Recreating: Pica Pica’s Arepas

arepas lede a streetcar named devour
The Mexican Gordita.

The El Salvadorian Pupusa.

The Venezuelan and Colombian Arepa.

Each are comprised of a corn flour-batter mix, shaped into a disc, fried in oil and stuffed with various fillings.

They all sound strikingly similar, but most will argue, are quite different. (Just ask a Venezuelan how their arepas compare to that of a Colombian’s, or vise-versa, and you will get strong disagreements from each party.)

While in the past I’ve enjoyed a Gordita or two or 10, and have had quite the experience being a human pupusería, I hadn’t stumbled upon Arepas until my recent trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago. My awesome, longtime friend  and hostess Amber, took me to this amazing Venezuelan restaurant in the Mission called Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen. It is FAN (freaking!) TASTIC. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious the sweet corn, cake-like arepas, filled with hearty shredded beef pabellón, fried plantains, black bean purée and queso fresco were. I was in Arepa heaven. If such a heaven exists, I was definitely in it.

arepa inspo a streetcar named devour

The sweetness of the yellow corn viuda (Spanish for “widow” referring to an unfilled arepa) is most excellent on its own, but when paired with the various fillings, it becomes this flavor explosion in your mouth–the sweetness from the viuda and plantain, the salty from the pabellón and queso fresco and the gentle acidity from the guasacaca. Every inch of your tastebuds are satisfied, wanting more and not knowing when, (or how) to stop.

I had long (actually not quite that long, more like a week after) daydreamed of my rather virginal Arepa experience, wanting more. So I made my best attempt at recreating these delicate bellezas del cielo.

arepas 2 a streetcar named devour

Venezuelan-Style Arepas
Serves 3-6
Arepa dough recipe slightly adapted from Mommyhood’s Diary blog

FOR THE AREPAS (VIUDAS)
4 cups of water, room temperature
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups Harina P.A.N (precooked white corn meal. Look for the “P.A.N” as it’s very different from the harina used in pupusas and gorditas.)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

METHOD
In a medium-sized bowl add the water, salt and sugar. With a whisk, mix until the salt and sugar is dissolved. Slowly add in the Harina P.A.N. Using your hands, mix the dough, breaking any clumps with your fingers. Allow the dough to rest 5 minutes to thicken up.

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While you’re waiting, heat a non-stick griddle pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Then add the oil to the dough, working the dough with your hands for about a minute. The arepa dough should be firm but not cracking when formed. If the dough is too soft add a little more of Harina P.A.N or more water if it’s too hard.

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Form dough balls and flatten them gently into discs until they’re about 1/2-inch thick. Immediately place the discs over your preheated pan and cook the arepas for 5-7 minutes on each side or until lightly golden brown. Repeat till all dough has been used. Serve immediately with your choice of fillings.

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FOR THE AREPAS RELLENAS (Filled arepas)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, julienned
2 1/2 pounds flank or flat iron steak
1 cup (8 ounces) canned tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large ripened plantain, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces on a bias
6 Arepas vuidas
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 of small wheel Queso Fresco, crumbled
1 cup Guasacaca Salsa*

For garnish
2 small green onions, julienned (green and whites)

METHOD
Rub a generous amount of salt and pepper to both sides of your steak. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add in the oil, and when the oil begins to slightly haze, add the steak.

Cook each side for about 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. When both sides are gently seared, using a pair of tongs, remove the steak and place onto plate to rest. Keeping the heat still on medium, add the onions  and sauté till onions are translucent. Then add the tomato sauce, stirring well. Add the oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower heat to low and allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes to thicken.

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While your sauce is simmering, and after resting your steak for at least 15 minutes, slice your steak into even 1/4-inch slices. The steak should be at a nice rare pink.

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When your sauce has thickened up, immediately turn off the heat and throw in the sliced steak. The residual heat of the sauce will further cook the meat just a tad.

In another medium-sized non-stick pan or skillet, heat a Tablespoon of oil on medium.

