Colombian Cuisine — Arepas: Corn Cakes

Colombia doesn’t exactly have a national dish; its cuisine is highly regionalized with dozens of contenders for the honor.  The country does, though, have a food that is eaten most often: arepas (recipe follows), pan-fried flatbreads made from ground corn flour.  Arepas are  served in a variety of ways, sometimes with jam, butter, or sliced avocado, or even split open and stuffed with cheese.

More Colombian dishes on The World Cup of Food:

  • Ajiaco, chicken, corn, and potato stew (with Colombian cuisine overview)

Arepas, loved in Colombia, of course, are just as prominent in Venezuela and also enjoyed (without quite the same fervor) by Puerto Ricans, Panamanians, Dominicans, and Canary Islanders.  Most cooks today make their arepa dough from a store-bought, pre-cooked corn meal available in some markets in the United States.  Some sources we found insisted that is the only way to make arepas, but others recommended masa harina (lime-treated corn flour used for making tortillas) or simply corn meal and all-purpose flour.  Since we are inclined to side with the more inclusive recipe using less obscure ingredients, we have decided on using masa harina.

Arepas

adapted from Hispanic Kitchen, My Colombian Recipes, and Venezuelan Cooking

MAKES 4

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1 cup water
  • about 1/2 teaspoon salt

First, we made our dough.  All the ingredients were mixed by hand in a bowl, then kneaded for about five minutes until it made a smooth ball.  The dough ball was gently covered with plastic wrap and allowed to rest for about an hour so that the masa harina could absorb all the water:

arepadoughresting

When we were ready to form our arepas we started by quartering the dough ball:

doughquartered

…then hand-rolling each quarter into a rough circle:

doughhandflattened

To finish them off, each arepa was flattened to about a quarter inch with a rolling pin:

doughrolledout

To cook, we oiled one of our trusty cast-iron skillets and put it on a burner over medium-low heat.  The arepas were carefully lifted off the cutting board with a metal spatula and placed in the pan two at a time:

arepasinpan

After about six minutes they were flipped and cooked another six minutes on the other side:

arepasflipped

The finished arepas were held in a tortilla warmer lined with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm until we were ready to eat:

arepas

Our arepas were full of corn flavor with a texture like a dense pancake.

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