Saturday, September 27, 2008
Recipe: How to Make Arepas
Arepas are cornmeal patties that are eaten in place of bread in Venezuela. They are quick to make, healthy and can be eaten at any time of the day. At breakfast, they can be served steaming hot from the oven with a slather of butter, or filled with cheese, ham or perico, Venezuelan-style scrambled eggs. During the day, they make the perfect snack and are sold in fast-food outlets called areperas, with fillings like grated cheese, black beans, chicken salad and avocado, or shredded beef.
The secret to cooking arepas is Harina P.A.N., the first and most popular brand of pre-cooked maize flour. It was developed by a Venezuelan engineer called Dr Caballero Mejias in 1954 and revolutionized Venezuelan cooking when it was introduced by the beer company Polar in 1960.
Harina P.A.N. makes the whole process of preparing maize dough quick and easy and is a far cry from the traditional method of laboriously soaking, peeling and then pounding corn kernels in a large wooden mortar called a pilon, which is still practised in many parts of Venezuela today.
The original slogan for Harina P.A.N. was "Se acabo la piladera" ("No more pounding").
The great thing about Harina P.A.N. in our health-conscious world is that maize flour is easily digested, contains no additives or bleaching agents and is 100 per cent gluten-free.
It comes in two varieties, yellow or white, and can be used to make arepas, as well as savoury patties called empanadas, and hallacas - a traditional Christmas dish.
Once the maize dough has been prepared and the arepas made into a distinctive flying saucer shape, they can be baked, fried, cooked on a charcoal grill or boiled.
How to Bake Arepas
To make enough dough for six arepas you will need:
2 cups of Harina P.A.N. flour
2 cups of water
A pinch of salt
1. Place two cups of flour in a mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix through with clean dry hands.
2. Measure two cups of warm water and pour onto flour.
3. Knead together the flour and water with your hands until the mixture is thoroughly blended and there are no grainy lumps.
4. If the is too soggy and sticks to your fingers add more flour. If it is too dry add water. The perfect dough should roll easily into a large ball without cracking.
5. Break off a fistful of the dough and roll it into a ball in your hands. Then pat it and turn it in your hands until its about half an inch thick and about 3-4 inches across. It should have the classic flying saucer shape now.
6. Make the rest of the arepas you want to cook. If any dough is left over wrap it in plastic - to keep in the moisture - and place in fridge. It will keep for three to four days.
7. Heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan or griddle and when hot add the arepas, as many as will comfortably fit in the pan. The idea is to give the arepas a crunchy exterior ("una cara", literally a face, as they say in Venezuela) so don't turn the heat up too high. When the arepas are brown on one side turn them over. The whole process should not take longer than 10 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
9. When arepas have been browned, reduce oven to 200 degrees, place arepas on a baking tray at the top of the oven for 15-20 minutes. When ready they should sound hollow when tapped with a knife.
10. Serve with butter and grated cheese, scrambled eggs, black beans, ham, hot sauce and anything else you want to fill them with. The trick is to make an incision in the arepa - slicing through the middle but not going all the way - and then open it up like a pocket for the filling.
By Russell Maddicks
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Glossary: Eating at an Arepera
La Reina Pepiada: The Curvy Queen of Arepas
Arepa de Maiz Pelao: Making Arepas the Hard Way
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