I’m on a roll these past few posts, nothing but Spanish cooking lately!
Today, we travel to Venezuela, famous for their corn flatbreads called arepas.
I am not a big baker (and baking is even harder for my family since my sister can’t eat anything with gluten), and these are super easy to make. And they’re gluten free!
Even better, the arepas then get stuffed full with delicious fillings like a pita! Oh, yes.
This is my favorite filling combination (slow cooked beef instead of chicken is a close second). But you could fill them with really anything – try scrambled eggs and salsa with cheese for breakfast!
Adriana Lopez of Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen gets credit for inspiring me to add the fried plantain as a filling. Yum.
Arepas are first cooked in a pan before being baked in the oven; I like to cook mine in a cast iron grill pan for the lovely marks it leaves on the bread! But you can use a regular skillet, too.
For the chicken, first make my Pechuga de Pollo a la Plancha recipe.
If you have looked at some other Spanish recipes I’ve posted, you probably noticed the fried plantains on the plate. You can make them from fresh, but I buy them already sliced, fried and frozen (in my store they’re next to the french fries). Goya is a well-known and common Spanish brand that’s widely available here, and they taste just like you made them yourself. Just follow the package directions to bake in the oven or pan fry.
Also, the beans. Making beans from scratch takes hours. Unless I’m making a traditional dish where I need the beans done a certain way, I use canned refried beans (check the label to be sure there’s nothing weird in them, just beans and spices) and add my own extras to them. I also use canned black beans often – the low sodium kind with as few ingredients as possible, and season them myself. From-scratch beans are just not possible for me most of the time!
The arepa preparation I follow is from the cookbook Gran Cocina Latina but a very similar method is described here. An internet search will show you many different methods, which isn’t surprising since this is one of the most popular and well-known Venezuelan foods. The method I am going to show you has always worked for me. The only variation is I make them larger so there’s 1 per person. Make them small (3 inches) if you like.
The dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for a few days. I have made this sandwich the night before and reheated it for lunch the next day, along with some rice; perfectly delicioso.
Chicken, Black Bean & Plantain Stuffed Arepas
for the arepas:
- 1 cup precooked white or yellow corn flour, such as Harina P.A.N. brand
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon oil, plus 1/2 tablespoon for frying (preferably corn, but I use canola)
- Pechuga de Pollo a la Plancha recipe
- 1-16 ounce can refried black beans
- 1-4 ounce can chopped hot green chiles
- fried plantains, made from scratch or store bought frozen and heated per package directions
- cojita cheese for topping (if you can’t find it, use mozzarella or even a little feta!)
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Your chicken should be in the fridge marinating away at this point!
Put the refried beans in a small pan and add 3 tablespoons of the green chiles (more if you like!). Heat on low with the lid on while you prepare the arepas.
The fried plantains I buy take about 25 minutes in the oven; I start them baking now. If you only have one oven, you can microwave or fry them.
to make the arepas:
In a large bowl, mix the corn flour and salt; pour the water and oil over the top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
After water is absorbed, knead the dough with your hands until smooth. Cover with a damp towel and let rest 5 more minutes.
On a flat surface, knead the dough until it’s not sticky (or only slightly sticky, it should not stick to the bowl but it might stick to your fingers because they’re warm).
Divide into 3 equal parts. I like to weigh the dough out to be sure they’re almost the same.
Form one into a ball, then flatten with the palm of your hand into a round that’s 5 inches wide and a little less than 1/2 inch thick. I do this on the counter rather than holding the dough. Repeat with the other dough balls. (hint: the dough is ready when you can flatten it into a ball and the edges do not crack.)
Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil (or brush the grill pan lightly with oil) and add as many rounds as will fit in your skillet (my 10-inch will hold 2). Make sure the pan is hot; this sets the stage for the arepa to puff up in the oven!
Leave them to cook for a few minutes until beginning to brown (maybe 3 minutes), then flip over.
Move the browned arepas to a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffy.
Remove from the oven but leave on the baking sheet to keep warm.
Cook the chicken now!
To assemble the arepas, cut the bread open about 1/3 of the way along the edge (you can always cut it more if needed). With a dull knife, carefully hollow out the bread edge to edge.
Spread the refried beans on the bottom, then add sliced chicken and plantains. Top with cheese and serve immediately. Enjoy!