Archive | July, 2011

Cool Tool Thursday

28 Jul

I don’t know why, but when it comes to kitchen tools, I simply must have them all.   I think one of the reasons is because when I was little, my aunt used to have all the coolest kitchen tools, and I would love to look at all her cookbooks’ pictures and see how she used every single tool.

Every now and then I will share one of these cool kitchen tools with you.   Perhaps they are not essential, or even necessary, but I would definitely love to have them all.

Today’s Kitchen Tool is:

El Budare (Comal or Round Cast Iron Griddle) 

El Budare

El Budare

I figure since we where in the Arepa theme, I would post a good kitchen tool to have when making arepas.

This tool is commonly known in Venezuela as “El Budare”.   Initially I think the native Indians used large stones that they leveled and shaped as circles in order to cook many things including arepas, Cachapas and casabe.   Most places still have large circle or square budares in order to cook more arepas at a time.   However, since we probably don’t have the kind of space in our home needed to place an original budare to cook, we can still make delicious arepas using a basic round cast iron griddle like the ones sold by Lodge Logic.

Here are some links to great images I found online of original and even improvised budares:

The making of Casabe

Improvised Budare

MacGyver Budare

Budare on the streets

Budare Improv

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Arepas Nutritional Facts

27 Jul

I was curious to know just how bad or good for you arepas are.   So I went ahead and did some calculations. According to the Harina PAN packaging Nutritional Facts, in 1 serving of 30 g. there is:

Calories 110
Calories from Fat 5
Total Fat 0,5 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 24 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Protein 2 g
Harina PAN & Arepa Nutritional Facts

Harina PAN & Arepa Nutritional Facts

So, if we do some math… ugh math… we can establish that (if you follow my recipe) we are using 1 cup of Harina PAN, which I measured out to be about 170 grams. Out of that I got about 4 arepas, so each arepa would contain about 42.5 grams of Harina Pan, in which with a simple cross-multiplication we can conclude that the nutritional information would be as follows (keep in mind this is just an estimate):

Serving = 1 Arepa of about 42.5 g. of Harina Pan + Water (without adding the salt)

Calories 156
Calories from Fat 7
Total Fat 0,7 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 34 g
Dietary Fiber 4.25 g
Protein 2.83 g

For those of you in a Gluten Free diet or Low Sodium/Heart Healthy Diet, an arepa can be a healthier alternative to a sandwich, as long as you fill it with healthy fillings like some scrambled egg whites and other cheeses or meats you are allowed to eat.   For the low sodium diets, just don’t add salt to the mix before you prepare the dough.   And you can also use the Harina PAN to make empanadas, tortillas, hallaquitas, tamales and other similar products.

Also I think the arepas made in the Tostiarepa are about twice the size of the arepas I measured out here.

¡Buen Provecho!

***I just realized it took me 4 posts to cover everything about arepas.

Filling Arepas

20 Jul

Yes, arepas are very filling, but no, that’s not what I am talking about.   I am talking about filling them with something.   Arepas are basically the Venezuelan “sandwich”, and more likely than not, whatever you can put in a sandwich, you can put in an arepa.

There are several classic ones, like the “reinapepiada”, the “perico”, and many more that I guess I’ll have to explain, for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about.   The most common filling is definitely the cheese.   Now, cheeses in Venezuela are freshly hand made and probably NOT FDA approved because of how they are prepared, but they ARE delicious and safe to eat.   We have several different types of cheeses for all kinds of taste buds.

The first thing you have to do is cut open your arepa from the side as soon as it is ready, so it is still hot inside.   Then you take out a bit of the dough from inside (to make some space for the filling).   But don’t you dare throw that dough away… IT IS THE BEST PART!   Next, you have to add butter, because… well, everything is better with butter.   You spread some butter inside so it will melt, and some on your extra dough you removed earlier.   Now you fill it with… pretty much anything.

Cheeses

The most common type of cheeses for Arepas are what we in Venezuela call “Queso Blanco”, or simply white cheese.   There are several different kinds of white cheeses in Venezuela like the ones pictured below.   My favorite? I can’t say, because I like them all, but I think for the Arepas there is a three-way tie between Queso Telita, Queso Guayanés, and Queso de Mano, which I don’t know how to make… yet.

Venezuelan Cheeses

Venezuelan Cheeses

Perico

The word “perico” is actually what we call parrots or parakeets.   But for some weird reason we also refer to a very common arepa filling when we talk about “perico”.   I would imagine it’s because the colors in this filling would somehow resemble those of a parrot or parakeet, but I have no clue if I am right.   Perico is made by sautéing some onions and tomatoes thinly chopped and then adding salt and pepper along with beaten eggs in order to make this scrambled eggs concoction.   Some people also add bell peppers to the mix.

