Tag Archives: arepas

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I love arepas. Whether at Bonnaroo or my favorite little place in NYC. But there's more to Venezuelan food and a lot of it is vegetarian-friendly. I got a crash course in making my own arepas and empanadas as well as a few other dishes from my friend who lived there many years during her childhood. My friend happens to be a wonderful cook, thankfully!

Since then, I've had a Venezuelan feast of my own. Twice! Arepas, empanadas, pigeon peas and rice and plantains. My preparation isn't as authentic or good, but I'm still pretty happy with what I've come up with.

If you're interested in preparing a Venezuelan dinner at home, the first thing you need to do is get Harina P.A.N. flour. Here in Nashville, it's available at the K&S International Markets as well as the Publix on Charlotte Pike (and perhaps at other locations). There are white and yellow versions and just like with cornmeal, the choice should be based on your preference. I like yellow, which is a bit sweeter. Next, learn how to make arepas. Oh, that's why you're reading? Well, there are some nice video tutorials, but here's the short version:

1. Pour some flour into a bowl (start with two cups), add a pinch of salt and then set aside two cups of water.
2. Add the water slowly, mixing briskly with your fingers to get out any lumps and until it feels like the consistency of Play-Doh--it should stick together well, but not to your hands. You may need to add more water as you make the arepas if they start to dry out, so keep it nearby.
3. Next, you pinch off some dough, roll it into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Fry it on both sides in a well-seasoned skillet or with a tiny bit of oil until it's browned "like the spots of a leopard."
4. Once you have the number you want, put them on a baking sheet in the oven to cook for about 15-20 minutes on 250 degrees (time depends on thickness). When they're cooked through, they'll sound hollow when thumped.

Arepas fried and now baking in the oven

And you're done. THAT'S IT. It's that easy! What to do now? If they're thick enough, cut them in the middle to form a pocket to stuff with cheese (queso fresco) and avocado and cilantro or top them with your favorite things. For breakfast, top them with cheese or a fried egg. Or just eat them plain.

Baby Eats enjoys a mini arepa (plain)

For empanadas, flatten your disc a little thinner, put some cheese and cilantro on it, fold it together side-to-side and cut out a half-moon shape with a small bowl. Cook it until the cheese has melted. THAT'S IT. Really!

Next up, pigeon peas and rice. Both K&S and Publix sells canned peas. I used Mahatma yellow rice, cooked it according to directions, added the peas (drained) and shook in some Jamaican curry powder (a spice blend comprised mostly of turmeric and cumin--also available at both K&S and Publix) and a little salsa. THAT'S IT! (Sensing a theme? Yes, it's really easy to have a good Venezuelan meal with little effort and just a little more time).

And to top it all off, fried plantains. This is the easiest part because both K&S and Publix have frozen plantains ready to just heat in a skillet (THAT'S IT) and they're delicious. Seems like it would be easy to prepare them from a fresh plantain, but it's not. Trust me and Mr. Eats who ate a woody, hollow fried plantain that was terrible. Don't be fancy y'all; use the frozen plantains. Might even be cheaper than buying a fresh one.

If you don't cook the whole meal, do think about adding arepas to your repertoire. They're as impressive to your family/guests as they are easy to make. Really!

The arepas were still baking, so we started with the empanadas--one yellow, one white

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I'm still recovering from Bonnaroo. It's fun, but for an old goat like me, it's a lot of work to be out in the sun and mostly on your feet for 8-12 hours a day for three days straight. I'm lucky I have a desk job.

So, the food. Sure, there was some good music there, too but other, better writers have written reviews, so I'll tell you about the food.

First, arepas. Not only were these guys back this year (Toby's Arepas from South Florida, I think), but they had multiple stands. Good call, y'all. I didn't have to stand in line for 20 minutes to get my fill. So I had five of them over the course of three days. Yes, five. Usually the first thing I ate...and the last thing I ate. Soooo good.

I did branch out and eat other things, though. A lot of other things. It seemed to me that there were actually more food choices this year than the last two years, so I didn't even have to eat one slice of pizza or eat one single burrito.

One vendor was selling sweet potato fries (battered, so they were different from what I'm used to getting from Bobbie's Dairy Dip) and samosas, so after my first arepa, I settled in for a pile of fries and an apple samosa (while listening to Fiery Furnaces). Later in the evening, we had a vegetable samosa and a tofu samosa. All were delicious. The samosas were more like turnovers stuffed with filling and were served with a slightly spicy salsa-like sauce. I loved them, but "deep fried" is one of my favorite phrases and not something too often associated with vegetarian food.

On day two, I sent the Significant Omnivore off for snacks to eat while waiting on Ben Folds to perform. He came back with (very expensive) Ben & Jerry's treats. I think we could have bought three pints for what he paid, but that's the price of convenience. And they were good, but a bit overpackaged, I think. Anyhoo, dinner time rolled around and we headed back in the direction of the samosas, but rounded the corner (past the vendor selling all sorts of sea-bound critters) over to the quesadilla place. I ordered a (vegan) Sesame Gingerdilla, which was red cabbage, carrots and a few other taut veggies stir-fried with sesame oil and ginger and shoved in a tortilla. The SO opted for the Feta Metadilla, which was feta cheese, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, sauteed onions, and olives in a spinach tortilla. Both were delicious and really hit the spot. I didn't think I really liked red cabbage, but it worked well with the sesame and ginger and the crunch in the "quesadilla" was a nice change of pace. I can make these at home!

