VEGETARIAN DINNER PARTY: Avocado and Radish Crostini; Oversized Mozzarella Arepas; Sweet and Sour Cabbage Salad; Coffee Sables
There were a few years, while I was in high school, when arepas were a regular on our weeknight menu. We would make a pot of beans–as simple as refried beans from a can, or as complex as chocolate-y black beans
–and serve them with arepas instead of rice or some other starch. My mom and I had been introduced to arepas in a class we took with Peter Berley
, at the Institute of Culinary Education, in Chelsea. The class focused on masa harina, the fine corn flour that is the main component of arepas, and with which you can also make tamales and little corn dumplings. The recipe we started to use was simply masa, salt, cheese, and water. When you cooked the arepas in oil, the cheese would melt, and so when you cut open the arepa to eat with your beans, you had this delightful combination of crispy corn cake, melty cheese, and seasoned beans.
A few summers later, in college, I worked with a girl whose parents were from Venezuela. Somehow we got started talked about arepas, and it turned out that the version she grew up with are totally different. One night, I went over to her place and she showed me how she shapes the dough into disks, parboils them, and then bakes them. In her family, arepas acted more like bread than like pancakes–her mom would use them to make sandwiches, the filling as simple as butter or as indulgent as an egg and cheese.
I’ve yet to get totally back in the habit of making arepas and serving them as a side dish–though maybe I will again soon, since I now own a five-pound bag of masa harina–but when I made this batch, I did it the old way. My arepas may not be authentic Venezuelan, but they are good. I like how the edges are crispy from frying, and of course I like the melted cheese within. I don’t always serve them with beans anymore because I’ve discovered how an arepa can ramp up any light meal, from a salad to a veggie saute, as in this recipe.
From my kitchen, bringing arepas back, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Oversized Mozzarella Arepas with Summer Veggies
Makes 2 huge arepas or 4 more manageable ones
When the veggies are super fresh, I like to keep them relatively plain. If you’re looking for more flavor, add a handful of chopped fresh basil for the last minute of cooking. Top with lots of freshly ground pepper
1 cup sugar snap peas, washed and trimmed
1 pound thin asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths or string beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 small zuchinni, trimmed and cut very thinly (on a mandolin if possible)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
For the Arepas:
1 1/2 cup masa harina (fine corn flour)
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
2 tablespoons neutral oil
To make the vegetables, bring a pot of water to the boil. Salt it well, then add the sugar snaps and the asparagus and let cook for about 1 minute, until very green. Add the zucchini, and let cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until cooked.
Drain the vegetables and shock them with cold water. Drain again, and set aside.
Finish the vegetables when you’ve started frying the arepas: sauté the shallot and the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until just beginning to get golden. Add the vegetables and cook to warm them through. Season with salt and pepper.
To make the arepas, combine the masa harina, mozzarella, and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of room temperature water, stir well to combine, then leave for 5 minutes.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan (big enough to fit 2 arepas). Take a little of the arepa dough and throw it into the pan. When it sizzles, you’re ready to cook.
Divide the arepa dough into two balls. Flatten each into a disk with about a 7-inch diameter. Add to the pan. Cook on each side for 7-8 minutes, until the arepa has formed a crust and is quite golden. Be careful when flipping, as the cheese can stick to the pan.
When the arepas are done, lift them onto plates and top each with half of the sauteed vegetables and some freshly ground pepper.