After three years of blogging about food, I am finally going to post about arepas. There are few reasons I had not done it before, including the fact that when I think of arepas, I don’t think “recipe.” Arepas are more than a mere meal at any Venezuelan table, they are a part of who we are and our culture; how we like our arepas defines where we are from. Arepas are consumed by Venezuelans at least once a day. The intricate relationship of the arepa and the Venezuelan culture is so complex that there are books dedicated entirely to this subject. Many Venezuelan cuisine historians refer of Arepa as a National Heritage. Anthropologists and writers have spent years on this matter, poets have written about it, singers have added layers of flavors to their lyrics thanks to the existence of Arepas!
The point is that there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Arepas, which is why I decided to do a series of posts to show its diversity. Arepas have been gaining popularity around the world in recent years. I’d like to assume it is due to the number of Venezuelans emigrating the country because of the current political and economic climate. There is a famous saying “con su arepa debajo del brazo” – it translates to “with your arepa under your arm.” The saying means that no matter where you go, you always take an arepa with you “just in case” and I think that is precisely what Venezuelan immigrants have been doing, populating the world with the unique flavors of our beloved arepa.
Arepa – It’s a flat round corn cake of indigenous origins made with precooked corn flour. It can be cooked on a flat iron, baked, or deep fried. They are crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and filled with a variety of cheeses or meats.
Did the indigenous people have precooked corn flour? Hmm – No, arepas have existed for a very long time, archaeologists date it back to 3000 years. Precooked corn flour was invented in the 1950’s and patented by Empresas Polar in 1960 under the name Harina P.A.N. That’s when it started being sold in supermarkets making our great-grandmothers life much easier. Before, they used the traditional method: soaking, peeling, and pounding corn kernels in a wooden mortar (pilon) or later, grinding it in a mill
Colombians eat arepas too. Arepas have been around for a very long time, that was also before the land was divided by countries. Colombia and Venezuela both debate whether arepas were made first on their side, but it is hard to tell. All we know is that each culture has taken a different approach to eating arepas and both feel very proud of them. I will focus on Venezuelan arepas for now.
Areperas – Venezuela very own fast food restaurants with a counter showcasing all the fillings for arepas. Natural fruit juices made on demand are also showcased.
Harian P.A.N. – The original Venezuelan brand of precooked corn flour. Empresas Polar bought the patent rights from the inventor, leading the industry in 1960. It wasn’t until 1974 that other companies could replicate the product and other brands started producing the flour.
Arepada – a Venezuelan party where you are invited to eat, well, what else? Arepas!
Tostiarepa – An electric arepa maker that was introduced to the market in the late 90’s. It is pretty much the waffle maker version for arepas.
Ok, so when it comes to eating and making arepas at home everyone has their own preference. How arepas are made also depends on the region of the country. In my case, my dad is from The Andes mountains, where arepas are made very large and thin. My maternal grandmother was from the coast where arepas are made small and thick. My mother to please my dad’s taste raised us on arepas that are rather large and thick. I personally like my arepas somewhere in between, small and thin. See, I told you is complicated!
I will leave it at that for now, and we will continue to talk about the diversity of this dish on the next part of the series.
So, let’s teach you how to make some arepas:
You will need:
Precooked corn flour, preferably Harina P.A.N, or Masarepa. DO NOT use Maseca, the corn and process used for the two flours are different, arepas will turn out very dry, and the dough will crack (trust me).
Water – the ratio I use is 1 to 1 1/4 flour to water
To cook using a flat iron or skillet, set it on a high heat stove top. When it is hot, add a splash of cooking oil, using a paper towel disperse the oil to cover the entire surface. It should smoke, that’s ok. Place the arepas carefully in the hot iron or pan, leaving space between the disks. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until arepas come off easily, flip to the other side using a spatula. Cook until both sides are crunchy and have dark spots. A good way to know if arepas are cooked inside is by sound. Yeap! Slap the top a couple of times with your fingers, if it sounds hollow they are ready; if there is no hollow sound they may need a bit more cooking.
To serve arepas, slice open trying to make a pocket, not slicing all the way through. Add butter and your favorite filling.
Reina Pepiada Filling:
1 large chicken breast, cooked
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
2 sweet peppers, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup mayo
In a medium bowl shred the chicken breast. Add peppers, onion, half of the avocado, garlic, lemon juice, and mayo. Combine well with a spoon. To serve, slice open the arepa, trying to make a pocket, not slicing all the way through. Add the filling and top with more avocado.
Cook’s Note: This is my own version of this filling that I usually make with left over chicken. The traditional filling is a simple chicken and potato salad with lots of mayo, topped with avocado.