Although I’ve traveled to Argentina and Uruguay and eaten Brazilian cuisine at a traditional churrascaria, that’s about the extent of my “dealings” with the South American continent from both a traveling and culinary perspective (if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I’m much more Mexican and Central American savvy).
In my hometown of Philadelphia, there’s actually a Venezuelan restaurant called Sazon, but every time we’ve tried to eat there when I’ve been visiting, it’s never worked out; on one occasion the restaurant was closed due to the owners’ annual visit back to la patria, the homeland. Hopefully one of these days I will actually be able to eat there and blog about it with a complete review.
I’m not quite sure how, but this past week I “discovered” arepas which is a dish made of ground corn dough or flour and is a flat, rounded patty that can be grilled, baked, broiled or fried. As it’s a popular food in several Latin American countries (Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama), its color, shape, size, and the way it is prepared (stuffed or not stuffed, topped or not topped), varies from region to region. It is described as being similar in shape to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa.
I work down the street from a Latin grocer so on my break last week, I went in search of arepa flour. Unfortunately, there was none to be had although my cookbook Healthy Latin Cooking by Steven Raichlen said one could also use white corn flour (I could actually only find yellow corn flour but I didn’t think the color was that much of a major thing). The cookbook listed regional variations for the arepa although I went with a recipe I found on a cooking blog, My Colombian Recipes, Arepa Dominó con Plátanos y Guacamole (Arepa with black beans, plantains, and guacamole). The blogger notes that the Arepa Dominó is a traditional Venezulan arepa but she made it Colombian by adding plantains and guacamole. Served with Spanish rice, this was a great meal.
Recipe for arepas (cornmeal flat cakes)
(from Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking)
2-2 1/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups arepa flour (or fine white corn flour)
1 tablespoon canola oil
Combine 2 cups of the water and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the flour and knead for about 2 minutes, or until the dough is firm yet pliable. The consistency should resemble that of mashed potatoes; if it is too firm, add a little more water.
Divide the dough into 8 balls. Wet your hands and pat the dough into patties about 1/4″ thick and 4″ across.
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or on a griddle over medium heat. Add 4 of the patties and cook for three minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining patties.
4 cooked arepas
1 cup crumble queso fresco, cotija or feta cheese (as cotija cheese at my supermarket was $11 I used honey flavored goat cheese and liked the taste very much)
1 cup guacamole
1 cup cooked black beans, canned or dried (I used seasoned beans from a can)
For the plantains:
2 tablespoons of butter
1 ripe plantain, peeled and diced
For the plantains: In a medium skillet, melt the butter and add the diced plantains. Brown the plantains for about 3 minutes and set aside.
To assemble the arepa: Place an arepa on a serving plate, top with the beans, sprinkle the cheese and add the plantain and guacamole on top.