Arepas are a corn dish made in Venezuela, Colombia and a few other Caribbean countries. In Venezuela, arepas are eaten for breakfast or dinner, served with a wide array of fillings. Arepas are soft, salty and eaten while they're hot (cold arepas taste terribly). They are very filling, with relative low calories, low glycemic index and no gluten. Venezuelans eat arepas almost everyday (me included) and they're deeply ingrained in our culture.
The easiest way to make an arepa is by using precooked corn flour, although you can always go the long route and soak, pound and grind the maize grains to make the dough. Harina P.A.N. is the most popular brand of white corn flour and has been made for fifty years. Harina P.A.N. is manufactured in Venezuela and Colombia, but can be found in many countries around the world, including the U.S., Germany, Spain, Canada and many others.
To make arepas, the flour is mixed with water and a dash of salt, until you get a soft, uniform and flexible dough. Afterwards, you shape the dough into balls and flatten them, obtaining thick, round cakes. This raw arepas can be cooked in several ways: fried, baked, boiled or grilled, being the last one the most common in Venezuela.
We use flat metallic pans to grill them, flipping them over to cook both sides and create a crust. They may be cooked thoroughly in the pan by flipping constantly or placed in an oven for a few minutes. To know if they're ready, my grandmother used to pick them up and hit them softly. If they sounded hollow, they were done, which usually takes around 15 minutes.
When they're ready, they're partially split open and stuffed with cheese, ham, eggs, meat, chicken, avocado, pork, tuna or any combination. It's very versatile and everybody has their favorite. For me, there's always a special place in my heart for arepas with roasted chicken, avocado and white cheese. It's still not avocado season here in Venezuela, but I had wonderful chicken arepas today, pictured here.
Arepas are a wonderful dish and I encourage you to try them. I wrote the recipe below and you can find the precooked corn flour in Hispanic stores. I also know there are restaurants that sell arepas in many places, including New York, Miami, Toronto, the Canary Islands and Australia. I'll try to find out where you can buy arepas and let you know in a future post. In the mean time, find a Venezuelan or Colombian friend and ask them to prepare arepas for you. I'm sure you won't regret it.
Venezuelan Arepas Recipe
2 ½ cups of water
2 cups of flour
1 tsp of salt
Pour the water in a deep container and add the salt. Add the flour slowly while mixing, until the dough is soft but malleable. Form balls the size of your palms, flatten them and place over a hot pan. After 5 minutes, flip over and cook the other side. Keep cooking until done, in the pan or the oven. Serve hot.