Arepas are a staple of Venezuelan food. Most South American countries have a similar staple, though I’d obviously argue that the Venezuelan version is the best. Arepas are to Venezuela as tortillas are to Mexicans and pita is to Middle Eastern countries.
The key to making arepas is a pre-cooked corn flour called “Harina Pan”. Harina pan is available at many supermarkets in the Hispanic section or any Hispanic specialty store. The package [pictured here] is bright yellow and even says Product of Venezuela on it. If you’re lucky, you’re supermarket will have both the white and yellow varieties, I prefer the yellow, but honestly I’m not sure there’s a difference in the end result except the color.
N.B. Arepas can be grilled or seared on a hot pan, but I never both with any of that pseudo-healthy crap. I didn’t get this figure by eating like that. They are a treat and should be enjoyed in their purest and most delicious form: fried.
What you’ll need:
1 package of Harina Pan
2 cups water
Avocado and tomato slices
Any melt-y cheese such as fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, cream cheese, cheddar, monteray jack.
I like to have a platters with different kinds of cheeses and fillings/toppings and let people eat them as they come out of the frying pan.
Put about two cups of lukewarm water (only slightly warmer than room temp) in a bowl. Add about two table spoons of salt and one tablespoon of sugar. Taste the water—you should be able to taste some of the saltiness of the water.
Open up the package, and with (clean) hands, slowly add harina pan to the water and stir continuously. Keep adding harina pan until you have a soft, wet dough. The consistency can be a little tricky to get right, but luckily, one package yields several batches and frying forgives most mistakes. If the dough is too wet, keep in mind that the corn flour is very absorbent and if you wait a few minutes it will likely soak up the excess moisture.
Heat some good vegetable oil in a pan, a little less than a quarter of an inch deep and get it nice and HOT.
Take a small lump of dough in your hand and roll it into a rough ball — and gently squish it—you want to make a smooth, thin patty about a quarter of an inch thick. The size doesn’t really matter, but I like them to be about the size of my palm or a little smaller. Try to smooth out the edges if you can, but don’t worry too much if the edges are a little cracked.
Put your raw arepa directly into the hot oil and repeat the process. When you’ve got several in the oil, feel free to “lap” some of the oil with a spatula onto the other side. Flip them once when they are a golden brown and your arepa is ready to serve. I put them on some paper towels to soak up a bit of the excess oil if need be.
Serving suggestion: carefully, because they should be pipping hot, hold the arepa with a paper towel, and use a butter knife to open the arepa up like a pita and then stuff it (with fillings) and then stuff it.