Have you ever been in a cooking rut where you have absolutely no idea of what you’re going to cook for dinner? Or even lunch? That sometimes happens to me during lunch, especially on the weekend (but that’s not as common). No, more often than not, I face this dilemma during the week for dinner, after I’ve spent all day cooking and baking and shooting for work. It can be rough. It’s usually around 4 to 5 o’clock where I start to panic and it hits me that I haven’t even thought about what to make for dinner. I’m drawing a blank. It’s hard sometimes to constantly be thinking up of new and exciting dishes to make for work and then turn around have to do the same thing for dinner. Let’s not even talk about how there comes a time every now and then (like several times a week for me) where the last thing I want to do is cook a complicated dish that takes forever to make, after I’ve spent all day working in the kitchen. That’s the worst isn’t it? I don’t know how professional chefs do it. Sheesh.
When I’m faced with this obstacle to overcome, I usually start browsing through cookbooks, online recipe sites, fellow bloggers’s sites and begin major brainstorming. My mind goes into overdrive. I usually ask myself, “What do I feel like eating tonight?” Which doesn’t really help any because, as you know, when you’re hungry and are faced with the need to cook something to eat, you can’t really narrow down a single decision. It’s like when you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, and everything just looks and sounds so appetizing. You get nowhere fast.
I recently got into this whole arepa obsession/fascination. It all started with an image I came across on instagram from a fellow food blogger. They took a trip to New York and shared a photo of a delicious looking arepa from their favorite restaurant. That sort of changed everything for me and I was determined to make it myself. Now mind you, I’ve never made an arepa in my entire life, so I had to brainstorm for this post. A lot. It was a challenge, but a fun one nonetheless. So here we are, arepas all over our faces with the possibility that you may or may not even know what these are. I could be crazy. That’s okay though because I’ve got you covered. You don’t need to know what an arepa is. You don’t even need to have heard of them before. All you need to know is that it’s going to be your new favorite recipe. I guarantee it. So go out and make it right now. Let’s get cultured together!
We’re going to start with the longest part of this recipe first; the beef. It’s not even that it’s hard, it just takes a while to cook. No biggie. Season both sides of a boneless chuck roast with lots of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, cumin and chili flakes. Sear in a super duper mega hot dutch oven for a few minutes on each side, until caramelized and crusty all around.
**Note: This searing stage is crucial to any roast because it not only develops incredible flavor for the roast itself, the pot in which it cooks, but also because it gives it a great color. If you were to skip this step and just cook the roast without browning, it’ll be a dull gray unappetizing color. In my honest humble opinion.**
Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, right on top of the roast. That’s sliced onions, garlic, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, jalapeños, tomatoes, chicken (or beef) stock, lime juice, bay leaves, tomato sauce, and the rest of the seasonings.
Cover with a lid and roast in a preheated 375ºF oven for about 3 to 4 hours.
**Tip: This can be made in a crockpot cooking on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4. It can also be prepared the night before so that it’s ready the next day for arepa filling!**
You want the meat to be super tender and soft so that you can easy shredded it with two forks. When it get s to that point, make sure you shred it with two forks.
This shredded beef is full of flavor and so tender and juicy, that it makes the perfect filling for these arepas. You can also use this recipe for filling tacos or burritos or sandwiches or whatever!
Set it off to the side and keep it warm. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to making the arepa dough.
In a large bowl, combine the water, salt and vegetable shortening (as best you can with a whisk or your hands).
**Note: The vegetable shortening won’t combine completely with the water but at least break it down into tiny bits.**
Throw in the prepared corn flour.
You can find corn flour typically in most large grocery stores. What it is, is a precooked corn flour that’s created through a milling process. You can usually find it treated with lime juice. That’s okay. Two popular brands are “Masarepa” or “Maseca” works for this just as well. I used maseca because that’s what the store had in stock.
Mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough comes together into a rough ball.
At this stage, you can switch to using your hands and just get your paws in there and squish it all together.
**Note: It should be somewhat moist but not too wet, and also not too dry at the same time. If you think it’s too wet, add a bit more of the corn flour, and if you think it’s too dry, add a splash of water.**
Mix until you get the perfect consistency. You should be able to grab it with your hands without it sticking too much to your palms, and it should hold together when you squeeze it.
Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. This resting stage will set the dough and allow it to dry out a tiny bit. That’s important.
Once it’s rested, portion out the dough into 6-ounce balls and shape them with your hands into a hockey-puck-like shape.
**Note: You want them to be somewhat thick so that you can split them open later on and fill them. Don’t make them too thick that they’ll never cook, but also not too thin that you won’t be able to fill them. Again, think hockey puck.**
Place the shaped arepas onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to prevent sticking, as you shape them.
