Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adventures with Arepas

Last Sunday I decided to make arepas. I saw a Throwdown with Bobby Flay with Arepas. Maribel and Aristides Barrios, NYC restaurateurs who hail from Venezuela were challenged. The food looked SO good and interesting. Arepas are Venezuela's national bread. They are eaten at all meals and throughout the day. These small corncakes are sold in restaurants called areperías, where they are stuffed with all manner of fillings. Arepas are the basically the Venezuelan version of the sandwich. Many different filling can be used, but the gals on Throwdown said the best and most traditional filling is Pabellón. It's their best seller. So, that's what I wanted to make.

Bobby Flay lost the throwdown, so I didn't want to use his recipes on the Food Network. Using notes from the gals that WON the arepa throwdown I went on a search of the internet for recipes that were similar. This was going to be quite a project, but I knew it would be fun and delicious. I'm never scared away by hard work in the kitchen. First I needed ingredients. Ran to the local grocery store Saturday evening and bought just about everything. The produce gal couldn't find a plantain I knew what they looked like despite my complete inexperience with them and I found them. They didn't have the special corn flour I needed. Decided to make a trip to the Mexican grocer in the morning. They had exactly what I needed... precooked white corn meal P.A.N.

According to Maribel and Aristides to make a simple traditionally served Arepa one needs a Venezuelan stew called Pabellón, black beans, fried plantains, arepas, and cojita cheese. I had a lot of cooking ahead of me. I got the boneless chuck roast cooking similar to how I would cook pork for carnitas. Browned roast, then add onion, celery, salt, pepper and enough water to cover everything. I simmered it for 2 hours. While this was simmering I got the presoaked black beans (the reason I went to the store the night before wanted to soak the beans) to cooking with a little browned salt pork and onions. They too simmered for 2 hours.

Once the beef was cooked and shredded, with dog and my daughter hanging around for bites, I could do the final cooking. I followed the Pabellón recipe I found on line with a few changes from the notes from Maribel and Aristides I got off of the Throwdown show. The changes I used, a 3 pound boneless chuck roast, red AND green peppers, 1 can of tomato paste instead of tomatoes and 1 1/2 tsp of ground cumin. I needed about 3 cups of my broth from cooking the meat to moisten it up just right. I did make one mistake in that the peppers and onions should have been finely chopped. My kids would have preferred it from an aesthetic point of view (you know kids it may taste good, but doesn't look good). It looked great to my husband and I and it didn't effect the taste at all. It was SO good. I'll definitely be making this stew again.

After the stew was made I started frying the plantains and frying the arepas (corncakes). Plantains were pretty straight forward. I sliced them like the gals said on throwdown. I must say that the plantains scared me a little. I've never tried them before. I read that you want to get one that is yellow with black speckles or completely black for maximum sweetness. Completely black at the store wasn't an option. Once peeled they are much firmer than a regular banana and had an odd peach hue. After frying I tried one. They have sort of a fried sweet potato flavor and texture if you've ever had tempura sweet potato you'll know exactly what they are like.
The arepas I followed the recipe . Later that day I tried making the arepas the way the Maribel and Aristides had said. The difference being the online recipe used boiling water. It took a very long time for it to cool, so I could shape the arepas for cooking. The gals used lukewarm water and the dough turned out very soft and difficult to shape. I'll need to work on them to maybe find a happy medium between boiling water and lukewarm water. The one exception to the recipe is I only fried them on the griddle as the arepa gals said. The recipe asked them to be baked also.
OK I've got Pabellón, cooked black beans, fried plantain, arepas and grated cojita cheese. Now to assemble. I split the arepa all the way through layered on 2 fried plantain slices, a spoonful of Pabellón, a spoonful of black beans and then a sprinkle of cheese. I then leaned over the plate and took a big bite. WOW it was good and very messy. Maribel and Aristides from the throwdown have their own arepa restaurant in New York and they said people ask for forks. They really raised their noses at this notion as they are to be eaten with one's hands. I am a utensil person. I wanted a fork SO badly, but I didn't want these ladies snickering at me for using a fork. I kept adjusting my grip and the corncake until all was gone. I found out that one recipe of corncakes wasn't enough. It made 8. That's why I made 2 recipes with 2 different methods. I had to make another batch they were SO good.

I found the "What's 4 Eats: International Recipes & Cooking Around the World" website to be a great reference for my adventure into the world of deliciousness. I've placed links all above for the recipes I used. Once everything was cooked it was a very fast and easy meal. We had leftovers for lunch and it seemed even better the 2nd and 3rd day. Then it was all gone. I think I'd like to make this again and have family over. It would be a fun meal to share.


Tammy said...

That looks super yummy! Wish I lived closer!!! lol


CathyR said...

Looks really yummy. You are a far more adventurous cook than I am.

Scraplin said...

wow you certainly challenged yourself to a great dish! That looks awesome. I wish my family would be adventurous in tasting. If I tried to make that they would probably turn green just looking at
REally, it looks great and glad you enjoyed it so much!

wendy said...

Wow! I just watched this episode of throwdown last night and I was online looking for recipes to make these arepas. Thanks so much for your blog, you have done the research for me!!! I am making them tonight!!

Crockpot Lady said...


I am so excited to see this! We have watched that Arepas throwdown a few times---twice this weekend, in fact, while folding laundry.
I want to make the filling! I have cornmeal in the house, too.

ooh! thank you so much for testing it out.

Anonymous said...

also thanks so much! i couldn't find the girls recipe on the show website and your site came up in a search. very helpfull!!! thanks for taking your time to put all this up:)