Latin Twist: Another Fun Snack, the Arepa, a Colombian (or Venezuelan!) Corn Cake

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Feeling peckish? How ‘bout trying a snack with a Latin twist!

 

When I get home from school—and I’m teaching a night class that ends at 9:30 pm—(after working all day!) I’m hungry, thirsty, and really just want to have a quick bite and sip and head to bed soon after.

So it’s nights like these that lead me to another favorite snack:

the arepa (ah RAY pah). This Colombian (and yes! Venezuelan!) corncake is comforting and tasty—not to mention versatile. Here I’m sharing a recipe from the book I coauthored with Chef Rafael Palomino, the man credited with bringing arepas into my world (and my family’s, too!). But here, my friends, I’m also giving away a secret: sometimes, I buy arepas…and heat ‘em up, melt cheese on top, sprinkle fresh corn and tomatoes, add a bit of basil, pour myself a glass of wine, and wow… what a snack….

 

Local friends, arepas can be found in Viva Grande in New Rochelle, and in most Latin-style markets—or large supermarkets (in the refrigerator). Again—as always—if you have the time, or can make the time, I encourage you to make them!

Let’s get back to homemade…

What is wonderful about making them (ah, just took a bite of one so I could remind myself about how enamored I am with these treats!) is that they’re pillowy soft in the middle, and perfectly toasted brown crunch outside. I could eat them completely on their own, but they’re great with a bit of salsa  (like the mango one I’ve mentioned!) melted cheese, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil—and so much more. You can also very the interior ingredients. Not unlike their tortilla cousins, the arepa offers you a whole bunch of options—ranging from snack, appetizer, to lunch treat. You can also make them in different sizes. Ah, once again I have to say, the sky is the limit!

 

Grilled Arepas with Mexican Queso Blanco (or Farmer’s Cheese)

Adapted from Latin Grill, by Rafael Palomino with Arlen Gargagliano, ©2010

(Beautiful photos—like this one—by Dan Goldberg)  

Serves 4

1 cup fresh corn kernels

3/4 cup heated chicken stock or water

1 cup instant cornmeal (harina precocida—available in Latin markets and large supermarkets)

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon sour cream

1 ounce Manchego cheese, grated

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 cup Mexican queso blanco (available in Viva Grande, Latin Markets, and large supermarkets) or farmer’s cheese

 

Prepare the arepas: In a blender, process the corn kernels and chicken stock until smooth. Pour the cornmeal into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and sour cream. Pour in the chicken stock and corn mixture while stirring with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the grated cheese. Form mixture into a ball. Then separate into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten into a pancake about ¼-inch thick and 2 inches in diameter (but rub your fingers around the edge so that it maintains its thickness). At this point you can cover the arepas with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate them for up to 1 day before grilling.

 

Light a fire in a charcoal or gas grill. Brush the arepas lightly with the melted butter (for flavor and to prevent sticking). Grill the arepas until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. They should be toasted on the outside, but soft in the middle. Let cool to room temperature, top with a spread of the farmer’s cheese, and serve immediately.

 

 

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About Author

Maybe it was the dinner parties my mom always threw—or the hours I spent prepping and cooking alongside her (and then on my own!). Or maybe it was array of fabulous dishes that my family sampled in New York City’s richly diverse restaurants, but I’ve loved creating, savoring, and sharing food for as long as I can remember. Living in Spain, and later in Peru, also greatly influenced my life. These years abroad taught me Spanish—and about living in different countries--but also introduced me to teaching English as a second language, which I’ve done—mostly in the US-- for the past 20-plus (yikes!) years. I’ve authored two cocktail/tapas books, Mambo Mixers and Calypso Coolers, coauthored more than 15 others (mostly food related!), and raised two children. Now I'm chef and owner of my own restaurant, Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, New York. My message is the same, whether I'm teaching, writing, running the restaurant or being a regular guest on the Spanish-language network Telemundo (on the morning show, Buenos Días Nueva York!). My belief in food—and the power of food—is far reaching, and is married with another one: the power of stories. I’m sure that if we could all sit down and have meals together, sharing both tastes and tales, we’d have peace on earth. Enjoy!

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