Everyone knows the proverb that says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and I am sure that a lot of people put in a little extra effort doing something a little extra special for the loves in their lives. I am a proponent of celebrating all of the other days that are as perfectly and personally significant even though they may not be nationally important. Other girls want chocolates, or flowers, but not me. I don’t think anything is better than a partner who can clean up the mess I made in the kitchen and who folds the laundry. Talk about swooning. And to celebrate these moments, I often make him little corn meal delights that are just a swoon worthy: arepas.
There are a few different ways that arepas can be prepared. They can be boiled, baked or fried to a golden crisp. Being half Venezuelan, it is really hard to choose a favorite, but I must say that my go-to form is baked. Baking gives the arepa a crust that offers a nice crunch while still preserving the fluffy interior, and as a daily addition to a meal, or as a snack, it fits perfectly into my increasingly health conscious.
I don’t recall the first time that I had an arepa, but I can recount the first time I made arepas on my own. I was a first year at university, missing home. My friends and I were longing for the home cooked meals we realized we had taken for granted and, living in a city with endless grease-dripping, sleep-inducing, belly-splitting meals, we wanted to feast on something healthy. My mom had left a bag of P.A.N. corn meal on top of my microwave to inspire me to make some arepas, and inspire me she did.
This adventure began with me going up to the fourth floor kitchen in my dorm with some pans, a bag of P.A.N., a bowl, some eggs, cheese and other omelet fixins. After I set everything up, I called my mom, and step-by-step, she walked me through making my first arepas. My dough was a little too hard, my pan was a little too hot, and the oven temperature was a little too high, but I made them. After making perico, Venezuelan scrambled eggs with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and peppers, my arepas were ready to be served. I called up my then-boyfriend, Lee, and offered him an arepa tipo perico, an arepa overflowing with the scrambled eggs, and he ate to his heart’s content.
Seven years later, that boyfriend is a partner, and we happily live in a condo with our toy schnauzer puppy Napoleon, (yes, he does have the complex and no, his commands aren’t in French, they are in Spanish and Portuguese!). He still can’t say no to an arepa, especially one stuffed with pollo picante. They are irresistible, and a perfect recipe to share with the little ones as well. Arepas are kid-friendly in preparation and most definitely in consumption with extra cheese! For babies and toddlers give them the taste of the corazon, or heart, of the arepa, that is soft, fluffy, tasty and easy on a baby belly.
I now leave you with a recipe for baked arepas filled with spicy chicken, so you can forward the love, Venezuelan style. Remember Valentine’s Day is a special day, but so are all of the other days you spend with your loves so don’t forget to share an arepa, full of heart and spicy goodness, with your special someone.
Serves you and someone special.
1 1/2 cups of P.A.N., pre-cooked white corn meal
2 cups of warm water
½ teaspoon of salt
For added flavor
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
¼ cup shredded cheese of choice
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl stir to combine water and salt.
2. Continue stirring and slowly add cornmeal and remaining flavor ingredients.
3. Continue stirring, then kneading, for about 3 minutes until dough is soft and smooth. Form into desired shapes with thickness no greater than ½ inch.
4. Place an arepa on a medium heat pan.
Do not crowd the arepas. Make them smaller to fit in your pan or have more than one pan on the stove for this step if making many arepas.
5. Flip when a slight golden crust as formed on the underside of arepa. Cook for an additional 3 minutes, until similar crust as formed on other side.
6. Transfer arepas to wire rack of oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
7. Tap arepas. If they sound hollow they are ready for consumption. Otherwise leave the arepas in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.
8. Remove arepas, slice in half like a pita and stuff with your favorite fillings, like pollo picante!
Pollo Picante (Spicy Chicken)
2 chicken breasts
1 green, red or yellow sweet pepper cut into strips
½ medium onion
1 TB garlic
1 tsp olive oil
½ – 1 ½ tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
½ cup red wine
Salt to taste
1. Add olive oil to pan, between medium and medium high setting. Follow with garlic and onion. Cook until onion is translucent.
2. Add chicken breast. Add pepper strips and remaining spices to chicken. When the chicken has caramelized flip to remaining side.
3. Add half of the wine to the pan. When all of the liquid has evaporated add remaining wine, lower heat to the lowest setting and cover. Allow to cook for 5 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked.
4. Put chicken breast, vegetables and pan drippings in a bowl. Using two forks pull the breasts apart until they resemble large shreds.
5. Cup open warm arepas, stuff with pollo picante and serve.
Enjoy your arepas!