**Tip: Don’t do what I did, and shape them all different sizes…..that first one there in the corner is smaller than all the rest. Don’t judge me. Make sure you make them all the same size so that they cook at the same time.**
Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Add a bit of oil and cook about 2 to 3 arepas at a time. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown and crispy on each side (especially the first). Return to baking sheet and continue frying the rest.
**Note: We’re not looking to cook them all the way at this point. This is just to get that crispy crunchy exterior.**
Once they’ve all browned, place the arepas in a preheated 350ºF oven, directly onto the oven racks (without the baking sheet). This will ensure they stay crispy and crunchy. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes to evenly cook them through.
**Note: You’ll know they are cooked all the way when you tap them on top and they sound hallow, like a drum!**
Carefully remove them from the oven and place them on a baking sheet or a wire rack.
When you’re ready to assemble them, cut them with a serrated knife, like you would a bagel. You can choose to just make a slit and fill them, or cut them all the way and fill them more like a sandwich.
I filled mine with the shredded beef we made earlier, black beans (that I mashed slightly), avocado, tomato, lettuce and cheese.
I like to serve them with a few lime wedges for squeezing later on right before eating, and of course hot sauce of some kind because I like to eat these with some sort of spicy kick to them. Spicy is the way to go.
You can definitely make these vegetarian by omitting the shredded beef, which would save you a big step because the beef does take a few hours to cook and get just right. I know what you must be thinking, “3 to 4 hours to cook beef?!?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!” I know I know, but it’s totally worth it! The beef is so tender and juicy that you’ll forget about all those hours as soon as you take the first bite.
The greatest thing about this recipe is that it’s actually gluten-free! Say whaaaat?!!? Yeah! It’s gluten free. The corn flour we use to make the arepa dough doesn’t have any wheat, it’s made from corn. Just make sure you check the different brands that are out there. I know for a fact that Maseca, which is the brand I used, is indeed gluten-free (I checked online just to be sure, but it also says it on the bag).
If you’d like a few other ideas for filling these, you can do a vegetarian variation that I’ve had before which is, black beans, sweet plantains that have been sautéd in butter, and Mexican queso fresco (which is a type of fresh cheese that is indescribable but oh so tasty).
You can do a popular one that is filled with a creamy chicken avocado type salad filling thing that is super delicious. You can also do one that is just cheese….I mean, basically the world is your oyster and you can fill these with whatever your heart desires. Go out and explore!
Or you can just do the one that I have here because you trust me and trust in my judgment and when I say that these shredded beef and black bean arepas are the best ever…you believe me. I’d never lie to you, mainly because my mamma reads this blog and she taught me better than that.
I had a hard time deciding which photos to use for this post, so that’s why you’re being beaten over the head with all of these images (all of which I’m pretty sure are exactly alike and you probably most likely didn’t need to see all of them, but oh well).
Have I mentioned already how good this recipe is? It might sound and seem a little out there for you, but promise me you’ll give it a try before you write it off. It’s super easy to make, cross my heart and kiss my elbow. You can definitely do it. I believe in you!
- 2 pounds boneless chuck roast
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoons granulated onion
- 2 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
- 2 jalapeños, diced
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lime, juiced
- ¼ cup tomato sauce
- 2 cups chicken or beef stock
- 4 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 3½ to 4 cups precooked corn flour (Masarepa or Maseca)
- 1 can black beans, warmed
- 2 avocados, sliced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 cup shredded lettuce
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- lime wedges
- To make the shredded beef: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat a heavy duty dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil and allow to heat through. Season the roast liberally with 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic, 1 teaspoons granulated onion, 1 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Sear the roast on all sides for a few minutes to form a browned crust. We're not looking to cook it at all, just make a nice crust. Remove from heat. Add the sliced bell peppers, jalapeños, onion, garlic, bay leaves, lime juice, tomato sauce, chicken or beef stock and the remaining seasonings (1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon granulated onion, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon dried oregano). Roast in the oven for about 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is tender and shredded easily.
- To make the arepa dough: In a large mixing bowl combine the water, salt, vegetable shortening and 3½ cups corn flour. Mix by hand until it comes together into a somewhat moist and somewhat dry dough. If it's too wet, add a bit more corn flour. If it's too dry, add a bit more water. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest 10 minutes.
- Portion out the dough into 6-ounce balls and shape them into hockey pucks. They should be thick enough to cut in half later on. Place on a baking sheet as you shape them.
- Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of corn oil and allow to heat through. Add the arepas in batches (2 or 3 at a time) and cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, or until golden brown and crispy. Flip over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Return to the baking sheet and continue frying the rest.
- Place the arepas in a preheated 350°F oven, directly onto the oven racks and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes. You'll know they're ready when you tap them and they sound hallow like a drum. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
- Cut in half, like a bagel, using a serrated knife. You can make a slit and fill like a pocket, or you can cut all the way and use them as buns.
- Fill each with black beans, shredded beef and any or all of the toppings listed. Serve warm. Enjoy!
- yield: about 12 to 15 arepas