As I have mentioned before, my family is made up of both blood and “adopted” relatives. The family story is that around eight years old, I took a look around and finally asked my mother, “How come all the other families are all the same color?” She had a chat with me about multiculturalism and that was that.
One family member came along after my parents got divorced. My mom took in an international student from Venezuela, L. L. was supposed to stay with us for a month and then move on to….Oklahoma, I think. L. was from Caracas and was a tall, beautiful, dark-skinned woman. After a month, she sat down with my mother and said,”I don’t want to move to Oaklahoma! I’ll be the only black person there!” My mother and I, thankfully, didn’t want her to go either.
L. lived with us for several years. She attended Umass Boston, graduated and started working. At one point, she dated a guy from Nigeria and we had many, many jokes about being on Nigerian time since he was always, always late. I’m sure, looking back, that because of the neighborhood we were living in at the time and because of my age (elementary school), people must have thought that L. was my nanny. She really wasn’t- she’d babysit sometimes but it was more like having an aunt living in the house. She and my mother became quite close and for many years we were a happy little family.
L. eventually went back to Venezuela and mom and I managed to visit one year, when I was 10. L. comes from a large family and they embraced us with open arms. It was a great two weeks- between Christmas and New Year’s. I learned a bunch of new traditions, ate lots of different food and saw all different parts of Venezuela. Not bad for a 5th grader! Mom cried when we left (which is generally what she does when vacations come to an end) and L. has come back to visit often. She’s married now and has two children of her own. She and the children came for my wedding a few years ago so I’m pretty sure it’s our turn to visit there.
When L. lived with us she’d make black bean soup and arepas. I didn’t like the soup (mom did) but I loved the arepas. A few weeks ago when I was trying to make pupusas (which didn’t work), I was reminded of L’s arepas. Pupusas are sort of a stuffed corn pancake/dumpling/flatbread. When I tried it my dough was too dry and I couldn’t fill it properly. I tried again a few nights ago but with the arepas in mind. I will share with you what I was able to do. So, in honor of L, here’s my kitchen fail/fix, South American Style.
L’s Corn Arepas with Beans and Cheese
1 1/4 cups Masa
1- 2 tablespoons butter, chopped
1/8 cup white flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2- 2 cups warm water
A few tablespoons of canned corn kernels (rinsed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
cheese, corn, refried or regular beans, salsa
Mix all dry ingredients together and then add the pieces of butter.
Mix in the butter with your fingers- sort of knead it together. Add in the corn kernels.
Divide the dough into six different sections. Roll these into balls and place them on a foil lined baking sheet.
Flatten them with your hands and cover with plastic wrap so they won’t dry out. Heat a griddle or frying pan and brush with oil (I used canola oil). Not too much, just enough to help the arepas brown up and not stick.
Cook on each side for about 3-4 minutes, until they’re just golden brown.
With a greased knife (I rubbed some butter on mine), slice them in half horizontally. The inside will be sticky. Return them to the grill, sticky side down and let that side get brown. Once they’re cooked, place them back on the foil lined sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you prepare the toppings.
Just be sure to slice the cheese somewhat thin so that it will melt a bit. It’s sort of like feta but not quite as sharp.
Top your arepas with whatever you like. Pop them under the broiler to let the cheese melt and to make sure it’s all warmed through.