Arepas (Venezuelan Corncakes)

Arepas are Venezuela's national bread. They are eaten at all meals and throughout the day. These small corncakes are sold in restaurants called areper as, where they are stuffed with all types of fillings. Arepas are the basically the Venezuelan version of the sandwich. Don't let apprehension of Hugo Chavez keep you from trying this delicious bread.

2 cups precooked cornmeal *
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups boiling water, divided
Oil for sauteing

In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal with the salt. Pour in 2 1/2 cups of the boiling water and mix with a spoon to form a mass. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Moisten hands with water. Form balls of dough from about 1/4 cup of dough and press to form a cake about 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. If dough cracks at edges, mix in a little more water and then form the cakes.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and pour in a thin layer of oil. Saute the patties a few at a time to lightly brown and form a crust on one side, 5-6 minutes. Flip and saute on the other side.

When all patties have been browned, transfer to a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they sound lightly hollow when tapped. Serve immediately.

Filled Arepas:

Split in half and scoop out a little of the soft dough filling. Stuff with filling of your choice.

Arepa de Pabellon: shredded, seasoned meat and black beans.

Reina Pepeada: chopped chicken, avocado, and mayonnaise mashed together.

Arepa de Domin: black beans and crumbled white cheese.

Arepa de Perico: scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers and onions.

Small arepas can be made and served as appetizers with garnishes, such as grated cheese, on top instead of inside. They can also be eaten as small biscuits. Sometimes a little sugar is mixed in with the dough to form sweet arepas (arepas dulce).

* The cornmeal used to make arepas is a special, precooked type that usually goes by the name masarepa, or masa precocida. It can often be found in Latino markets. The more commonly found masa harina is not the correct type to use for this recipe.