For Spring Break this year, we went to the Oregon Coast. It’s a magical place. Matthew and I went there for our honeymoon, as it was a favorite place of both of ours, and we were so excited to finally introduce our girls to it.
I was a little nervous about not getting to eat decent food for several days in a row, which often happens when we are on vacation, so I packed a ginormous cooler full of meals to prepare. Turns out I got a break from cooking, because we found many great restaurants, and a fantastic bakery! I keep thinking I am going to tackle learning how to make croissants, and that that will be my next blog post, but then I get distracted and have to obsess over something different. So here it is this time: Arepas!
I’m not going to give you the history of these things, because I don’t know it, but what I do know is that we ate at a little café near the place we were staying, and with their breakfasts, they served these amazing little cornmeal cakes called “Arepas”. One bite and I was sold. It reminded me of something I had had in Panama for breakfast one time (tortilla de maíz), made for me by my Tía Lema, but it wasn’t quite the same. Nevertheless, I was in heaven, and couldn’t wait to get back home and do some research.
Arepas are easy to find in Venezuela or Colombia, but if you’re just sitting at home in your American kitchen, you might want to try making them yourself. You need a special “precooked” corn meal flour to make these. I went to Plaza Latina in Shoreline just north of Seattle to find this specialty item, and I wandered the aisles staring at everything and thinking I really need to learn how to make posole. And that is how easily I get distracted. In fact, I am distracted by this idea right now.
Back to Arepas. I looked at about a million recipes. They are all similar, and I found one on Epicurious that I liked. They are stuffed arepas. The ones that I had in Oregon had goat cheese mixed into the dough (heavenly), but no filling, but I liked the idea of stuffed arepas. They are actually pretty simple to make. The only tweak I did to the recipe I found was that I added a bit of oil to the dough. Here is what I did:
I mixed 3 cups precooked white corn meal, 2 cups very warm water, 1 cup very warm chicken broth (you can just use 3 cups water if you want this to be vegan/vegetarian), 1 teaspoon salt, and about 1 tablespoon canola oil in a glass bowl with a wooden spoon.
Once everything was well combined, I got my hand in there and kneaded the dough until the dough was smooth and there were no more lumps. This part is important, so don’t skip it.
At this point I let the dough rest for a few minutes. While the dough was resting, I got my filling ingredients ready to go. I chose refried beans (homemade, of course), slow cooked shredded beef (recipe included below), and cheese.
Once I got that done, and maybe had some tea, the dough had rested for at least 5 minutes. I didn’t cover the dough, but I suppose that would have been a good idea if it had taken me more than 5 minutes to get things prepped. You don’t want the dough to get dry. Next I made 12 balls out of the dough. I then made an indentation in the middle of the ball with my thumb. You want to be able to fit about two heaping teaspoons of filling in it.
I made two different kinds: one with beef and cheese, and the other with beans and cheese. Just one generous teaspoon of each kind of filling.
I then pinched the dough together to completely cover the opening.
Then I rolled it back into a ball and flattened it to about 1/2″ thickness, pressing in the sides if they looked like they were going to crack. The dough shouldn’t be dry. (In fact, if it cracks too easily, you should probably add a bit more liquid to the dough. If it is too sticky, add a bit more corn flour.)
I then placed the filled, flattened cakes on my electric griddle preheated to 350°. I let them cook for about ten minutes… when I touched the top of the cake, it was warm. I then flipped them and let them cook for ten more minutes, if not a bit more.
Initially I started with a 325° griddle, and it wasn’t quite hot enough. You want to have some golden spots here or there. But too hot, and they cook too fast, not completely cooking through on the inside, and burning on the outside. So 350° was about right. Medium heat. When the first batch was done, I put them in the oven to keep them hot – again, 350°.
I don’t know if these are an acquired taste. I grew up eating things like this, so I adore them. Here’s the good news: my family adored them as well. Even my 8-year-old. I served them with Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa, which was as close as I could get to chiltomate , which is the ridiculously delicious salsa of roasted tomatoes and peppers they served them with at the Osprey Café in Seaside.
This was mine before I added the salsa:
Are you getting hungry yet?
(adapted, just a bit, from Victoria Granof’s Arepa recipe on Epicurious)
- 3 cups precooked white corn flour (P.A.N. brand recommended)
- 3 cups very warm water (can substitute chicken broth for flavor)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or just 1 scant teaspoon if you use chicken broth)
- 1 scant Tablespoon vegetable oil
Preheat griddle and oven to 350°.
Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon, then knead with your hand until there are no more lumps and dough is smooth.
Let dough rest for 5 minutes while you prepare the fillings. Cover dough with a barely damp tea towel.
Divide dough into twelve balls.
Make indentation in balls with thumb, fill with about 2 teaspoons of filling of your choice. Pinch dough to cover filling, and roll back into a ball. Flatten to about 1/2 inch thickness.
Place on ungreased, nonstick griddle at 350° or medium heat (you can also use cast iron, which would probably be better!) and cook on each side for ten minutes. Place in oven to keep hot.
Makes 12 arepas.
Enjoy with salsa of your choice!
P.s. Here’s how to make the shredded beef – so easy! Get a chuck roast, put it in your slow cooker and pour in about a cup of your favorite salsa and coat the meat. Put the lid on. Turn your slow cooker on low and set for twelve hours. When the twelve hours are up, let the beef cool down, shred it with two forks, and store it in your fridge. Use it for enchiladas, tacos, or….. Arepas!
P.p.s. I had leftover dough, so the next day I made some more arepas, and while I was making them, the dough was cracking, but I just shrugged it off. Bad idea! The arepas that my daughters were fighting over the first day, were dry and tough the next; nothing like the deliciousness from the day before, so pay attention to that dough!