DULUTH — Popcorn, tortilla chips, tacos, enchiladas, polenta, quesadillas, hoe cakes, corn waffles, cornbread … the list goes on. What do they have in common? They’re based on the grain of the Americas — corn, also known as maize.
Another favorite that I’ve learned to love lately is “arepas,” a Venezuelan bread. The difference is that arepas are made with a specially treated cornmeal. I thought I could use masa harina — easily available in local supermarkets — but no; it doesn’t work. It has to be the special corn flour that is cooked, dried and ground.
The most easily recognizable kind to buy is labeled “Pan.” Harina Pan is used to make the corn flour dough also known as "masarepa." Harina Pan is made in two varieties, from white and yellow corn. Both work well either alone or combined. You can find it on the Internet or in dedicated Hispanic grocery stores.
Arepas are quick to make and require just a few ingredients: the special flour, a bit of oil and salt plus water. Venezuelan cooks mix them by hand-measuring warm water and salt into a bowl, then kneading in the flour, squashing out all the lumps and then shaping patties using a fist-sized ball of dough. From start to serving, they take less than half an hour to make and are delicious as sandwich or hamburger buns or just split and buttered.
So here I am giving the recipe for arepas — and if you have to order the flour, I’m offering a delicious recipe for cornmeal waffles that you can enjoy while you wait for the flour.
A friend who is from Venezuela treats my husband and me to arepas. He makes them so quickly! We’ve served them stuffed with lettuce and tomato as well as with a grilled hamburger patty. The process is really simple.
1 to 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups masarepa or areparina Pan (not cornmeal or masa harina)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a skillet over medium heat and drizzle with a bit of oil.
Measure 2 cups of warm water into a bowl and stir in the salt until it is dissolved. Stir in the masarepa flour until it is smooth. You should knead it in the bowl with your hands to get rid of any small lumps. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Scoop out portions the size of small baseballs (you will get 6 large or about 8 small portions) and shape them into smooth balls between your hands. If they crack on the edges, add a little more water. Flatten the balls into smooth discs about ½-inch thick and brown them for 2 minutes on each side in the skillet. Transfer them to a cookie sheet and bake them for about 15 minutes until they puff up a little. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before you split them, pita-style.
The arepas are served as a bread, buttered, or stuffed with sandwich ingredients.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Crunchy Cornmeal Waffles
I love these waffles used as a base for savory toppings. Try leftover pulled pork or chicken or lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese. They're perfect to try while you wait for the delivery of your masarepa flour
1½ cups all purpose flour
1¼ cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs, separated
Shredded cheddar cheese
Avocados, peeled and sliced
Spicy greens (lettuce, arugula, cilantro)
Preheat a waffle iron.
In a bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. In another bowl mix the milk, oil and egg yolks and stir into dry ingredients. Whip the egg whites and fold into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the waffle iron and cook until browned and crispy. Serve immediately topped with the cheddar cheese, avocados and greens. Makes 4 servings.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.