela:
Before the current food crisis and widespread hunger, Venezuelans ate an average of 66 pounds per person per year of Harina P.A.N., the brand name synonymous with the precooked maize flour that is the main ingredient in arepas.
At a little more than 11 arepas per pound, that comes to about 750 arepas per person, per year. You read that right. In ideal circumstances, Venezuelans eat two arepas every day of the year.
Whoa! That’s a lot of arepas.
And as always with our food culture posts, we want to teach you how to make them for yourselves… you’ve just gotta try them!
How to cook
Arepas w/ Cheese
2 cups Harina P.A.N. (corn flour)
A few pinches of salt
3 Handfuls of Mozzarella cheese
2 cups milk
Stick of butter
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Pour corn flour into a bowl. Then add milk (you can also use water). Throw in a couple of good pinches of salt then add the cheese.
Mix the ingredients with your hands, or hand since it can get a little sticky.
Make sure there are no lumps and form it into a ball, you want the consistency to be a bit softer than play dough. It can dry out easily, so make sure it is nice and moist. Consistency is key to a moist arepa. It is something to perfect over time, but don’t worry now.
Break off a small chunk about the size of a large meatball. and work it into a smaller ball.
The next step you want to push your thumb into the ball and form a bowl. At this point you will have a nice spot for some more delicious cheese!
Once you have filled the “bowl” with cheese, fold one side over to make a pocket and pinch it shut. This might be a bit tricky since the cheese will want to stop you from closing it, but dip your fingers in some left over milk to form a glue and work it from an ugly oval shape to a beautiful sealed cheese pocket.
At this point, you should have your griddle, or skillet hot to anywhere from 275 – 350. I tend to start at 300 and raise and lower it as desired.
Right before you are ready to start cooking, rub the butter stick on the griddle and give it about 3 seconds before you put it down. Next sprinkle with some coarse salt.
Take a spatula and check occasionally for black specks like above, that is the cheese mixed in with the dough. Flip it occasionally and add salt to the unsalted side, you can re-butter the griddle also.
You will know it is done when melted cheese starts to break through the wall off the Arepa and ooze out. Just make sure they are not burning before that happens. If so, lower the heat a bit. Cooking should take anywhere from 10-15 minutes, about half for each side.
Put the hot Arepas con Queso (“with cheese”) on a plate and eat them HOT! These treats work great for brunch! And the rest is up to you! Add an avocado or some scrambled eggs… or whatever you want~
For you visual learners, watch the video: