Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Arepa Arepa Arepa!


In an earlier post, I talked about the one thing I miss the most from my days in Miami -- authentic arepas (ah-RAY-pas). I had a neighbor who was from Venezuela. And even though she couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Spanish, we became very dear friends, and every Sunday morning she would send a fresh, warm batch of these delights to my house. In fact, one of the popular cafes in town was an areparia where you could get fresh arepas at any time of the day stuffed with the fillings of your choosing. Yum yum.

Arepa was the corn bread of the native American nation that lived in the northern Andean mountains of Venezuela. They learned how to grow maize from the Quechuas (Peru) and Mayas (Mexico) where the crop was originally from. With the colonization process this corn bread made from maize was widely spread throughout the country and into Colombia.

Both the Colombians and Venezuelans claim the arepa as a traditional national food, with a long tradition in both countries. To me, however, the arepa will always signify the best of Venezuela.

An arepa is a flat cornmeal patty that is traditionally boiled in water, baked in the oven or fried in hot oil. Most often, they are browned on the outside by cooking briefly on a hot griddle and then place in a hot oven. In fact, both Oster and Black & Decker sell an appliance called the Tosti-arepa -- an electric arepa maker. (Note to self: Call both companies and see if I can buy one!)

In Eastern Venezuela, arepas are generally 3 to 5 inches in diameter and approximately 1/2 inch thick. In the Andean West where the arepa originates from, you will find flat arepas just a bit smaller than their Eastern counterparts that are only 1/4 inch or less in thickness.

Arepas are eaten warm with butter as a snack, or split in half and filled with cheese, meats or other fillings.






Arepas

1 cup masa harina (can substitute white cornmeal -- use yellow cornmeal only in a pinch)
1 cup warm water
Dash of salt
1 tsp cooking oil

(See sources at end of post for where to purchase the necessary products.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and gradually add the warm water and oil, mixing to form a stiff dough. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Take a small amount of the dough and form into flat, round cakes approximately 3" to 4" in diameter and approximately 1/2" to 3/4" thick. shape and press around the edges to make it even and smooth. Continue making these patties until the dough is used up.

Grease a heavy skillet or griddle and set over low heat. When the surface is hot, place the patties, one or two at a time, on the griddle to brown on both sides, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from the griddle. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.

To serve, split the arepa like a hamburger bun. Discard some of the steaming meal that is still soft in the middle. Fill with choice of filling, close the arepa and serve immediately.

Note: Although carne mechada is one of my favorite fillings, queso de mano (a Venezuelan flatlands cousin of mozzerella) is at the top of my list. I split the arepa, put a good helping of the cheese in the middle and then return the whole thing to the griddle over low heat until the cheese melts. If you can't find the queso de mano, substitute with mozzerella.


Sources:

Harina P.A.N., introduced by Empresas Polar in the 1960's, is arguably the most widely used masa harina in Venezuela. It is so commonly used that, like Kleenex, its name has become synonymous with its product. To find a store near you where you can purchase or to find a site online, visit the Harina PAN Store Locator Map.

You should be able to find other brands of masa harina along with other flour and cornmeal products in large grocery stores or in their international section. It should also be easily found in Mexican-American markets. Both white cornmeal and masa harina can be purchased online at the Quaker Oats Online Store.

The electric arepa-maker can be found at Oster's Online Store for $49.99. You can purchase an arepera (stovetop arepa pan) at Goodman's Online Store for $19.99.

The only place I can find quality queso de mano in the United States is at La Casa de Pedro in Watertown, Massachusetts. The owner, Pedro Alarcón, makes his own. I'm not sure if you can purchase it from him, but it's worth a try! You might want to try local Venezuelan restaurants and purchase from them.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been searching for an arepa recipe for YEARS! Thank you! I shall serve this tonight with the chili

JN
Tucson

Lisa said...

You're quite welcome. BTW, I'm catching a flight and will be there for dinner. Save some arepas for me! :)

דניאל said...

Man you have a big crush on arepas... good for you, that's one of the highlights of our country... You should try cachapas as well and empanadas.

Chef Mom said...

Don't get me started on empanadas! When I worked in Miami, there was a woman who used to come to our office on Mondays and Thursdays to sell homemade empanadas. So good! I've never heard of cachapas, though. Will have to find out more...

Anonymous said...

Nice! I had never heard of these before. I took my daughter on a play date to a school friend's home and the mom served me a locally made (store-bought) arepa con queso. YUM! I just got home from the store with a package of arepas. I also picked up a tortilla press. I know you don't use one of those to make arepas, but I've been itching to try my hand at fresh tortillas.

Kelly said...

Thank you! I've been looking for a good arepa recipe since I saw them on a TV cooking show. I can't wait to try making them!

Anonymous said...

There is a yellow bag that looks similar to most typical sugar or flour bags of a white masa/maize it says "PAN" on the front(its from colombia, or venezuela depending on where you get it, it is typically found on the south american food isles in most grocery stores along with other food items made by goya) its the mixture for arepas, on the back is a recipe.. but basically its as easy as adding the correct amount of water with a dash of salt, mixing and we typically cook them on a griddle then toss in oven till you hear the perfect "thump" when you hit the top of the arepa... but needless to say for those who have never cooked them before that is one of the best mixtures, with a dummy proof recipe on the back. and i agree with the one who said to try cachapas =P those rock... arepas are more or less as common to a venezuelan as bread is to an italian in a sense, they go with pratically anything.

Yesimy said...

Cachapas are great and quite easy to make. I left Venezuela 19 years ago and I have forever been craving queso de mano. I lived in El Junquito and used to get this cheese all the time when I was a kid. A combination of cachapas and queso de mano is total heaven to my tastebuds. I have never had store bought arepas since I fear they won't taste like the fresh ones. But I will be looking further into this arepa maker.

Anonymous said...

oh.. arepas.. can't live without them.
The only thing is that we don't boil the water to do it, I've never knew someone in Venezuela that did this.
You can it an Arepa with EVERYTHING is the best meal ever

Anonymous said...

I miss queso de mano!!! I lived in Venezuela as an exchange student and high school. Good thing I live in MA maybe I can make my way to Watertown to get the cheese! Cachapas were probably my second favorite venezuelan food but be careful because the food has a double meaning with a sexual connotation.