A few years ago, I saw an episode of Throwdown with chef Bobby Flay. He battled it out against the owners of Caracas Arepa Bar in New York City. For me, it was love at first sight. No, not for Bobby Flay…
There are few things that I love more than sandwiches. I know, simple and mundane, right? Cut to arepas, these lovely little Venezuelan (or Colombian) corn cakes, split open and stuffed with Latin-packed flavor is my heaven.
Arepas are commonly eaten as bread with any meal, sweetened with sugar for dessert, or as a delicious little vessel to make filled arepas rellenas in homes and restaurants called areperías. Arepas are served there until the wee hours of the morning, where they are stuffed to the hilt with a ton of different fillings. My kind of food!
So, I made it my mission to remake the Flay-fighting-phenomenon, alas, my love for arepas turned into my family’s love for arepas and all the fabulous ways to fill them. When I first made them, I prepared arepas de pabellón, the most traditional filling to go in them. It was fabulous. As time went on, and my kids started complaining about foods that they didn’t like, I stalked the Caracas Arepa Bar website and started experimenting with other fillings. The taste explosion that ensued was out of this world…and there are so many more.
The other night, we had arepas de pabellón, or beef, bean and plantain filled arepas, arepas de domino, simply filled with black beans and salty white cheese, and reina pepiada. Reina Pepiada is much like chicken salad, made creamy with avocado, and traditionally, mayonnaise. The problem? I can’t stand mayo. So I don’t use it, and I promise: you won’t miss it. The silky avocado is creamy and smooth. The slight bite of the red onion rounds out the flavor perfectly.
In the recipe, the arepa flour is key. Hard to find, but important. It is super-fine, almost like powdered sugar, and produces thick arepas the consistency of brownies. Find it at a latino market, or order online. After sauteing and baking, the little round disks smell delicious, a bit like popcorn. And that’s just the bread!
Makes 6 arepas
2 cups arepa flour / harina P.A.N.
2½ cups warm water
½ teaspoon salt
oil for sauteing
1. Put flour and salt in a bowl. Add water and knead lightly to form a mass. When it has come together, cover the bowl with a towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 400ºF and simultaneously heat a bit of oil, 1 tablespoon or so, in a pan on the stove over medium-high heat.
3. Roll the dough in handfuls between wet hands and pat into disks. Cook a few at a time in the pan, turning once until they are golden on both sides. Remove to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until they sound hollow when you knock on them.
4. Let the arepas cool for a few minutes, then split with a serrated knife and fill with your favorite fillings.
Each recipe makes enough to fill 6 arepas
Arepa de Pabellón
1½ pounds beef sirloin or flank steak
1 onion, chopped
½ cup water
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup red wine
2 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 ripe plantain
oil for sauteing
1. Heat oil in a pan. Season steak with salt and pepper, and place in pan over medium-high heat to sear on each side. Add onion and peppers and cook for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Deglaze with the wine and cook for a few seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add tomatoes, water and bay leaf.
3. Cover and lower heat. Cook for 1 hour.
4. Remove steak and shred.
5. Meanwhile, peel and slice the plantain. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan and fry plantains until soft and brown.
Top arepa with meat, plantains and black beans.
1 bone-in chicken breast, skin removed (if using boneless, grill or reduce cooking time)
½ red onion, minced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional)
salt and pepper
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and roast in 400–degree oven for 35 minutes or until cooked throughout. (Use leftover cooked chicken and skip this step.) Allow chicken to cool and chop or shred into bite–size pieces.
2. Combine cooked chicken, onion and avocado in a bowl. Mix together, mashing avocado as you stir. Season with salt and squeeze in lime juice. If using, add mayonnaise. Taste the mixture prior to adding mayo…it is extremely creamy and doesn’t need it!
Arepa de Dominó
2 cups prepared black beans, 4 tablespoons cotija cheese and done.