Let Happy Help You Get All Multicultural With Some Arepa Sandwiches

Let Happy Help You Get All Multicultural With Some Arepa Sandwiches

Today we are going make arepas. What is an arepa? Is it a toasted and roasted corn meal patty made from pre-cooked, finely ground corn flour. Arepas are the second type of cocaine in South American, and s staple of many Latin American cuisines. Though addictive, arepas are 100% safe and are low-gluten, to boot.

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Arepas are for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner, so you can understand why corn flour is a thing to riot about if you live in Venezuela. It is nada tortilla! Once you split it open, an arepa becomes a savory sandwich – crispy outside, polenta-y inside – traditionally served with butter, cheese and meat. You can eat them as a sandwich or open-faced, depending on your preference.

You will need this brand of white corn flour to make arepas.

Harina-P.A.N.

Regular corn meal will not work, because arepa flour is pre-cooked (boiled) and finely ground. Look for this at the supermarket, or Hispanic grocery. White corn flour is more popular than yellow for this recipe, and widely available. It is about $3, and you can get about two or three meals from one bag.

I learned how to make arepas from Tia Lidia, from Venezuela, who is widely regarded as an arepa specialist by those who know her. Tia Lidia has been making and eating arepas for longer than I have been alive. Therefore, we have an exceptional recipe to work with, and some important techniques.

Ideally, you won’t need to measure ingredients once you’ve had some practice. I learned by Lidia’s example of adding water to one of my mixing bowls, and eyeballing the rest. The ratio for corn flour to water is 1:1. The following recipe will make about four arepas.

1 ½ c. white corn flour (P.A.N. or Goya)
1 ½ c. warm water
½ tbsp. table salt
1 tbsp. corn oil, plus a scant amount for cooking
1 c. water, to moisten your fingers
1 large pan, cast iron or non-stick

In a large bowl, mix the water, salt and oil. Stir to make sure the salt has dissolved. Pour in the corn flour, stirring with your fingers as you pour. The consistency of the forming dough should be similar to cold mashed potatoes.

Knead the dough for about three minutes, until it is no longer grainy. If the dough does not stick to your hands and seems especially resistant to kneading, it may be too dry and needs more water. If it is too sticky, you may need to add more flour. When the dough begins to sound like bare legs lifting off a hot car seat, you are there. At this stage, you should hear gas escaping as you knead. How very rude of you, arepa dough! This is exactly why you keep getting cooked to death.

Moisten the tips of your fingers and scoop up a ball of dough – about the size of a plum. Roll it into a round shape, re-moistening your fingers as needed. You can flatten this ball by tossing it back and forth in your hands, or tapping it on your flattened palm. You should have approximately four patties, though one may be smaller than the rest. This small one is for your loyal dog, because dogs love arepas as much as people do.

In the pan, add a scant amount of oil and heat to medium. Place the arepas in the pan and cook both sides until they are a toasty golden color. Heat the oven to 350°, and finish cooking the arepas for 15-20 minutes.

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Venezuelan arepas are usually served warm with butter, deli meats and salty white cheeses – all three at the same time. Definitely add some sliced tomatoes. Chicken salad is great, too, and especially carne mechada (a stewed and shredded flank steak), a western-style scramble, or chili. Arepas love to soak up something juicy.

Serve these alone or with some fried sweet plantains. Green plantains (tostones) are starchier, like potatoes, and bananas are not the same. Sweet plantains will require your patience, as the fruit is not sweet unless the peel is wretched and black. The vegetarians in the house will win all the prizes if they serve arepas with fried sweet plantains, black beans and cheese. Enjoy!

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