Move over pancakes and waffles, there is a new brunch option in town, and you can thank Venezuela and Colombia for this mouth-watering creation. Arepas, or savory corn cakes, provide the perfect edible foundation from which to serve up a variety of different meats, veggies, cheeses and sauces. The great part is that much like a blank canvas, you can build your arepas the way you want.
So, the next time you have people coming into town or you have decided to have friends over for a bottomless mimosa brunch and you’re feeling stumped about what to make, it’s time to create arepas. The beauty is that you can create several different kinds of fillings to cater to everyone in your group, from the meat lovers to the strict vegans. Even those who have a sweet tooth will enjoy chowing down on the sweeter version of arepas (Arepas con Panela). You provide the arepas and the fillings and then let everyone make their corn cakes the way that see fit. It’s a perfect and stress-free buffet-style brunch experience.
Just remember: The sky is the limit when it comes to what you want to make to complement your arepas. Some of these traditional concepts below are just a jumping-off point to help get your creative juices flowing.
Arepas con Queso (Cheese Arepas)
If you find yourself celebrating National Cheese Lovers Day or sprinkling cheese on just about everything then you may in fact love cheese. You know what also loves cheese? Arepas. Arepas con Queso is one of the most traditional and easy-to-make recipes. The light corn flavor of the arepas allows it to pair nicely with just about any cheese you choose. Some favorites are mozzarella, Gouda and Gruyere. For a more traditional feel, you can also crumble some Queso Fresco inside.
Don’t just stop there: While you may choose to have your arepas con queso unadulterated, you can also add blistered tomatoes, arugula, black beans or hot sauce (my favorite hot sauce is, and will also be, Cholula) for a more exciting flavor profile. Serve with a side of roasted and salted Padrón peppers and a tequila-based brunch cocktail for a real treat.
Arepas with Pulled Pork (or Chicken)
This is another traditional arepas recipe that will speak to all those people who believe that brunch just isn’t brunch without the meat. Sure, this will certainly take more time than melting cheese onto your arepas, but slow-roasted pulled pork done well will have your guests singing your praises for years to come. One of the easiest ways to make pulled pork so that it doesn’t dry out is to place it in a crock pot on low the night before your brunch.
If you are strapped for time, ditch the crock pot and opt for chicken instead. Chicken breasts and thighs can be placed into boiling water for several minutes (keep checking them so they don’t overcook). Then use a fork to shred the meat. It’s that simple!
Personally, the hotter the better when it comes to food. Therefore, I always mix not just a touch of fresh tomato sauce to the chicken but also chipotle in adobo sauce (warning: a little goes a long way), chili powder, onion and garlic powder, salt and pepper, and lots of cumin. Of course, when it comes to guests, you may want to err on the side of caution and make the sauce milder. You can always leave out a variety of hot sauces for those who want to kick it up a notch.
Arepas with Mashed Avocado, Black Beans and Roasted Poblano
Who says that meat eaters have to have all the fun? In fact, there are so many non-meat options when it comes to livening up your Latin brunch. Mash up fresh avocado with a touch of cumin, lemon juice and any other spices you see fit.
When it comes to black beans I like them a little soupier. To do this, I drain most of the liquid out of the can of black beans and then add spices and a little oil to a small pot and cook on medium heat until it gets thicker. If it’s not thick enough you can also add a touch of corn flour.
If you have a gas stove consider yourself lucky, as it will make it easy to roast Poblano right on the stove top. Leave the Poblano on med-to-high heat for about one minute or so (turning it every once in a while so all areas of the pepper are charred). Next, wash the charred parts of the pepper off and then cut the pepper into strips or dice them.
Again, the great thing is that you can let people add what they want to their own vegetarian or vegan-style arepas. You can also use jackfruit, sweet potatoes, roasted corn or yucca. Be creative!
Arepas con Panela (Sweet Corn Cakes)
That’s right; arepas can even be a touch sweeter for all those brunch enthusiasts who prefer pancakes or waffles to omelets or benedicts. While it’s definitely not traditional to add maple syrup or whipped cream like you would other classic brunch sweets, these sweet corn cakes are perfect when served warm with a pat of butter and a hearty espresso.
To make Arepas con Panela, follow the recipe below. The only difference is that you’ll want to use panela, unrefined whole cane sugar that often resembles a dark bar of soap. You’ll need to dissolve the panela in water over low heat until it looks like syrup. From there the syrup can then be added to the arepa dough.
Some Arepas con Panela recipes even add anise, which I’ve always associated with the holidays so for fall-style sweet arepas, you could even add gingerbread, cinnamon, pumpkin spice or cloves to the dough.
How to Make Arepas
Recipe adapted from ArepasDelGringo.com
(Makes approximately 4-6 arepas)
- 2 cups corn flour (I use Masa Harina “Hari-Masa”)
- 5 cups of lukewarm water
- Pinch of salt
- Oil for the frying pan
- ½ cup (4 oz.) panela (for sweet arepas only)
- Pour the corn meal and water into a large mixing bowl and mix until all lumps have been removed. From there, let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes so it thickens.
- It’s now time to shape the dough into a large ball. If you find the dough is too sticky add more flour and let it sit a few minutes longer. If the dough is too dry, add more water.
- As you shape the dough notice its consistency. If it feels like putty then you have the ideal consistency.
- Now it’s time to separate the dough into eight pieces and shape them into balls.
- Once you have eight balls of dough, it’s now time to flatten them so that they look more like disks. They should be about 1-inch thick. To smooth the cracks and edges, dip your finger in water and then lightly smooth the dough.
- Next, heat oil on medium heat in a large frying pan. Once the oil is sizzling, add the arepas. You will want to watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Cook about 5 minutes per side (You don’t want them to get too brown).
- Once they are cooked, place them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Once the arepas are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and add your filling. Enjoy!