By Sandy Leibowitz
(The Nosher via JTA) — I must have been about 6 or 7 years old and remember being eye level to my grandmother’s stove. I saw these white, round things frying in oil. What I vividly recall was the distinct hole on the edge of these patties and wondering what they were.
Just then, I watched my grandmother take a fork and use the hole as an anchor to flip what I would later learn were her arepas, Colombian corn pancakes. The oil would make the dough puff up into a small balloon, and it was always such a treat to see and, of course, taste.
Catching up with my grandmother recently, she confirmed that this is the way they fried arepas in Colombia, since the hole is needed to safely flip. (It wasn’t just her little trick.) Although these arepas were fried in oil, they had a light and airy quality and a sweetness that came through from the corn. They were golden brown pillows of joy.
Arepas essentially are griddle cakes made from pre-cooked cornmeal that can be prepared in myriad ways: grilled, fried or sauteed in oil. In addition they can be stuffed, topped with ingredients — extra ingredients can even be mixed into the dough. They also can be made on the sweet side — my grandmother would put a little sugar in the dough — but they are more commonly served as a savory dish.
Arepas are a popular staple in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisines. My Mami Lucy — she never liked being called grandmother because it made her sound old — was born in Colombia. She told me that Venezuelans are known for making more elaborate arepas, while Colombians keep them pretty simple.
These spiced lamb arepas with hummus are definitely not your traditional arepa, but the flavors work so well together with the mild corn flavor in the masa (dough). I sauteed them to achieve a char on the outside, which creates a delightful crunch that is met by the creaminess of the hummus. Spiced ground lamb then coats your tongue, and the sweet tomatoes, mint and pine nuts just bring the whole thing together.
For the homemade arepas (can also use pre-packaged arepas):
2 cups masarepa (I used the goya brand)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups warm water
Olive oil for sauteeing
For the lamb:
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 turns of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup store bought hummus (or homemade hummus)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
1/2 cup tomato, diced
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced (optional)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1. Mix the masarepa, water and salt in a bowl until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes until the mixture sticks together.
2. Separately, in another bowl, season ground lamb with all the spices.
3. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Cook lamb until fully browned. Keep warm (covered) until ready to serve.
4. Form arepa patties about 3 to 4 inches across and 1/2 inch in thickness using hands.
5. Coat a saute pan with olive oil and cook arepas until brown (or charred, depending on preference) on both sides. Both sides should be crispy.
6. Allow to cool and then slice the arepa lengthwise without cutting all the way through.
7. Spread hummus on the top and bottom flap of the arepa. Add the spiced lamb mixture and top with diced tomato, diced pepper (if using) pine nuts and mint. Serve immediately or room temperature. Serves 8 arepas (4 servings).
(Sandy Leibowitz is a trained chef, recipe developer and food blogger. She has worked at various New York restaurants. Find more of her recipes at www.thekoshertomato.com and follow her on instagram @thekoshertomato.)
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.