Hello there. Nice to find you here. I guess I’ve been a little busy this week and suspect you have been too. Let’s spend a few paragraphs together, shall we? It’s been one of those weeks where creativity in the kitchen just could not be a priority. Staying warm on the other hand, that’s where it’s at. Trudging from home to work to wherever it is that life takes you and being expected to function at the same level as when the sun spreads its warmth generously–that’s been the name of the game. I fear I am falling behind. And we are caught in the grips of yet another polar vortex. I’m calling for a time out. You can do that in life, right?
With no obvious vacation looming, I decided to pull myself up by my awesome new literal bootstraps (for stomping around on a less snowy day) by dreaming of Miami. Cortaditos and arepas. Sun and a place where my shoulders are not up to my ears in their resting state. While I try to plan a trip there and I hope it happens soon, I thought I’d share with you what has become my newest thing. Arepas! I had no idea they were so easy.
Traditionally, arepas are made by soaking and pounding dried corn in a pilón—a large mortar and pestle. The moist, pounded dough would then be shaped into cakes and cooked. These days, most people buy pre-cooked, dehydrated masarepa—arepa flour—that only needs to be mixed with water and salt to form a dough. Masarepa is pretty widely available in the United States (check the latin aisle of your supermarket: Goya, PAN, and Areparina are popular brands). It comes in both yellow and white varieties. I usually use the white masarepa when cooking Colombian arepas and the golden yellow for Cuban/Miami. They taste subtly different.
As with anything, this apparently simple choice is just the tip of the iceberg. In Colombia you’ll find arepas stuffed with cheese and baked on hot stones in coal-fired ovens. I’ve had arepas with sour milk cheese worked right into the dough and arepas de choclo, made like a pancake with sweet corn on a hot griddle. Move out of Colombia into Venezuela, and you’ll find thicker arepas split open and stuffed with fillings. Lately, I’ve kind of been doing all of them. I’ve been adding tiny golden arepitas for texture on top of portabello mushrooms or crumbled on top of fish and in soups and stuffing them with shredded chicken, cilantro, cotija cheese and black beans. I’m arepa obsessed.
It’s a wide, wide world out there, but we’ve got to start somewhere, so today I’ve outlined the basics and if you’re anything like me, you will build from there. Growth and progression, forward and upward, it’s wonderfully inevitable, even while calling for a time out.
- 1 cup arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)
- 1 cup crumbled ricotta salata or grated mozzarella (1/4 pound) (optional-I often make them without cheese)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- butter for the griddle
Toss together arepa flour, cheese, and salt in a bowl, then stir in water until incorporated. Let stand until enough water is absorbed for a soft dough to form, 1 to 2 minutes (dough will continue to stiffen).
Form 3 level tablespoons of dough into 1 ball and flatten between your palms, gently pressing to form a 1/4-inch-thick patty (2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches wide), then gently press around side to eliminate cracks.
Heat a large nonstick griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, butter the pand, then cook the arepas in 2 batches, turning over once, until deep golden and in patches, black. 8 to 10 minutes total per batch.