We thought we'd be out of luck for a late night sweet snack before settling in to see Pearl Jam because the crowd was so thick , we were forced to the back, but we stumbled upon a stand that I could smell before I could see: candied roasted pecans and walnuts. Perfect.

By the third day (and after three arepas in two days), you'd think I would've had my fill, but I started off with yet another arepa. Really, they are that good. It was just my snack until we could decide on lunch. It was a hot day, so we yet again wandered over to that wonderful oasis of veg-friendly foods and went to the wrap place this time. I got a (vegan again--yay!) wrap with hummus, tomatoes (because I'm brave), lettuce, and cucumbers, while the SO opted for the portobello wrap. It was a little heavy on the sauteed onions and a little too warm considering the weather, but he enjoyed it. It had a great savory flavor. We ate our wraps while listening to Robert Randolph wrap up and sitting in a prime patch of shade under one of the handful of trees.

While sitting under the tree looking toward the stage where Solomon Burke was about to play, I spied the crepe vendor. I'd managed to resist the crepes for two days, but not on Sunday. So I headed over and got myself a fruit crepe (strawberries, blueberries and bananas with a little chocolate; hold the pineapple and whipped cream). The crepes were pre-made and laid out on a round griddle to be heated and the toppings were placed on top. They were pretty generous with the toppings, but at $8, the crepe was the most expensive food item we got and well, wasn't really quite worth it. But I had to do it. Going to Bonnaroo is like going on vacation; you just gotta indulge.

Which is why I had one last arepa on my way over from Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to Death Cab for Cutie that evening.

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During my short trip to New York City, I kept a notepad in my bag to record all the great things I ate. My friends were quite amused. I filled up several pages so I'm going to record my gastronomical journey around Manhattan.

My friends and I arrived in NYC shortly before lunchtime, so we dropped our bags at the hotel (in Chelsea) and hit the streets heading toward Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. I figured it would have a ton of restaurants to choose from, so there was no real plan. Unfortunately, what I didn't know was that all the great restaurants were a street over but we were starving when we finally happened upon Manatus. I had a light arugala salad with walnuts and snow peas that was good, but a tad pricey. My friends weren't terribly impressed with their food (meaty stuff--I didn't pay attention to it), so it wasn't the best way to start off our trip. But the patio was nice despite having been yelled at by a passer-by who apparently does not approve of "ladies who lunch." I decided not to argue with him and his assertion that I'm "lazy" and "don't know how to cook."

I didn't fill up at lunch, because I knew that just down the way, there was a cupcake waiting for me at the Magnolia Bakery. It's listed as a must in lots of guidebooks and was apparently made famous due to an episode of "Sex and the City," though I don't recall that episode. I queued up in line and waited my turn to go in and choose my cupcake. I got a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting plus a chocolate drop cookie and toffee cookie. Here's the scoop: the cupcake was dry. The frosting was good but sweet. Almost too sweet. Cupcakes aren't rocket science, so I was surprised by the dryness. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and the cookies were divine. My friends also got cupcakes as well as a huge slice of coconut cake that was quite good. Funny thing, earlier that day, we were looking at a map when an older lady approached us and offered help (one of many nice people I met in the city) and when we told her where we were going, she said, "Oh, no you shouldn't go there. My 12-year-old granddaughter makes better cupcakes than that place. You should go to the Buttercup instead." We didn't heed her advice that day, but we just happened by the Upper West Side location on Friday and, indeed, it was a great place. It had a much better selection (see photo) and I had a bite of my friend's red velvet cupcake (I was holding out for our next stop) and it was excellent. And it's very difficult to make a red velvet batter that's not dry. Read about the cupcake wars in New York here. It's interesting.

The sugar buzz propelled me through an afternoon of wandering around the Village and SoHo, but I was certainly ready for dinner that evening. I'd gotten several recommendations and also consulted CitySearch and settled on a Venezuelan restaurant called El Cocotero. It took a little convincing to get my friends to try it, but I think they could tell it was important to me and they knew they wouldn't be forced to eat vegetarian food. El Cocotero is quite small and it took some work to squeeze into our table, but it was actually okay being that close to other people while eating. The pitcher of sangria might've helped. If you look at their menu, you'll see it's large and not your everyday tapas fare. It was a hard decision to choose a few dishes, but I went with the
1) chiquinquira arepa (guayanesa cheese, avocadoes, and tomatoes stuffed in thin white corn pocket (similar to a pita, but so much better having been made of ground white corn)
2) tequegnos (a cheese stick wrapped in some kind of bread and deep fried)
3) cachapa con queso (a stack of cripsy small corn pancakes with cheese--everyone's favorite dish of the evening)
4) Tajadas (sweet plantains)

I can still conjure up the taste of the cachapa in my mind. It was so good. A similar, yet vastly inferior version was a popular treat at Bonnaroo this past year, I believe.

Sadly, the plantains had to serve as dessert because I was far too stuffed to have the tres leches. Next time. Next time...