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Making Homemade Colombian Arepas

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month means thinking about all the fantastic food our culture offers.

Arepas are a corn tortilla type of thing popular in Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama. They're versatile because they can be eaten as a snack or part of a meal. They can be stuffed with different foods for a meal, similar to a sandwich, or make a great breakfast paired with eggs. Arepas are gaining mainstream popularity with people outside of Hispanic culture through movies like Encanto.

I know arepas as a delicious Colombian treat that I wish I had known about sooner. When I started dating my boyfriend, George, I met his family, and they introduced me to food I had not tasted and had never heard of before.

My family isn't filled with many good cooks, so even knowing the food Puerto Rico and Ecuador offer, I couldn't get the best version unless I went to a restaurant. But eating arepas feels different. I have never been to Colombia and rarely eat at Colombian restaurants, but all the homemade versions I've tried are as delicious as I imagine.

Because we recently moved in together, George missed eating his mother's homemade arepas so often, and I was eager to incorporate them into my diet better. So other than asking her to make us some every so often, we thought we'd learn how to make them to hold us over between visits. We enjoyed some Venezuelan-style arepas during our vacation to Florida, but George still believes his mother's arepas are superior.

Growing up watching his mom make arepas, Geroge had a general idea of the ingredients and techniques necessary. On the other hand, I was utterly ignorant, but arepas are surprisingly simple to make.

Following his mother's recipe and tips, we made homemade arepas. We gathered Pan brand corn meal, water, cream cheese, and salt. It's a one-to-one ratio of corn meal and water, and the amount of cream cheese and salt is estimated by how large a batch is. George and I only set out to make two arepas, so we used ½ cup of corn meal and water, a spoonful of cream cheese, and a pinch of salt. The water was slowly poured in, ensuring the dough wasn't too watery.

As his mother directed, George kneaded the dough until it no longer stuck to his fingers. Then he formed a ball in his hands and flattened it to shape. Despite all his confidence trying to replicate the technique he has watched his mother do so effortlessly for years, he had to reshape his arepa four times.

When it was my turn to shape my arepa, I probably resembled a child tinkering with playdough. I watched closely as George made his and tried to replicate his motions, but mine just didn't come out nearly as well.

He cooked them in butter, and mine fell apart. Because my arepa was a little thick, it took longer to cook and dried out. My inexperience in making arepas didn't change how excellent our meal was. We paired our arepas with pork chops and a salad.

Considering how much food has brought our relationship together, I'm glad to share this part of George's culture with him.

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