Venezuelan Stuffed Arepas

My husband was the one who first introduced me to arepas–white corn cakes popular in Colombia and Venezuela. They are salty and mild, with a crispy exterior, and chewy, tender interior. They are a gluten-free treat. Josh cooked them for me in the tiny galley kitchen of his studio apartment. Sprinkled with soy cheese and slathered with margarine, they were a real treat. Josh makes his arepas Colombian-style, in keeping with his family tradition; they are thin and served as a side dish. In this recipe, I follow the Venezuelan template, making them thicker, so they can be split in half and stuffed. Unassuming arepas turn into a uniquely satisfying main dish once they are filled with zesty zucchini salsa and black beans.

 

This is another recipe that took me a few tries to get it right, so I’ll share my hard-won arepa making secrets here. My first attempt resulted in a crumbly mess of dough. The arepas cracked as I shaped them and refused to form coherent disks. Josh came home just as I was about to ditch the batter and give up on the whole enterprise. He rescued the operation, patiently coaxing the impossible batter into little cakes and putting them on the stove.  After a few further attempts, and some tips from my arepa expert, I have finally uncovered a foolproof recipe.

Don’t be intimidated–arepa making is really very simple once the technique is clarified. I learned that the “lukewarm water” called for on the back of the cornmeal bag really meant “piping hot water”. The second trick is to let the dough stand for 10 minutes before trying to shape it. If you use these two tips, your arepas should come out as beautiful, even, uncracked little cakes on the first attempt. No rescue operation necessary.

Arepas require a special kind of cornmeal. This is not the same product as the masa harina cornmeal sold to make tortillas.  The package of arepa cornmeal should be labelled “[Refined] Pre-Cooked Corn Meal” or “harina de maiz [refinada] precocida.” The word “precooked” is the key; the word “refined” may or may not be in there. It is sometimes (but not always) called “masarepa,” so you may see that on the packaging. On the back of the bag, there will likely be a recipe for arepas, and/or it should say somewhere on it that it is suitable for making arepas. Depending on your neighborhood, you may find it at your regular grocery store (as I did) or you may need to visit a specialty Hispanic grocer. You can also order online.

Is this getting way too complicated? Do the hispanic groceries in your local market consist only of Old El Paso taco shells and jars of Tostitos salsa? Don’t fret. There is still a fantastic, easy recipe here for homemade zucchini salsa verde and black bean filling. The salsa is tangy, zesty and a refreshing way to use up still abundant summer squash. Roll it up in a couple soft corn tortillas and you will have yourself a wonderful taco.

In the interest of saving the best for last, I have one more thing to share: this dinner can be on the table in 30 minutes. Yup, all three components will come together in no time. It really is a perfect weeknight meal.

Venezuelan Stuffed Arepas

2 cups water, microwaved 60 seconds until quite hot
1 tsp salt
2 cups precooked white cornmeal for arepa making (see explanation above)
1 batch zucchini salsa verde, recipe below
1 batch black bean filling, recipe below

1. Pour the very hot water into a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the salt. Add the cornmeal gradually, in a small steady stream, whisking thoroughly as you go. Once all the cornmeal is added, knead the batter by hand for 1 minute. It will not be elastic like a wheat-based dough, but it should be smooth and relatively firm. Cover the bowl with a towel, and set the dough aside to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Pat the arepa dough out into small disks, about 4 to 5″ in diameter and 1/2 to 3/4″ thick. Heat a lightly greased skillet to medium heat. Pan fry a few arepas at a time, for 8-10 minutes on each side, or until the arepas are golden and flecked with a few darker brown spots.
3. Carefully slice the arepas in half, using a serrated knife, and spoon in the salsa and black bean. Eat it like a sandwich, while it is hot! It is best to enjoy these right away, but if you need to store them for later, keep the arepas and filling separately, and stuff them when you are ready to consume.

Zucchini Salsa Verde
Adapted from Bon Appetit

10 oz zucchini (about 2 medium zucchinis), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup onion, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
1-2 jalapenos, seeded

Blot cilantro and zucchini with a towel until dry so that the salsa does not become overly watery. Add all ingredients to a food processor, and blend until mostly smooth.

Black Bean Filling

1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
scant 1 tsp salt

Stir together filling ingredients. Warm in the microwave just before stuffing the arepas.

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12 thoughts on “Venezuelan Stuffed Arepas

  1. Wow, these look good. Reminded me of the sopes I made a while back which are the same cakes but cooked with beans and cheese inside the corn cake. Yum!

    • Yeah, it’s definitely delicious with EB. Another favorite around here is arepas with tofutti cream cheese. Leftover arepas make a great snack, reheated in the toaster oven. :)

  2. I love Arepas! and I wanted to said that I was very excited when I came across your Arepas picture at tastespotting.com. However I wanted to share my pictures and documentation about Arepas with you, also, I am not sure if you are vegetarian (I am not), but in case you are you should try the avocado recipe that I have with the Arepas – You will love it!

    Check out my Arepas pics and recipe here:

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=104401&id=655697995&l=042d8f6ab5

    Good luck and I am going to try your zucchini salsa verde with Arepas, tomorrow!.

    Best!

  3. Well… my brother was able to get me some P.A.N. masarepa, and I was very excited to make these. And they did turn out fine, but mine tasted like…the farina my mother used to make me for breakfast. I made mine on a griddle, but I have since seen some other recipes that say to griddle them first and then bake. Not ever having had one in a restaurant, I’m not sure what I should be looking for. Fresh corn tortillas are one of my absolute favorite foods, so that is kind of my frame of reference here. OK then, thanks!

    • Hi Peggasus,
      Thanks for the feedback. Arepas can be made in any of three ways:

      1) Pan-fried, as written in the recipe above. (For another example, see this recipe in Cookie. Or for a deep-fried version see this Washington Post version).

      2) Grilled: just follow the same instructions above, but put them on a grill when you are ready to cook them. This is perfect if you are doing a Latin-themed barbecue!

      3) Baked, or first pan-fried then baked, as in these instructions . In this case, you usually would leave the arepas on the frying pan for a shorter period of time (~5 minutes each side, instead of ~10 minutes each side), and then finish them in the oven.

      All three techniques are acceptable–it is just a matter of personal preference. My arepas, when pan-fried, come out with a crisp, crunchy crust, and a softer, creamier interior. The overall texture of the cake is firm and sturdy.

      Last note–these have a very different texture and somewhat different flavor than corn tortillas. Made any of these ways, I think you will find that the flavor is very mild. That is why they are commonly stuffed or served alongside other zestier flavorful foods. I hope you keep experimenting and find the arepa recipe that you enjoy most!

  4. u should definitely buy a toaster for them :) quicker, bigger and better, i never liked them grilled they come out too thin with the toaster they’re like..the size of your fist and are better to fill. i grew up with those things and i’ve NEVER seen a recipe written lol, i just add water, salt, oil and as much flour as i need and to the toaster they go :D

  5. Great article. I lived for 15 years in Venezuela and have made a lot of vegetarian arepas (something Venezuelans rarely eat!) but I love the recipes you have here!

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