Arepas with Guasacaca

Arepas may be the best dish I’d never heard of.

Arepas (ah-RAY-pahs) are half-inch thick corn cakes that are an absolute staple of Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine, their origins dating back to the original Indian inhabitants of the region.

Arepas are made from masarepa flour, sometimes called arepa harina.  Unlike cornmeal, which is made from uncooked, ground corn, masarepa flour is made from precooked (preconcida) ground corn.  As a result, you cannot use simple cornmeal to make arepas; you must use masarepa flour.  I used Goya-brand yellow masarepa flour that I found at a Hispanic grocery store.   Since then, though, I found that even the local Kroger carries PAN-brand white masarepa flour in its international section.

The beauty of arepas lies in their simplicity and adaptability.  Arepas are easily prepared.  Simply mix together flour, water, a little salt, and a little oil, and the dough is ready.  The additional cheese and herbs were at my behest; traditional arepas are often just the combination of the four staple ingredients.

Once the dough has sat for a few minutes, the patties are shaped and placed in a lightly oiled, hot, cast-iron skillet (or a “budare”).  It’s typical to then bake the arepas at a very low temperature.  They are not actually fried, so you should only apply a thin layer of oil to the pan.

Once the arepas have been cooked, the possibilities are endless.  The most famous arepa may be the Reina Pepiada (the voluptuous queen), served with chicken and avocado.  But there are other favorites as well.  The Dominó is served with salty white cheese, fried plantains, and black beans.  The Guayanesa is served with cheese from the Guayana region of Venezuela.  The Perico (parrot) is served with scrambled eggs, chopped tomatoes, and onion.   And for the unadventurous, there’s even the Viuda (widow), an empty arepa.

Though nothing is sadder than an empty arepa.  For that reason, I stuffed mine with avocados, manchego cheese, black beans, and a guasacaca (recipe below).  Of course, these are only suggestions, and the arepas found in Miami or Houston have taken on an Americanized feel, served with butter, honey, or jam.

But no matter how you prepare them or what you put in them, these arepas will have you saying “¡me encantan!”

Arepas with guasacaca

Inspired by Crescent Dragonwagon’s The Cornbread Gospels.

PREP TIME: 2 minutes
DOWN TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 25 minutes
YIELD: 12 Arepas

WHAT TO GRAB:
AREPAS
2 cups masarepa flour (I used Goya-brand yellow flour)
3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup ricotta cheese (optional)
2 teaspoons minced rosemary (optional)
2 teaspoons minced Italian parsley (optional)

GUASACACA:
1 onion, diced
2-3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and cored
2 tablespoons Italian parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 avocados
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

HOW YOU DO IT:

1.  To make the guasacaca, place the onion, vinegar, garlic, jalapeño, and parsley in a blender or food processor.  You can also use an immersion blender.  Purée the ingredients until smooth.  Add the olive oil and avocados, and pulse until the avocado and oil are just incorporated.  If you can, allow an hour for the ingredients to come together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the masarepa flour, water, salt, oil, ricotta, rosemary, and parsley.  Gently mix all the ingredients together.  Allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes, and 20 minutes if possible.

3.  Heat a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Using your hands, make sure the dough is smooth, squeezing out any lumps.  With your hands, form the dough into patties that are 1/2-inch thick, and 4-5 inches in diameter.  The patties should have smooth surfaces and be roughly the same size.

4.  Cook the patties in the skillet until each side is lightly golden, about 5 minutes on each side.  Once done, finish cooking the arepas in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes.

5.  Run a knife along the middle of the arepas to create a pocket.  Stuff the arepas with guasacaca, manchego cheese, black beans, and/or your choice of accompaniment!

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9 responses to “Arepas with Guasacaca

  1. I LOVE arepas! My boyfriend is Venezuelan, so I was introduced to arepas when we started dating and I’ve made them with him on a number of occasions. I was surprised by your instructions on cooking them since they differ from my experience making them with my boyfriend and other Venezuelans—maybe your way is more of a Columbian method? The Venezuelans either deep fry the arepas in a few inches of oil or bake them. Most home cooks actually use an which bakes them essentially in a George Forman-like appliance.* If you like arepas and make them a fair amount, it’s a handy thing to have.

    Also, most people eat them sliced open like a pita and stuffed with the filling—instead of slicing them all the way open. It keeps the filling inside easier.

    On a side note, I LOVE this blog. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes I’ve tried quite a few of them!

  2. my stomach is crying out for these!! they look so delicious! i had arepas at a ny street fair, but these look even BETTER! 🙂

  3. Christine,
    Thank you so much for the kind words! And thank you for the added information about arepas. I found out what I could about these cakes from one of my cookbooks and a few online articles — but nothing beats a first-hand account. I especially love the suggestion about only partially slicing them!

  4. Am I recalling incorrectly, or did you try (without success?) to buy masarepa flour at the Latino grocery store on Cherokee Street in St. Louis? Or was it in Cincy?

    In any event, the finished product looks delicious, and I definitely would like to make these with you sometime! I think the version with plantains sounds especially tasty. Also, I really like the macro lens action!!

    P.S. I spy Nutella on your counter.

  5. You are correctly remembering that I expressed some frustration with the supermercado on Cherokee Street. I go in to the store, approach the cashier, and ask him “tiene usted masarepa flor?” He looks at me quizically – fair enough – and responds “no, no tenemos.” Positive that they do indeed carry the product, I eventually find it on my own, and then proceed to check out at his register. When he sees the flour, he goes “ah, masarepa flor!” Yes – masarepa flor – what I asked about!!
    In fairness, it seems that masarepa flour is most often called “arepa harina” or “flor precocida.” But still!

  6. Hooray for arepas! Like the first commenter, I learned about them from a Venezuelan family who favors deep frying. My family often eats them just like sandwich bread- with deli meat, cheese, avocado, mayo, tomatoes, etc. I can’t wait to try the guasacaca recipe. Thanks!

  7. Thanks so much for this recipe! I had forgotten all about arepas until I saw it. I was introduced to them by a little South American restaurant, long since closed, in Aptos, CA. I had never had them before that nor had them since. Looking forward to trying this out!

  8. Just to add to this post:

    Arepas traditionally do not include ricotta, parsely and rosemary. I know these ingredients are listed as optional, but they are not part of Venezuelan cuisine. The arepas should not have these flavors included because then these ingredients do not complement the flavor of the fillings, such as the carne mechada, pollo mechado, cazon, Guayanes cheese, black beans, plantains, etc.

    As for the “George Foreman grill” type of appliance, you are referring to a Tosty Arepa, which is an electric arepa maker. It looks like a sandwich press, and has circular cut outs in which to place the dough, which then get flattened into the arepas. Because the arepas are cooked on both sides with this appliance, it cuts down cooking time. However, some people prefer cooking the arepas on the traditional iron griddle.

    Here is where you could view the Tosty Arepa:
    http://www.ostervenezuela.com/sec_productos/product.aspx?categoryId=11

    Happy eating!

  9. María Alejandra Martínez Barrios

    kkkkk! this is not arepa! never in the life! this is other thing! wtf?

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