When we created these arepas, the scent of browning, spicy chorizo was wafting through our kitchen. We had just invented a vegetarian version of the South American corn cakes – these Queso and Pepper Arepas with Kale Salad – and were hurrying to make sure that the meat eaters didn’t miss out on this specialty, which hails from Colombia and Venezuela. That’s where the chorizo came in.
Along with the spicy sausage, our test kitchen smelled of corn, crisping up in our pan, and loads of peppers–both poblanos and red bell peppers–softening. Our stomachs growled.
Marc Bittman described arepas in the New York Times as “corn-based English muffins.” Like English muffins, arepas are stuffed–make that overstuffed–with any filling you desire. Hence the cheese and peppers, then the chorizo.
Their affiliation with sandwiches is the end of that similarity, in our opinion. Arepas are made with a quick-cooking corn flour called masarepa, so they’re naturally gluten free. The masarepa absorbs added water and turns into a dough before your eyes. No need to add anything else but a pinch of salt before kneading it up.
Once formed into discs, arepas can be fried or baked. We pan-fry our version so the edges get slightly crispy, then finish them in the oven so the insides get completely cooked through before we slice them up and fill them with sausage. And peppers. And chimichurri.
But don’t let your imagination stop at chorizo. Arepa fillings can range from rustic to elevated. They can have one ingredeint like cheese, preferably melty, or a slew of complementary fixings, like ours. And arepas aren’t required to taste of South America. Ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly are perfectly suitable for the center of an arepa, especially to the American children of Colombians and Venezuelans.