Reinapepiada

The reinapepiada is probably the most famous arepa in the country.   The word “reinapepiada” is a combination of two words “reina” and “pepiada”.   The word “reina” means “queen” and the word “pepiada”, as far as the name of this arepa goes, refers to the “curviness” of a Venezuelan beauty queen who won the Miss World back in 1955, Susana Duijm.   The actual filling consists of a salad made with chicken and mayonnaise, to which avocado is added.   Some, like the original recipe, also add some petit poise (small sweet green peas).

Arepa Fillings

Arepa Fillings

As you can see arepas can be filled with anything, from the simple cheese ones, to the rich and famous ones like the reinapepiada.   You can fill them with tuna, shredded beef, chicken, turkey, ham, black beans, salmon, nata, etc.   I even once saw someone eat one with jam (I don’t recommend this, but you can try it if you wish).   This is why the arepa is the most versatile and multipurpose meal in Venezuela.   There are even restaurants or “stands” that are solely devoted to selling arepas.   These are called “areperas”.   You can have an arepa with perico in the morning, because it has eggs in it.   You can have a reinapepiada for lunch, because it has chicken salad.   You can have one for dinner with just cheese, or ham and cheese, because it’s lighter.   And you can also have one at 4 am in the morning when you are on your way home from a rumba (party) and you are starving because you burned all your calories dancing merengue and salsa.   Either way, you can always have an arepa.

El Batiburrillo de Bila

One arepa filling you won’t find anywhere else is “El Batiburrillo de Bila”.   My great grandmother, Nery Russo (95), journalist, writer, poet, editor, cultural promoter, composer, painter, sculptor, magazine owner, Venezuelan “Miss Princesita” pageant creator, investor, politically involved, and even current blogger, CLEARLY didn’t have time for much cooking… however, one time when I visited her she resolved to feed me arepas (because they are so easy to prepare), and then filled them with her own weird concoction, which later I heard from other family members that this was referred to as “el batiburrillo de Bila” (Bila is our nickname for her).   The word “batiburrillo” means a mixture of random things that don’t match, or something like that.   Well her filling is precisely that.   She takes “diablito” (deviled ham in a can) and mixes it with cream cheese and then adds that to arepas.

Batiburrillo Ingredients

Batiburrillo Ingredients

El Batiburrillo de Bila

El Batiburrillo de Bila

Arepa with Filling

Arepa with Filling

¡Buen Provecho!

Recipe: Venezuelan Arepas

13 Jul

Arepas are very easy to prepare.   First, you will need a few basic things.

– Mixing Bowl

Basic Ingredients and Utensils

Basic Ingredients and Utensils

– Measuring Spoons

– Measuring Cup

– 1 cup Harina PAN (Discussed here).

– 1 cup lukewarm water

– ½ teaspoon salt

Next, you will prepare the dough.

Add the Harina PAN and the salt into the mixing bowl and mix together using your hands.   Then, little by little add the water and knead and mix the dough using your hands.   You must knead the dough until the mix is soft, firm and has a uniform consistency without any grains.

Add Water, Salt and Harina PAN

Add Water, Salt and Harina PAN

Another way if doing it is to first add the water and the salt into the mixing bowl and stir that together, and then proceed to add the Harina PAN little by little.

It is up to you to decide which method to use.   I usually had preferred to mix the water and the salt first, so to make the water salty and spread the saltiness evenly through the dough.   However, I found that using all the water first usually resulted in having to add more Harina PAN to the mix latter in order to get the right consistency.

Therefore I think the best way to go about it is to add the salt to the water in the measuring cup, and have the Harina PAN in the mixing bowl.   That way you add as much water as needed, but you also distribute the salt evenly and then proceed to knead.

Knead Dough

Knead Dough

Once the dough is ready you let it sit for 5 minutes.

Let it sit

Let it sit

Now you are ready to form the arepas.   You should grab a handful of the dough, and with both hands make a nice sized ball of about 2” to 2.5” in diameter.   Then you use one hand to hold the ball and the other to flatten it ever so slightly with your fingers, turning it around so you flatten it evenly.   The thickness is really up to you and up to the type of arepa you are going to prepare.   I usually flatten it to about 0.5” or 0.75” thick.   And if you are using a “Tostiarepa” you don’t event have to worry about flatting it, because it will do it for you.   Now that you have the basics, you can decide to cook your arepa in several different ways.

Make Balls

Make Balls

Flatten

Flatten

Arepas Asadas

This is probably the most common way to cook an arepa.   I believe the translation would be something like roasted or grilled Arepas.   The best way to do this is with what we call a “BUDARE”, which is basically a cast iron round griddle (think Lodge Logic).   You would first seal them at a higher temperature and then cook the inside at a medium temperature flipping them over constantly.

