Earlier this summer, I went to visit my cousin in Denver. Our farmers markets hadn’t started yet, so I was excited to see that Denver had several options to check out. We hit the one closest to her house on a Sunday morning.
While the number of produce vendors was slim, the food truck scene at the market was amazing. There were spicy rice bowls, fresh tamales and lots of other imaginative options. But my favorite, by far, was the arepas we tried.
The delicacies, which I had probably tried versions of before, but never this good, were amazing. Arpeas are a common Colombian and Venezuelan vehicle for hosting cheese, meat and avocado. They are served with many, maybe even most, meals in those countries.
The version I had in Denver was crispy, chewy and stuffed with shredded seasoned chicken. It was the perfect travel size brunch to snack on while walking around the market. Ever since I ate it, I have been dreaming about a way to make one at home.
Then, I randomly met a fellow foodie from South America. Of course, I immediately ask her if she knows how to make them and if she would be willing to teach me. Karina offered to try, since her mom, she said, was an expert. But she warned me what I was already afraid of: that we may not be able to find the right ingredients.
Her mother said to look for Harina PAN or another version of maize flour. I knew my best bet would be the Mexican markets we have in town, so I tried to find it there. The closest I came was a bag of the precooked cornmeal flour that is used to make tamales. Karina thought it would be fine so we tried.
She demonstrated how her mom makes the dough, simply by adding the right amount of warm water and hand rolling them into thick disks. We then pan fried them and baked them to finish.
The first batches or two were a bit of trial and error. Getting the dough the right consistency and the inside cooked just right required a bit of a learning curve, but the final batch worked out pretty well.
I followed up our evening with some research and found this recipe online that I am going to attempt next time I make them. Ours were good, but needed a little butter or something because they were on the dry side (probably due to the altitude).
This dough has some butter and milk in the recipe that I hope will help. I made a filling of shredded chicken, corn, peas and mixed it with an avocado crème. I bought some white, meltable Mexican cheese (also sold at the markets around town) and stuffed it all into the middle of the arpeas. Together, it made for a fun, interesting meal worth a try next time you want something a little different.
- 2 cups Masarepa cornmeal
- 1 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 t. salt
- 2 T flour
- 1/2 t sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients well, until smooth. Don’t worry if the mixture appears wet. Let mixture rest for about 5 to 10 minutes, to give the cornmeal time to absorb some of the liquid.
- The dough should be smooth and easy to handle, without sticking to your hands. If the dough seems dry, you can add a little bit more water. Knead the dough for several minutes and let rest again for 5 minutes. Or if the dough is too wet to handle, add a small amount of Masarepa, knead, and let the dough rest for 5 minutes more.
- Take pieces of the dough and shape them with your hands into round disks, about 2 centimeters thick, and 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter. When shaping the arepas, repair any cracks along the edges with your fingers.
- Lightly grease the surface of a heavy skillet (cast iron works well) with vegetable oil and heat over medium heat. Place the arepas into the skillet in batches. Cook until the arepas are lightly browned on each side. Place arepas in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes to finish cooking the inside of the arepas without burning them).
- Serve warm.
Number of servings (yield): 8