If you love grilled cheese but have never had arepas, allow our senior video producer Guillermo Riveros to show you what you’re missing. He concocted a variation on the dish in his quarantine kitchen and shared the recipe—and the inspiration behind it—for all to enjoy.
In Colombia we eat arepas all day, every day. It is a breakfast staple, but you will find all kinds of versions of them (yellow corn, sweet corn; thin ones, chunky ones; grilled or fried; and even ones that have a fried egg inside) at any given time, whether at home, in the street, or at a high end restaurant. Like in most South American countries, corn is central to our cuisine, and we have great respect for the ingredient, following a long tradition of mythology and reverence, inherited from our native ancestors. Today corn is cheap, and seemingly ubiquitous, but that doesn’t take away from the power and mystique of a good arepa.
During these times of practicing social distancing, I miss my family, and Colombian flavors even more than before. I find a great sense of comfort in cooking and eating things that remind me of my childhood home. With that in mind, I set up to make my own arepas from my apartment in Manhattan, replacing some of the ingredients (namely the cheeses) in a quest to reclaim dishes and flavors through nostalgic cooking, and making these recipes my own.
Along with the arepas I made hogao, which is the Colombian evolution of the Spanish sofrito. My version (in contrast to slow cooked larger batches commonly found in Colombian kitchens) is closer to what my dad would make on Sunday mornings to put on scrambled eggs, a quick pan fry of chopped tomatoes, scallions, and garlic, with a hit of salt and pepper, and a super savory secret ingredient.
Nothing sounds more comforting to me than a cheesy arepa slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, next to a heaping portion of hogao on a plate. If you think about it, it is not too far from your tried and true grilled cheese with tomato soup. I hope people unfamiliar with these foods will give them a try, and find a new alternative to comforting flavors they know, but Colombian style.
Get the full recipe below:
Header image by Guillermo Riveros