When I lived in New York I fell in love with arepas. I lived right by Caracas Arepa Bar and ate there constantly. Arepas are South American cornmeal bun sandwiches. And they are amazing. Imagine an English muffin made of grits stuffed with all kinds of delicious things. Honestly, one of the hardest parts of moving back to Atlanta was moving away from my arepas. I have spent years trying to recreate my favorite arepas at home and finally have come up with something I'm pleased with. Give these a try, but also do yourself a favor and go to Caracas Arepa Bar next time you are in NYC.
This version is vegan, but I highly recommend adding a slice of queso fresco if you eat dairy. The salty cheese makes these arepas out of this world.
Arepas with Mango Sauce
1 cup harina pan cornmeal (Regular cornmeal won't work, so go to a Latin market or buy this online)
1 cup plus 1 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp salt
oil for the pan
1 ripe plantain (should be somewhat brown)
1 ripe mango
2-3 garlic cloves
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
salt to taste (about 1 tsp)
2/3 cup coconut oil
1 tbsp apple cider or white vinegar
Optional: Queso Fresco (or cotija or feta if you can't find it)
Heat a small layer of oil in a skillet on medium-high. Pour warm water and salt into a medium bowl. Gradually add the harina pan, stirring constantly to combine. It will form a sticky dough. Combine only until just incorporated so as to not overwork the dough. Cut the dough into four sections and form each one into a ball. Press each ball into a 1/2 in. thick disk. Cook in the skillet for 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway. They are ready when they are just beginning to brown. Remove from skillet and place in a warm oven.
Add enough oil to the skillet to completely cover the surface and return to heat. Peel the plantain and slice into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Place plantains into the hot oil being careful not to overcrowd the pan. The oil should bubble when you add the plantains. If it doesn't, increase the heat. If the oil spits, bring the temperature down. Cook the plantains for 10-12 minutes. Halfway into cooking time, flip them and press down on them with the spatula. Once they get brown and caramelized, remove from the pan and place on paper towels. Add a pinch of salt.
Remove the skin and pit of the mango and place in a blender along with the garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, and spices. Blend until smooth.
Slice or mash one avocado. Cut each arepa in half (like a burger bun) leaving the two sides just barely attached. This makes them easier to stuff. Add a layer of avocado and then a layer of plantains. If you are not a vegan, add a slice of queso fresco. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the mango sauce on top and serve. Makes four arepas.
Note: The mango sauce also makes for a great salad dressing!