The arepas They are one of the most popular dishes of Latin American cuisine, especially in Venezuela and Colombia, countries that dispute their origin. Although there are some variations, the basic arepa consists of a kind of cake or pancake cornmeal and water It supports numerous fillings.
Spread today to other countries, with different recipes and even with other flours, the arepas belong to the most traditional recipe book of the indigenous legacy It goes back long before the arrival of the conquerors to America. Corn was a staple food and today arepas are almost a symbol of Latin cuisine, typical in street stalls and homes, very simple to prepare and tremendously versatile.
What exactly are arepas?
The term arepa It is collected by the SAR and presents two definitions, distinguishing between the arepa of Venezuela, Colombia and the Antilles, of the Cuban:
- F. Ant., Col. and Ven. A kind of circular bread, made with corn softened over low heat and then ground, or with precooked cornmeal, which is cooked on a budare or an iron.
- F. Cuba. Fine wheat flour, sugar, vanilla and milk cake, fried, eaten hot with syrup or syrup.
Variations apart, essentially an arepa is a flat round dough, looking like a thick pancake, cooked on the grill, fried or baked, that can be eaten open with different fillings or using it as a base to top it with the ingredients, like Mexican toast.
The most popular way to take arepas is to prepare them grilled or grilled and stuffed with meat, vegetables, salad, cheese, beans or different sauces. They can also be used without fillings, as an accompaniment to stews and soups, as bread. They are typical of breakfast but because of their versatility they are also consumed throughout the day, especially at dinner time at home.
Origin and varieties
As I said at the beginning, the exact origin of the arepas is not clear and is usually a matter of discussion between Venezuelans and Colombians. Actually it is very difficult to locate the precise birth of such an old dish and with such humble roots, it probably goes back many centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Americas.
What the researchers do agree is that the most primitive version of the arepa is intimately linked to the cultivation of corn, a basic cereal of the indigenous population of which the first records date from about 3,000 years ago.
The SAR already includes in its definition that arepa comes from erepa, which meant 'corn' in the language of the Cumagotos, a Caribbean ethnicity already disappeared. However, other sources suggest that the term was already used long before in other regions of the continent.
In the same way that happens with typical Spanish or European dishes, it seems absurd to want to grant an exact nationality to the arepas, when their origin is much older than the formation of countries with their current borders. What is undeniable are its indigenous roots and its crucial role in the feeding of the American population for many centuries
Over time, arepas recipes evolved, appearing specialties in different places, thus distinguishing Venezuelans from Colombians, as well with notable variations within each country. There are also arepas in other Latin countries such as Panama or Cuba - where they tend to be smaller and shaped like salty pancakes, and have even reached the Canary Islands.
There are about twenty different arepas in Venezuela and more than fifty varieties identified only in Colombia. Y not only do they change as far as the filling; There are arepas that include egg in the dough, others are made with cassava or by mixing the corn with cooked potato. The type of corn and its treatment also multiplies the range of regional arepas.
The Colombian arepas they usually incorporate a fatty ingredient in the dough mixture, such as butter or oil, and are more frequent in their simple format, flatter and unfilled. In the style of African or Indian flatbreads, they are a simple accompaniment to take with the meals of the day, to “push” or dip in sauces and stews. Although there are also stuffed, or topped with cheese.
Yes alright in Venezuela they probably also started being simple and flatter, today the traditional thing is to serve them open and stuffed. They accept practically any ingredient to the local or personal taste: shredded meat, roasted or cooked chicken, salad, avocado, cheese, beans, vegetables, egg, mayonnaise, ripe fried plantain, fish and seafood, sauces, etc.
They can also be done grilled or on a grill, in the oven, fried or combining techniques. There are also special electrical appliances for cooking them today, in the style of waffles. Although many families continue to make their own dough preparing corn in a completely handmade way, today the easiest thing is to use the precooked flour format.Live to the Palate A gastronomic journey around the world through the most representative dishes of street food
How to prepare the basic mass of the arepas
Making arepas at home is very easy thanks precisely to the commercial format of special white precooked cornmeal. In Spain it is without problems in almost any supermarket, usually of the Venezuelan brand P.A.N. There are also today white label versions - such as the Mercadona Estate - or other manufacturers.
