Preparation / Directions:
Arepas are simple corn cakes first made by the Indians of Colombia and Venezuela. They were an important part of their diet, like corn tortillas were to the Aztecs.
Over the centuries, the poor people of Colombia and Venezuela continued to use them as inexpensive, easy-to-prepare source of nourishment. Today, these humble corn cakes are a comfort food for the rich and poor alike, a heart-warming tribute to simplicity, tradition, versatility, and good taste.
Originally, arepas were made from dried corn kernels that were soaked overnight in water and lime to remove the skins, then cooked, drained and ground into masa (dough). Thanks to modern technology, a pre-cooked harina de masa is now available at most Latin American markets. An instant masa can be made by simply mixing this corn flour (either white or yellow) with a little salt and enough boiling water to make a stiff dough.
The dough is then shaped into flat round cakes of varying thicknesses, depending on the intended use, and cooked on a griddle or deep-fried. In parts of Colombia, arepas are cooked atop a flagstone slab that is first heated and then brushed with fat. Another Colombian specialty -- arepas de chocolo -- are made from fresh corn and cooked on top of banana leaves.
Colombian arepas are generally thinner than their Venezuelan counterparts. The standard Venezuelan arepa looks somewhat like a flat bread roll, crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside. They can be split open and buttered, or spread with cream cheese or fresh goat cheese. Made this way, they are served for breakfast or as an accompaniment for grilled fowl, fish, meat stews, or sausages.
In Venezuela, the doughy inside is sometimes scooped out, and the shell is filled with savory mixtures of ground or chopped pork, beef, ham, chicken, seafood, vegetables, or beans. They are excellent first courses. Venezuelan mandocas, for example, are cheese arepas shaped into rings and deep-fried. Another specialty is bollos pelones -- balls of arepa dough stuffed with seasoned ground meat, either fried or poached in water, then served with tomato sauce.
A popular snack in Colombia consists of arepas served with fresh cheese and fried chorizo (sausage). Colombians also make tasty soups using fresh masa or leftover arepas. Arepitas dulces make great desserts.
The versatile arepa indeed proves that unpretentious food can be not only satisfying but also delicious.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. Add water, stir with a
wooden spoon to make a soft dough. Let stand for 5 minutes, then knead for 3 minutes. Dough is ready to be shaped into standard arepas, or to be mixed and kneaded with other ingredients such as cheese, chicharrones (pork rind), etc.
To shape arepas: The standard Venezuelan arepa is 3 inches in diameter, 3/4 inch thick. Colombian arepas are larger and thinner, about 4 inches in diameter, 1/4 inch thick. To make arepas, oil or wet hands lightly and shape dough into balls. Place between 2 pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap and flatten into a circle; shape the edges to form a smooth disc.
To cook arepas: Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium heat;
grease lightly and cook arepas on both sides, turning a couple of times until a crust is formed. Colombian arepas are ready to be served at this point, spread with butter. Venezuelan arepas have to be baked in a preheat 350F oven for 15 minutes. To check for doneness, tap the arepa lightly -- if a hollow sound is heard, it's ready. Split open, add butter and serve hot.
Arepas freeze well if frozen while still warm. Freeze in layers separated by plastic wrap. Reheat frozen arepas wrapped in aluminum foil in a preheated 350F oven for 10 minutes or until heated through.
Compliments of Garry's Home Cookin'
Garry Howard, Cambridge,