When I was a vego, I cooked heavy on the cheese. Although I didn’t eat a lot of it by itself, it was in or on anything it could be. I remember when I was 13 or so cooking up a pot of thick tomato pasta sauce and thinking to myself ‘What if I added tonnes of cheese to this?’ It was, in the words of Maeve O’Meara, a revelation.
It was a habit I had break when I moved in with my boyfriend, who was aghast at how much cheese I put in everything. Very early on in our relationship I made him Pizzoccheri, a dish from of Grandfather’s family made of buckwheat pasta, potatos, cabbage, garlic, and lashings of melted butter, cubed fontina and grated parmesan. And when I say lashings, I really mean lashings. My biggest mistake was letting him watch me make it. Although he said it was lovely, I could see him shudder as I poured about half a cup of melted butter over the dish. Not exactly heart smart.
These days my main cheesy outlet is romano or parmesan on pasta – I just can’t help myself. I love how cheese can take a plain, usually carb-based dish and turn it into something special. And this is definitely the case with arepas.
Arepas are made all over Colombia and Venezuela and often contain cheese, either mixed through the dough or stuffed in afterwards. They can also be stuffed with a variety of other fillings such as avocado, meat, black beans or fried eggs. They are commonly eaten as snacks or for breakfast but also can form part of a meal. They can be pan fried or deep fried and are both a street food and made at home as they are very easy to make and, in counties with corn as a staple, incredibly cheap. They are also mass produced, in fact, there is even a company in Brisbane that makes them, Grandma ¡Arepas!.
Arepas rellenas de queso (Arepas stuffed with cheese)
2 cups of Harina P.A.N. (pre-cooked white cornmeal)
2 ½ cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt
8 slices of cheese (just smaller than the palm of your hand. I used provalone because it is round and also a bit ‘stringy’)
Pour the water into a large bowl and stir in the salt. Slowly pour in the white cornmeal. I assume this is to avoid lumps, but I’ve done it in reverse order and there was no discernible difference.
Knead the dough until smooth. It will be a bit sticky, so let it sit for a few minutes if you like.
Preheat a frypan to a medium high heat. You could also use a bbq if you want to do them all at once.
Meanwhile, divide the mixture into 8 balls and shape them by hand into flat patties. They should be the same thickness all the way through, about 1-2 centimetres thick and perfectly round. An easier method is to line an egg ring (for frying eggs) with cling wrap and push the balls of dough into shape using that.
When the pan is hot enough, place the arepas in. When they start to ‘pop’ or dance, flip them. They should be browned and have a thick crust, like ‘giraffe skin’. Continue in batches until all are cooked
Allow the arepas to cool slightly, cut open and fill with cheese. You can return them to the heat briefly if you want the cheese to melt.
What’s your favourite cheesy indulgence?
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