It is important do not confuse this flour prepared with cornstarch, polenta or corn grits. Nor can we use it as the equivalent of simple, untreated cornmeal, which we would use for other bakery or pastry preparations. For the arepas, precooked corn flour is used, and generally of the white variety.
The easiest is to follow the manufacturer's instructions, although with experience you can adjust the recipe by eye to square it to our liking. Depending on the water or the environment we may need more or less moisture to handle the dough easily. They can also be made with milk instead of water. The steps are very simple:
- Arrange the precooked cornmeal in a medium bowl.
- Add salt and mix well.
- Form a hole in the center and add the water little by little.
- Mix as water is added, allowing it to absorb.
- Work the dough until the flour has absorbed all the water, about 2-3 minutes.
- Cover and let stand 5-10 minutes.
- Divide into portions the size of 1 large egg or to taste, form balls and flatten with your hands to obtain thick discs or pancakes, about 10-12 cm in diameter.
- Cook the grilled arepas for about 5 minutes on each side.
- Serve hot with the filling to taste.
The dough has to be malleable, soft but not sticky by touching her At first it may seem that there is too much water, but the flour absorbs it as it mixes. You can correct the point by adding more water or flour, but always very little by little.
The arepas can be smaller or larger, although it is not recommended to make them too wide as they will be more difficult to fill without breaking them. If you do not want to fill, it is better to make them smaller.
Sometimes it is hard to get the point inside the dough; A good trick is to grill them first and finish baking in the oven at 180 ° C, watching that they do not burn. They are richer freshly made, but they can be stored individually wrapped in the refrigerator to take them the next day, passing them by the iron back and forth.
Some variations of the basic dough include coconut, panela, vegetable purees, egg, oil or butter, cheese, other flours - also combining wheat with corn or using only wheat -, cooked rice, oatmeal, or fried pork rinds. As well they can be bathed in egg to fry them, and there are sweet versions, usually with anise.Live to the Palate Patacón or fried banana with pineapple: recipe of Colombian souvenirs
The best fillings for arepas
The arepas are a bit of a blank canvas for customize to taste and according to the occasion, we have already said that they admit all kinds of fillings. We can think of them as a kind of naan bread or Mexican tortillas, which lend themselves to riding fajitas, tacos and quesadillas of all kinds.
Being a drier and less elastic dough - corn has no gluten - it is advisable to choose juicy fillings, with moderation so as not to cause overflows and avoid chaos when eating them, always with your hands. When serving them we can fill them directly or arrange a variety of ingredients on the table so that each diner mounts the arepas to their liking.
exist so popular fillings that have their own name, especially in Venezuela, although there is always the personal touch of the cook or diner and the regional peculiarities. These are some of the best fillings for arepas:
- Pepiada Queen: It consists of a kind of salad of shredded chicken, onion, avocado and mayonnaise. Here you have a recipe to try at home.
- Siphine: variant of the previous one adding yellow cheese.
- Wig: well seasoned beef roast combined with thick grated cheese.
- Rumble: with pork -pernil- roasted and cheese.
- Parakeet eggs: scrambled eggs with onion, tomato and different herbs or spices.
- Pavilion: with meatloaf, black beans -carotas- and fried plantain-slices-, usually also with white cheese.
- Llanera: with veal in strips, tomato, avocado and white cheese.
- Domino: black beans or beans and grated white cheese.
- Break mattress: with varied seafood, optionally also fish, and different vegetables.
- Meatloaf: Chicken, pork or beef, alone or with sauces and / or cheese.
- Refried beans: with a tomato, onion and pepper base.
- Ham and cheese: cooked, roasted or York, with a melting cheese like mozzarella or gouda, you can also add egg.
- Salad: from the simplest version with green leaves, onion and tomato, to any variation that comes to mind.
- Avocado or guacamole, also combined with tomato, onion, cilantro, fresh cheese, etc.
- Sausages and pork.
- Vegetables roasted or grilled, alone or with cheese.
- Patacón or fried plantain, or slices of ripe fried plantain, alone or with cheese.
- Tuna or bonito, with mayonnaise or salad, or other canned seafood.
- Prawns, prawns and other seafood cooked or grilled.
- Eggs: fried, cooked, poached, scrambled ...
- Smoked salmon and cheese.
Photos | iStock.com - Eddy Milfort