Monday, November 2, 2015

Arepas With Cheese and Corn

Sometimes, you run across a food that makes you say, "Why isn't this widely available already?" These are usually dishes that are approachable on multiple levels and include familiar ingredients, but come together in a relatively different presentation as compared to the cultural norms. It is one thing to experience yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit with a complex flavor that feels like what you'd get if you mixed the essential qualities of lemon, orange, and grapefruit in the best possible way, and decide it is incredibly palatable, but so unavailable in the U.S. as to not be a mainstream flavor; it is quite another to experience arepas with their easily available ingredients list.

I am a big fan of cornbread and, when I came across the The New York Times recipe for arepas with cheese and corn, it seemed like something that would be easy to love. In the silly video that accompanies the Times recipe, Mark Bittman likens them to a cornmeal English muffin. I think that is based on how it is eaten rather than how it is prepared as it is cooked more like a pancake.

I followed the recipe faithfully except for skipping the chilis. I already had a black bean mixture that I'd made the day before which I'd made with too much chili and I didn't want more heat added to the meal. In the future, I would certainly consider using the chili in the arepas, but not this time. The black beans that I had were so messy that my result resembled a Venezuelan sloppy joe:

When I mixed them up, it came out very wet and didn't really absorb much over time. I should note that I didn't just toss everything together as Bittman did, but rather added the milk and butter to the cornmeal to see how it came together first. I don't know if the wetness of this was because my cornmeal was a little old and had picked up moisture or if I hadn't allowed the milk and butter mixture to get hot enough to partially "cook" the raw cornmeal.

I "fixed" this very well by tossing the milk, butter and cornmeal mixture into the microwave for about 30 seconds to thicken it up. This worked extremely well and I added in the cheese, scallions, corn, and cilantro. Making patties was much easier after cooking the mixture a bit.

Arepas are frankly fantastic eaten on their own. I plan to make them again and just eat them plain with butter. The exterior is pleasantly crispy and the interior moist and tender. Storing the extras overnight in the refrigerator robs the exterior of its snap, but you can restore it easily by re-heating in the toaster oven. As cheap, nutritious, and accessible flavors go, you can't beat this. 

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