A kind of food sold by vendors at the county fair in Miami. It's two thick corn (maize) pancakes with a filling of provolone, which melts together to make a sort of grilled cheese sandwich thingy. Very good stuff. The name is Spanish, so you say it "ah-REH-pah".

A plain cheese quesadilla is similar to an arepa, only the flour tortilla used in a quesadilla is as thin as cloth, and is larger in area. The cornbread-like circles of an arepa are each about the size of five CD-ROMs in a stack.

Arepas are a Colombian food. It is spoken more like "ah-DEP-ah", since the "r" is a spanish "r"; the "D" above is only lightly touched. "Arepa" refers specifically to the corn pancake, though I guess you could make sandwiches out of them. I usually have them open faced, with some topping like cheese, (with lunch) or butter and salt. (for breakfast)

I was fed arepas only occasionally as a kid. Now when I go home, I almost always get them once per visit, since some of my Mom's Colombian relatives are now living with her. I got curious about them, and asked her how to make them. This is a summary of the recipe.

Arepas

You will need:
  • One cup areparina (Most people will have to buy this. It is made by Goya, among others. Look for it near the Mexican foods, or near flour.)
  • Cooking oil
  • 2 cups of warm water (not boiling)
Also good to have around for topping when you are done:
  • Cheese (Feta, swiss)
  • Butter (or margarine)
  • Salt
Mix the water and the areparina in a big enough bowl. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Knead the dough. Take small balls and knead individually. It is helpful to have a little bowl of water nearby to dunk your hands in occasionally. Flatten using hands taking the ball and starting to press from the center out while you turn the arepa around your fingers so it takes the shape of a little pancake. They should be about the dimensions Sylvar mentioned; like 3-5 CDROMs stacked together, only with a little less radius. Your hands will work hard, and get messy, but the arepas should turn out ok. Each pancake will take around 30 seconds to 2 minutes to make.

Use a hot frying pan which has been coated with oil (use a paper towel with oil) and bake the arepas. Turn only once when it is brown. Some of the flours make arepas that split slightly when you cook them; that's ok. Others you have to just get used to the consistency of cooked arepas and you know when they are done. Do not overheat the pan. Arepas take a while to cook, possibly ten minutes or so. Five minutes per side.

Serve with sliced cheese, or butter and salt.

Variations:

  • Adding a little bit (spoonful) of margarine to the dough can make the kneading a little easier.
  • You can add salt to the dough as well as grated cheese and bake it in with the arepas.
  • Instead of a frying pan, try it on a grill.
  • If using a pan, you can use crushed or food processed white hominy instead of areparina. You'll end up with a sort of mush which can be globbed onto the pan like pancakes. If you try this option, make sure not to touch it before five minutes on the first side, or it will fall apart.
  • You can cook a bunch of arepas, refrigerate them, and put them in the toaster oven (or on the grill) when you are ready for them.
If anyone tries this and succeeds, I'd appreciate a little /msg just so I know it worked for you.

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