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Photo by: Joseph De Leo
Arepas are a popular Colombian snack, a cross between polenta, pancakes, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Thanks to Miami's large Colombian community, arepas turn up at carnivals and street fairs, where they're enjoyed by Columbians and non-Columbians alike. The following recipe was isnpired by Bogota-born caterer, cooking teacher, and pastry chef Tania Sigal. Arepa flour is made from cooked, finely ground corn. Look for it at Hispanic markets. Two popular brands of arepa flour are Goya and Pan.
1. Combind the arepa flour, salt, and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter and most of the water. Knead the mixture with your hands to obtain a mosit, pliable dough. Add more water as necessary: The dough should be the consistency of mashed potatoes. You may not need all of the water, or you may need a little more.
2. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Wet your hands and roll each piece into a ball, then flatten it to make a patty about 3 inches across and 1/3 inch thick. Continue wetting your hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Alternatively, roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper and cut out 3-inch circles, using a cookie cutter.
3. Heat some of the remaining melted butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Fry the arepas until crusty and golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes per side. Working in batches, as necessary, to avoid crowding the pan. Add more butter or oil if needed. Serve at once.
Arepa flour is a special flour milled from cooked, dried, ground corn kernels. It's finer than cornmeal but coarser than all-purpose flour. There's really no substitute: The closest in flavor is quick-cook grits.
Arepa flour comes in varieties made from both white and yellow corn. I prefer the white: The resulting pastries are lighter. This flour can be found at Hispanic markets and select supermarkets, where it is sometimes sold by the name masarepa or areparena. Recommended brands include Goya, Iberia, and Pan. Arepa flour is also used to make tortillas, empanadas, and buñelos.
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