Arepas Asadas

Arepas Asadas

Arepas Fritas

These are probably the most delicious ones, because they are Fried arepas, and lets face it, anything fried tastes 10 times better.   You would simply heat up about 2 cups of oil at medium heat in a pan, or better yet, in a fryer or Dutch oven.   After the oil is hot enough you would fry the arepas for about 10 minutes or until they are golden on both sides.

If you wish to fry your arepas, I recommend that you flatten them further, to about 0.25” thick, and also its tradition to open a hole with your finger in the middle of the fried arepas (don’t ask me why).

Usually, in Venezuelan restaurants, instead of serving bread and butter while you wait for your food to arrive, we serve “arepitas con nata”.   These are small little about 1.5” in diameter (cooked) fried arepas served directly from the fryer with either butter or delicious “nata”, which is hard to explain, because I really never though of it.   It is sort of like a sour cream, but its cheesier and buttery, like cream cheesy but with a more liquid consistency.

Arepas Horneadas

These are baked arepas.   They usually have to be “sealed” using the Arepas Asadas technique on a cast iron round griddle for about 5 minutes on each side on high heat.   Then, they are baked in the oven at about 180º C until they start to puff a bit and the crust starts to come up a bit from the inside dough, which is usually about 20 to 30 minutes.

TostiArepa

The arepa toaster will basically toast the arepas in about 7 minutes.   All you have to do is place a large enough ball of dough on each of the compartments in the toaster and press the cover down.   You should open it back up and check that you had enough dough, or that you didn’t have too much dough.   If you had too much just remove the excess pressed out with your fingers.   If you had too little add more dough and reshape the ball.   You can also add a bit of butter to each compartment before you put the dough in.   I think the toaster is non-stick, but then the crust will taste like butter.

Tostiarepa: Make Balls

Tostiarepa: Make Balls

Flattened Arepa in the Tostiarepa

Flattened Arepa in the Tostiarepa

Now you are ready to enjoy your arepa with any filling you want.   I will cover fillings in the next post, but for now you can enjoy them with butter, your favorite type of cheese and any kind of sandwich meat.

Tips

Arepas become hardened in only a few hours, so you should cook them when you want to eat them.   Also, if they are already hardened, you can damp a paper towel or two in water, and cover the arepa and then stick it in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so.   You can however prepare the dough and refrigerate it beforehand and then proceed to cook them when you are ready to eat them.   You can also refrigerate leftover dough for about 5 days, just make sure you cover it with a damp cloth and spray with water or even a little bit of oil.   You can also prepare baked arepas by sealing them using the griddle first, then freezing them, and simply baking them for 20 to 30 minutes when you are ready to eat them.

Some people add different things to their dough before they cook the arepa to add flavor to the dough.   I have heard and seen a lot of different additions including milk, oil, butter, cheese, eggs, and even honey.   They all have a different taste, but I have to say I have NEVER tried an Arepa I didn’t like and I have NEVER met anyone who didn’t like Arepas 🙂

Check out Arepas on Chef John’s Blog and Also on Bobby Flay Throwdown

¡Buen Provecho!

NEW!!! – Download the One-Page Recipe Printout [Recipe: Venezuelan Arepas PDF Printout

La Arepa

8 Jul

The Arepa (ə-‘rā-pə) is perhaps the most representative element in Venezuelan cuisine.   The arepa is multipurpose as it is used as an appetizer, a side dish or a main dish.   Arepas can be prepared for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.   The arepa varies in cooking technique, main ingredient, color and filling depending on the region of the country where its prepared.

The main ingredient for arepas in its basic form is corn.   In the beginning, corn was grinded using a mortar to create the corn meal mix to make arepas.   Then came the pre-cooked version of the corn meal, which made the whole process much easier.   The most common and internationally recognized brand of Venezuelan pre-cooked white corn meal is the P.A.N. brand, which we simply call “Harina PAN” (PAN flour).   GOYA makes another version called “Masarepa”.   Another option is MASECA, which makes “Masa Instantanea de Maíz” (Instant corn masa flour).

Harina PAN

Harina PAN

Maseca can probably be found either in the flour isle or the ethnic/Mexican food isle at any supermarket.   The Goya version, Masarepa, would most likely only be found in Latin American or Mexican mini markets.   Harina PAN, unfortunately, can only be found in supermarkets that are near a big population of Venezuelans in the US (like Weston, Florida); in Venezuelan supermarkets or through the Internet.   However, I do have to say I found Harina PAN in a little Mexican market located on Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery, Alabama.   Perhaps you guys can share any other places you have found Harina PAN.   Harina PAN can be found online too, just Google it and several online stores that deliver through the US will come up. I found this one.

The name for the Arepa came from the word “erepa”, which in the native Indian tribe’s dialect of the Cumanagoto People means “corn”.   These “Cumanagotos” made arepas in a disk shaped form (much like other corn mix products like Cachapas or tortillas, and even their cooking tools like the budare or comal) to worship the sun and the moon.

