February 24, 2012
When I was backpacking in Europe over winter break, I crashed with friends and friends of friends to save money. By chance I stayed with a Columbian guy named Fernando in Amsterdam, and the night I arrived he taught me how to make arepas from scratch.
There was no real measuring involved, just four ingredients: corn/masa flour, butter, salt, and hot water. And a lot of kneading. I enjoyed the experience a lot, so for Latin Quarter specials I naturally thought I would try again, this time on my own.
Without any native Columbian experience I consulted some recipes online for measurements, and settled on: roughly 2 cups masa/corn flour, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 big pinches of salt, and 2 cups hot water. Mixed everything together and kneaded the dough hard, then pinched off dollops and patted them flat between the palms, then rounded the edges. The dough rounds were then placed on a flat top griddle, flipped every few minutes until both sides were browned. I was really afraid that I made the dough wrong, since the rounds felt very fragile, like they would break apart. Thank goodness it worked out.
For the filling I used leftover chorizo, shredded chicken breast, mozzarella and black beans. Heated/melted everything together.
For a sauce I wanted to make chimichurri, because the last time I had chimichurri sauce it was so delicious I knew I had to make it as soon as I got a chance.
I made a modified version of this recipe: I used equal parts parsley and cilantro (about a fistful of each), and also added some dried oregano and sugar. I also made the sauce an emulsified one (dripped in vinegar with all of the rest of the ingredients in the food processor spinning). The sauce came out tasting stronger (in the mustard sense of strong) than I remembered - maybe it had to do with the emulsion, or maybe just because it wasn't accompanied by a well-marbled steak. I had Chef Morse taste it though, and he gave the OK, which was a huge relief.
To serve, I cut each arepa open, coated the insides with chimichurri sauce, then stuffed it with filling and garnished with diced tomatoes. The combination worked really well together. My only complaint was that the arepas were a lot thinner then they should have been - ideally the outside would be crispy and insides soft. Mine were so thin they didn't have an inside, they were just like crispy flats.
In the end I sold out of all the arepas I made. There was one guy who ordered two at once, and I remember seeing him sitting down to eat them. It was a strange and kind of exciting feeling, to watch someone buy and enjoy something you made. Definitely different than feeding someone you know, but a satisfying feeling nonetheless.