Meatless Monday: Arepas With Cheese and Corn
If you haven't tried arepas, get or make yourself some as soon as possible. They're popular in Columbia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries but widely available in the US at Latin American restaurants, and they're ubiquitous at New York City summer street fairs. They're thick, round corn cakes that are either baked, grilled or fried. They can be split in half, like an English muffin, and stuffed with just about anything -- cheese, meat, eggs, seafood, beans, roasted vegetables -- or they can be left whole and eaten on their own. I like mine stuffed with mozzarella cheese; it gets all stringy when you bite into or break the arepa in half.
If you're not near Venezuela or a NYC street fair right now, arepas are easy enough to make at home. Mark Bittman's arepas are made with a thick cornmeal batter that's studded with whole corn kernels. Once they're cooked, you can slice and stuff them with beans, grilled vegetables, cheese (queso, Monterrey jack, cheddar or mozzarella all work), or you can top them with any of the aforementioned fixin's and eat them with a fork.
Put cornmeal in a large bowl with salt and cheese. Put milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steam rises, then add butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir into cornmeal mixture until a thick batter is formed. Fold in the corn kernels, scallion, cilantro and chile, if using.
Let batter rest until it thickens into a soft dough, about 15 minutes. Gently form 3-inch to 4-inch balls from mixture and flatten with palm of your hand to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. (You can cover and refrigerate disks for a few hours if you like.)
Heat oil in a large skillet and cook arepas, working in batches, until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 3 minutes on other side. When all arepas are cooked and cool enough to handle, carefully slice them through the middle. If desired, serve with butter or stuff with beans, vegetables or sour cream.