I must have been about 6 or 7 years old, and I remember being eye level to my grandmother’s stove. I saw these white, round things frying up in oil. What I vividly remember, was the distinct hole on the edge of these round patties and wondering what they were.
Just then, I watched my grandmother take a fork and use the hole as an anchor to flip what I would later learn were her arepas (Colombian corn pancakes). The oil would make the dough puff up into a small balloon, and it was always such a treat to see, and of course taste.
I caught up with my grandmother recently, and she confirmed that this is the way they did it in Colombia when frying arepas, since the hole is needed to safely flip. (It wasn’t just her little trick.) Although these arepas were fried in oil, they had a light and airy quality to them and a sweetness that came through from the corn. They were golden brown pillows of joy!
Arepas are essentially griddle cakes made from pre-cooked cornmeal. The beauty of this is that arepas can be prepared in a myriad of ways: grilled, fried or sauteed in oil. In addition they can be stuffed, topped with ingredients — or extra ingredients can even be mixed into the dough. They also can be made on the sweet side (my grandmother would put a little sugar in the dough), but they are more commonly served as a savory dish.
Arepas are a popular staple in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisines. My Mami Lucy (she never liked being called grandmother, because it made her sound old) was born in Colombia but told me that Venezuelans are known for making more elaborate arepas, and that Colombians keep them pretty simple.
These spiced lamb arepas with hummus are definitely not your traditional arepa, but the flavors work so well together with the mild corn flavor in the masa (dough). I sauteed them to achieve a char on the outside, which creates a delightful crunch that is met by the creaminess of the hummus. Spiced ground lamb then coats your tongue, and the sweet tomatoes, mint and pine nuts just bring the whole thing together.
For the homemade arepas (can also use pre-packaged arepas):
- 2 cups masarepa (I used the goya brand)
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups warm water
- Olive oil, for sauteeing
For the lamb:
- 1 ½ lb ground lamb
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 10 turns of freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ⅛ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of ground allspice
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ – 1 cup store bought hummus (or homemade hummus)
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
- ½ cup tomato, diced
- ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced (optional)
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- Mix the masarepa, water and salt in a bowl until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes until the mixture sticks together.
- Separately, in another bowl, season ground lamb with all the spices.
- Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Cook lamb until fully browned. Keep warm (covered) until ready to serve.
- Form arepa patties about 3-4 inches across and ½ inch in thickness using hands.
- Coat a saute pan with olive oil and cook arepas until brown (or charred, depending on preference) on both sides. Both sides should be crispy.
- Allow to cool and then slice the arepa lengthwise without cutting all the way through.
- Spread hummus on the top and bottom flap of the arepa. Add the spiced lamb mixture and top with diced tomato, diced pepper (if using) pine nuts and mint. Serve immediately or room temperature.