My Latino heritage has been calling me: I have been absolutely craving good Latino food lately. Not just a generic burrito or quesadilla, but something fresh and homemade, and simple of course. When this sort of craving strikes, I always turn to the same food: arepas.
Okay, okay, so I am not technically Latina. But, my wonderful step-mother, Bertha, is from Colombia, and arepas are her specialty and we have made them together several times. That counts a little bit, right? Bertha serves arepas with scrambled eggs and cheese whenever my husband and I visit around breakfast time (thus making that our favorite time to visit).
I, however, like to turn my arepas into a sort of tostada with beans and cheese and salsa. Part of my Latino food craving involved cotija cheese, so I incorporated it into this dish. Cotija is a Mexican cheese that is crumbly and salty like feta, but the flavor is more mild. It can be found in any specialty shop that has different cheeses, or in almost any grocery store that has a Hispanic food section. The arepas themselves are pretty much just a really thick tortilla, so they are easier to make than tortillas, and no special tortilla press is needed. Bertha has a specific brand of masa (or, instant corn masa flour) that she uses to make her arepas, but I just use whatever is available, which is usually meseca brand. Masa can be found in grocery stores with Hispanic food sections, or any Mexican tienda you come across will be sure to have it.
This recipe is really easy to make, and the colors make it eye-appealing as well. It can be doubled or tripled really easily, and its inexpensive, making it a great party dish. So, blast the Celia Cruz music, invite over some amigos, and get cookin'!
Arepas con Frijoles
serves about 4
for the arepas:
2 cups masa
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetabel oil
for the bean mix:
2 tsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white onion, chopped
6 cups beans, rinsed if canned (I used 1/2 black and 1/2 pinto)
1 tsp cumin
for the salsa:
1 cup red onion
1 serrano chili pepper, seeds removed
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup cotija, crumbled
1/2 cup cilantro
2 limes, wedged
To make the arepas, mix the masa, water, and salt with a wooden spoon. Let the mix sit for a few minutes and absorb the water. Then grab a handful; the mix should stick together easily, but not stick to your hands. Add more masa if it is too sticky, more water if too crumbly. Heat vegetable oil on a griddle or large pan over medium- high heat. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the mixture, form into a ball, and then flatten with you palms, turning the arepa as you go. Place arepa on the griddle and let cook until golden-brown spots start to form on the under-side. Flip the arepa and cook until golden-brown spots form on the other side. Repeat until all the mixture is used up.
For the beans, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and white onion. Heat until the onion starts to brown, moving pan occasionally so there is no burning. Add the beans and toss with the onions. Sprinkle the cumin over top. Let the mixture cook about five more minutes. Then transfer to a bowl and mash with a potato masher.
To make the salsa, I was lazy and threw all of the ingredients in a food processor. However, if you are wanting something a little more like pico de gallo, simply mince the garlic and chili pepper, and chop up the tomato and red onion and then just stir it all together with the salt and lime juice.
To assemble arepas, place two arepas on each plate, top with about one cup of the bean mixture, and a couple tablespoons worth of each of the salsa, cotija, and cilantro. Squeeze lime wedge over the arepas. Disfruta. Enjoy.