Now, arepas are so varied in their aspects that it is good to mention some of the most common ones.   One of my favorites, the sweet one, “Arepa Dulce” or “Arepa de Anís”, has sugar and “Anís” (Anise or Pimpinella Anisum – seeds), it is very thin and when fried one side will end up like a bubble separating the skin from the inside dough, great with a very salty cheese.   Arepas can be baked, grilled, fried or boiled.   With technology now we have what I call the “Toasted Arepa” which is created very easily with the “Tostiarepa” a toaster made specifically to make arepas.   Yes, it makes arepas even easier to make than they already are, but to me, they come out very “fat” and the crust could be sometimes too crispy.   Only one of these will fill you up quickly.   Keep an eye out for arepa recipe coming soon.

Arepas

Different Arepas

¡Buen Provecho!

UPDATED (Where to Buy Harina PAN):  Yesterday I was shopping at the Winn Dixie on Eastern Boulevard & Vaughn Road in Montgomery, Alabama and I happened to see Harina PAN on the International Food isle, next to the Mexican products. I was looking for the expiration date on the package and I noticed right underneath the expiration date stamp it states “Imported by Goya Foods Inc”.   It is made by Empresas Polar (Large Venezuelan Company), but these ones I found where produced in the Alimentos Polar headquarters in Colombia. Also states “Very low gluten”, which was not the case in the packages being imported from Venezuela.   Just though I’d let you know what I found. Each package cost $3.29. *I think maybe Goya will start to import this product to other locations soon, and hopefully on their website as well.

Where to Buy Harina Pan

Where to Buy Harina Pan

UPDATE (Harina P. A. N., Gluten and GMO):  There have been a lot of responses to this post and questions regarding wether Harina P. A. N. contains gluten and if it is elaborated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).  I took it upon myself to contact Empresas Polar/Alimentos Polar (the company responsible for creating and distributing Harina P. A. N.), and I have asked them these questions.  I received an answer and what they said was that as you can see in all the Harina P. A. N. packages in circulation today, they have added de disclaimer which states that “it may contain traces of wheat and/or oats”.  This means that the corn flours and the flour mixes made under the P. A. N. brand may contain traces of gluten because it is elaborated in a factory where other cereals like oatmeal and wheat are processed.  The Harina P. A. N. made for exporting (which would be the one found anywhere else other than Venezuela), are elaborated in their factories in Colombia, where they process other cereals as well, and thus, just like the Venezuelan product, it is NOT GLUTEN FREE.  They explained that they are NOT over the 100 milligrams of gluten per kilograms of the product, but they are also not under the 20 milligrams per kilograms, and that is why they have to add the disclaimer.
Furthermore, they have informed me that Harina P. A. N. produced in Colombia and exported to many other countries, is produced with corn that IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED, which has been approved in Europe and the United States.  They also explain that the genetic modifications in the corn are so that they don’t waste crops due to bugs and such, and also to increment the yield in the crop of the corn.  They also explained that te international food security agencies responsible for evaluating the risks in food products, have established that those crops do no represent any harm whatsoever to your health and they are as safe as corn that has not been genetically modified.
I have to say that this information was given to me by Empresas Polar, and that it is ultimately up to you to decide wether you wish to consume or if it is safe for you to consume Harina P. A. N. which may contain traces of gluten and that is fabricated with genetically modified corn.

Venezuelan Cuisine

6 Jul

If you know a bit about Latin American History, you can infer how our cuisine came to be. Our foods have clear influences of our indigenous tribes who inhabited the country before it’s discovery. However, we also have strong European influences, due to the fact they discovered our land.

The use of locally grown products such as corn and cassava is predominant in most of our dishes. However, our most common dishes vary in some ingredients or techniques from one country region to another. Which is explained by the fact that some products may be acquired easier in some regions of the country than in others, as well as that particular region’s traditions.

Our most common dishes all over the country include the famous Arepas, Empanadas, Pabellón Criollo, the Christmas favorite “La Hallaca”, Cazabe, Cachapas, Tostones, Tequeños, Asado Negro, Guasacaca and many more.

Venezuelan food can be as unique as our Hallacas (Ah-jac-kas), a dish prepared exclusively during the Christmas holidays and only by Venezuelans, or as common as Empanadas (ĕm’pə-nä’dəs), which can also be found to be common in Colombia, Argentina and other Latin American countries but made with slightly different ingredients and cooking techniques.

Food in Venezuela also differs between regions in the country, and also even between families. You may often find that Hallacas could be so different from one family to another, even within the same region due to the difference in techniques and ingredients.

However, no matter where you go to have some Venezuelan food, I promise you will taste something you’ve never tasted before and you will love it.

¡Buen Provecho!

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