Arepas, a corn based bread, stuffed with either BBQ chicken or black beans, and topped with avocado and mango.
Nothing ever stays put. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just true.
Jobs change, kids grow up, we move or redecorate. We pack on unwanted weight, we shed some of it (never quite as much as we gain, and what’s up with that?), and take up new exercise regimens.
I launched this blog 18 months ago as an outlet to share dishes I was creating for my shiny new diet. It was a huge change from the meat-centric diet I had followed for-like-ever, and I needed a new repertoire of vegetarian dishes well in hand if I was going to stick to it.
Along the vegetarian trail, I changed how I was cooking. Canned beans sitting around for longer than I will ever admit were evicted. In their place today are dried beans organized in jars. Labeled containers of cooked beans are stacked in the refrigerator and freezer, waiting to be thrown into salads and casseroles. Ditto, whole grains.
One afternoon every week or so is pantry day, the biggest timesaving gift I give myself all week. That’s the day I roast vegetables I plan to use during the week. Tomatoes, for their rich, meaty flavor is almost always in the mix – it’s a great way to use tomatoes out of season. Asparagus shows up in the spring, string beans in the summer, and winter squash in the fall. I might do a quick pickling of some vegetables like onions, beets, or carrots to add some zest to a dish, and whip together a quick condiment that can be used on sandwiches, pasta, or in a salad dressing. With my pantry in place for the week, I can pull together a myriad of meals in less than 30 minutes. And all this roasting can be done while I’m gardening outside, catching up with a friend on the phone, or tapping my fingers on a computer.
But a little problem has emerged.
Instead of diving into slow-roasted BBQ-pulled-pork that falls apart under his fork, my husband now gets a steak shoved under the broiler, with the choice of McCormick Steakhouse Onionburger rub or Dean Jacob’s Southwest Grinder’s Mill seasoning. Nothing against either of these rubs, but compared to my own smoky BBQ sauce with hints of brown sugar and caramelized orange juice, Myles is starting to feel like an afterthought.
So it’s time to change things up again, and create a new repertoire of meals that integrates our diets better, but still draws the line between the turf of the cow, and the turf of the earth. I’m calling this new series Turf ‘n Turf, and the first dish out of the kitchen is Arepas Rellenas. Rellenas, by the way, just means filled; so these are stuffed arepas.
Arepas (ah-RAY-pas) are corn cakes traditional to Venezuelan and Colombian tables going back thousands of years, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They’re cousin to pupusas in El Salvador and gorditas in Mexico, are often filled with oozing cheese, and easily eaten by hand. Near as I can tell, one difference between the Venezuelan and Colombian varieties is the thickness of the corn cake. Venezuelan arepas are thicker, and often sliced like a bun. But what makes all arepas unique, and I can’t stress this enough, is the type of cornmeal used to make them.
Arepas must be made with corn meal made from precooked ground corn (harina de maìz precocida). I got mine at a local Hispanic grocery, but it’s showing up with increasing frequency in the International sections of mainstream stores these days too. Mine is called Precooked White Maize Meal by P.A.N., and says on a side label that it’s suitable for making arepas, but you might also see this flour/meal under the name arepas flour, arepas harina, or masarepas flour. Just make sure it’s made from precooked ground corn.
Arepas are gluten-free and come together in about 15 minutes from start to finish, and can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for a few days. They’re made by adding a healthy pinch of salt to the flour/meal, followed by an equal amount of hot water. Don’t be worried if the dough seems too watery at first – it will firm up quickly as it cools. If you find them a little plain, feel free to experiment with some flavors as I did. The dough is a wonderful blank canvas for a wide palette of flavors.
A Few Cooking Notes:
Did I mention that arepas must be made with corn meal/flour made from precooked ground corn?
Arepas can be fried or baked, but I recommend doing a quick sear to lightly brown the surface before placing in the oven to get a crispy surface. For myself, I sauté them using very little oil – just enough to slick the surface of the pan.
Arepas should be cooked until lightly browned, resembling the surface of an English muffin.
They’re sturdy enough to use as bread for a sandwich.
I made all the key ingredients one to two days ahead, making the actual assembly very quick work.
- 10 roasted garlic cloves
- pinch kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chile
- pinch dried red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup arepa flour made from precooked ground corn
- 1/2 cup grated manchego cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup hot water
- olive oil
Rellenas (Arepas Filling)
- shredded cooked roast chicken
- your favorite BBQ sauce
- black beans
- Serrano pepper
- lime juice
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- Jack cheese or other cheese you prefer
- pickled red onions
- light sour cream
- Use a fork to mash the garlic into a paste. Place in a small bowl and add the salt, oregano, ancho, and red pepper flakes. Continue to work the paste until the spices are completely mashed into the garlic. Add the olive oil and mix it into the paste.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cheese, and salt. Add the spicy garlic paste and use the fork and your fingers to disperse. Add the hot water all at once, stirring it into the flour mix with a fork until a dough forms.
- As the dough slightly cools, it will immediately begin to thicken. Place the dough on a work surface and knead a few times until the dough firms up. It shouldn't be sticky at this point.
- Divide the dough into four pieces. Roll each piece between your hands and flatten into a disk. For thick disks, flatten to about three inch diameter disks. For thin disks like the ones pictured, flatten to about five inches in diameter.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a sauté pan or griddle, just enough to slick the surface, over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the disks of dough. Cook for five minutes each side, or until each side looks like the surface of an English muffin.
Rellenas (Arepas Filling)
- Toss together the shredded, cooked roast chicken with a little of your favorite BBQ sauce. Place on top of half of the arepas for the meat eaters at the table.
- For every 1 1/2 cups of cooked black beans, add 1/2 minced and seeded Serrano pepper, 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Toss together and spoon some on the top of half of the arepas for the vegetarians at the table.
- Place a slice of Jack cheese on all of the arepas with either chicken or black beans on them.
- Slice some avocado and mango into thin strips, and lay on top.
- Add some pickled red onions (I'll be posting my favorite recipe for these on Monday.)
- Mix together 1 avocado with 1/4 cup light sour cream and a pinch of salt to make a quick avocado cream and smear it on the arepas that will go on top of each arepa rellenos. (I'll be posting my go-to avocado cream recipe for when I want something special on Wednesday.)