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Place the sliced plantains in the skillet, cooking each side for about 3 minutes each or until nicely browned and caramelized. Immediately remove from the pan and into a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.

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Next, gather all filling ingredients together.

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When ready to assemble, split each arepa in half horizontally with a knife. Butter each side of the still-warm arepa. Fill the bottoms of each arepa with the plantains, then layer on the steak, and a heaping spoonful of guasacaca salsaqueso fresco crumbles and green onion garnish.

Serve immediately. (Knife and fork optional, but highly recommended!)

a streetcar named devour arepa lede 3

a streetcar named devour areas lede 2

A Love Letter of Sorts

pdxlede

Sooooo, I tried. I really, really tried. But as much as I tried not to, falling in love with Portland was inevitable. And now I can’t help but think about it. I know it’s already far too late for me to avoid the Jane Austen-iness of my words, but please allow me to put it out there right now: Portland, you have enamored me, mind, body and soul.

Here’s why:

  1. You’re well groomed. I love the rain.
  2. You’re a cheap date. You had me at “no sales tax.”
  3. You’re an excellent host. Between the endless supply of bars on every corner (most serving a slew of local brews), but you know good food. And you really know how to cook it, too.
  4. You care about the “big issues.” You’re all about sourcing local, organic, and sustainable produce. And I really like that about you. You’re also big on public transportation. Another major plus in my book.
  5. You have this elusive mystery about you. (Oregon has the 9 Wonders of the World, right?)
  6. But you’re also a bit naughty. Naked Bike Ride, anyone?
  7. And super sexy. I mean, have you looked at yourself lately?

I really can go on and on about how great this city is, but I’m almost positive this open love letter to the City of Roses has you also convinced.

When you just want to kick back and enjoy a couple of really good beers and “scenery”
Basecamp Brewery
WHY TRY: I am convinced I saw my future husband here. We exchanged nonstop glances from across the room as we sat in our communal tables while we simultaneously drank our respective beers. And right before I finally decided that I had mustered up enough chutzpah to get up and talk to him–he had been talking to his friends(?) a pregnant woman and her husband(?!?) at the time–he got up and left on his bike. One of those pedi-cab drivers. So Mr. Soulful Eyes with the bike, dark hair, beard and tattoos–this is my personal “Missed Connections” shout-out to you. Hiya.

When you’re ready for one of the best burritos you’ll ever have
Koi Fusion 
MUST TRY: The Bulgogi Beef Burrito with errythang. Let’s just say that not only was my  stomach filled, but my soul, itself, was satisfyingly full.

basecamp

 

When you’re craving a good burger and an equally amazing beer
Slow Bar
MUST TRY: Local brews abound. My personal fave was the Boneyard

slowbar

When breakfast and dessert have a meet-cute
Voodoo Doughnut 
MUST TRY: Lemon chiffon crueller; bacon maple bar; Old Dirty Bastard (key ingredients are chocolate, Oreos and peanut butter. I’m just sayin’.)

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When the weather is perfection, and you wanna get high
Noble Rot
WHY TRY? Spectacular rooftop patio views.

When a burger just won’t do
Pine State Biscuits 
MUST TRY: The Chicken Club (House-made biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, bacon, iceberg lettuce and tomato with house-made blue cheese or ranch dressing.)

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When you want a great piece of meat
Ox Restaurant
MUST TRY: It’s an Argentine-inspired steakhouse, so meat is a must. It’s fancy but completely unpretentious at the same time. And order a bottle of Malbec. You know what they say, “When in Argentina…”

ox

When Brunch calls
Cafe Broder
WHY TRY: Swedish-style eats with a cozy sensibility. And the square-shaped cast-iron skillets are just darling.

broder

When you could use a good distraction and a good drink to match
Roadside Attraction
WHY TRY: This place is so eclectic, the decor is super rad, I’ve never been to a place quite like it.

phonto

xoxo kelly rae