Monday, November 05, 2007

Colombian Inspirations

A few weeks ago I got an awesome surprise. One of my culinary favorites, Patricia McCausland- Gallo, left a comment on my blog. My very first post was about my Colombian roots and in that post I mentioned her lovely book, The Secrets of Colombian Cooking. Actually, her recipe for arepas was the very first one I posted on my blog. I picked up the book again last week and began reading some more about my birth country, the one I left when I was just a baby. Although I did grow up with staples of Colombian food, I never really had anyone to teach me how to make those traditional dishes. My memories include looking over my mom's shoulder to see how she would make areaps or watching my aunt stirring natilla or frying batch after batch of buñuelos on Christmas eve, but that was about it. Thanks to Patricia's book, all those recipes are no longer a mystery.

Inspired by Patricia's stories and her flair with Colombian food, I decided to get into the kitchen and do a little experimenting of my own. The last time I had an arepa, was almost eight years ago when I visited my parents back in New Jersey. My mom prepared them for breakfast the way she traditionally would- grilled and served with cheese and scrambled eggs. I loved them and licked my plate clean, but Hans, on the other hand, had a bit of a hard time. I never held it against him though. Arepas are little corn cakes which can be a bit on the tasteless side, although there are many variations which have more flavor, like arepas de chocolo which have a delightfully sweet, roast corn flavor. I knew that if I was going to attempt serving Hans and Kirstie arepas, somewhat close to the ones I remembered having for breakfast, they should have a bit more taste. Still, I didn't want to go too far off track (well, maybe I did in the end) so I came up with the following recipe inspired by one I saw in Patricia's book. They were so incredibly good that at the end of the meal, Hans asked why I only made three- after he admitted that he was a bit worried when he saw what I was making!

Here's the recipe (and yes, I know it's not 100% Colombian!)

Arepas My Way

*220g fine yellow cornmeal (used for polenta)
*185ml hot water, but not so hot that you burn your fingers!

*30g soft butter

*1 tsp salt

*100g shredded mozzarella cheese

*1 tbsp butter, for frying

Mix the cornmeal, salt and butter in a bowl. Add the hot water slowly while mixing with your hands. Start kneading the mixture in the bowl and continue until it comes together. Add the cheese and continue to knead. Divide the dough into five balls and form each ball into a disc of about 9cm in diameter. Put the
arepas on a plate and refrigerate 30 minutes before frying them. When ready to fry, melt the butter in a pan and fry the arepas on a medium- high heat for 4-5 minutes per side. During the frying, press down on them every so often with the back of a spatula so that they brown nicely. Serve warm, alone or with scrambled eggs. I especially love them with eggs scrambled with spring onions and cherry tomatoes!
Makes 5