When we were in Panama, Behan and I went to the local market in Linton to see what we could find before heading to the San Blas (Kuna Yala) for the next 10 days or so. We found chicken. Ground beef. 2 flats of eggs (30 eggs in a flat). Some onions, some fruit juice for the rum drinks, a loaf of Bimbo bread, and some bananas.
And we found arepas. A bag of 10 of them, separated individually with waxy plastic wrap. They looked like thick pancakes that someone had pressed in a cut-out tuna can - and in Panama, they're called tortillas.
We bought them. Besides the fact that Behan (and the whole Totem crew) had fallen in love with them in Colombia, they'd be an easy breakfast, heated up with some cheese and topped with a fried egg. And when you're feeding 9 in a boat galley, easy can be welcome.
Yes, in Panama we bought them. Here in the States, where a tortilla is either flour or corn, and where asking for arepas in the store might get you some very blank looks, I made them.
Once you find the flour, which is PRE-COOKED cornmeal (not instant, not regular, not grits), it's a simple matter of mixing, pinching, patting, and cooking.
What you top it with is totally up to you.
important - you need to get PRE-COOKED cornmeal. It's likely to be in the baking section, perhaps on a bottom shelf. If you have a Latin American section, it'll be there. Masa Harina, or INSTANT corn meal, is NOT the same thing!
To make 10 arepas:
2 cups very hot or even boiling water
2 cups pre-cooked cornmeal
1 tsp salt
oil or butter for frying
1. Mix salt into hot water, then add cornmeal and stir to combine and make a dough, then stir until smooth. Add enough additional cornmeal for the dough to not stick to the sides of the bowl or your fingers. Let rest while you tidy up.
2. Heat oil in a heavy frying pan or griddle.
3. Pinch off golf-ball size balls of dough, roll, and flatten to about 3" in diameter. You can make them thinner if you'd like to stuff them with cheese - flatten thinly, add slices of mild cheese to the middle, then top with another flattened piece of dough.
4. Fry for 3 minutes or so per side, until they turn golden brown.
5. Excellent as is. Excellent spread with butter and cheese. Excellent split open and served with stewed vegetables, beans, or meat. Melt some cheese and top with a fried egg for a breakfast of tastebud euphoria. Yesterday's lunch for me was some leftover blistered peppers with a couple of fried eggs on top, served over those arepas on which I'd melted some cheese and dolloped some salsa. Heaven.
These will last for about 3 days in the fridge and are excellent hot or even cold as a substitute for bread. YUM!