Raised on “Georgia ice cream,” I’d say I know a thing or two about grits. For those who hail from other parts of the country or the world, grits are a porridge-like food made of ground cornmeal that is a staple on Southern tables. They can be served for breakfast with chipped beef or red-eye gravy, cooked with cheese to make a savory side, or even topped with sautéed shrimp and sausage to make the Charleston favorite shrimp and grits.
While creamy, buttery grits are delicious, they certainly don’t fall into the eat-on-the-go category of foods. Requiring a spoon to eat, grits are more suited to a sit down meal and they certainly wouldn’t be your first choice for something to eat as you run out the door. Or at least that’s what I thought…
I’ve meant to make arepas for some time. Hailing from Venezuela and Colombia, arepas are small snack cakes made from a pre-cooked ground corn flour known as masarepa. One adds milk, butter and cheese to the masarepa and you shape the thick batter into small cakes before cooking it to golden brown perfection on a grill or heavy-bottomed skillet.
The result is a denser than expected corn cake that’s cheesy, buttery goodness tastes a heck of a lot like the grits I grew up on. Which is why, starting today, arepas will be known in my kitchen as “grits-on-the-go.”
I made this batch of arepas with milk, butter and mozzarella cheese. They were delicious and I wouldn’t change it thing, but if you can’t help yourself there are plenty of variations. Replace the milk with water and substitute different cheeses for the mozzarella. Originally, I planned to top the arepas with pico de gallo as I thought they might need a little flavor boost. I’m happy to report that additional condiments aren’t needed. However, I did toss a little salsa on one just to try it and then ate 3 more. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.
These small cakes travel well and store even longer making them a perfect, on-the-go breakfast or snack. For those looking to fancy it up, I think arepas would also make a delicious appetizer and would make them in bite-size portions for the occasion. Happy cooking!
Arepas de Queso – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes about 16 small cakes
Look for masarepa flour at any well-stocked Latin American market. While these cakes are best, right after browning, I found that they store well in the refrigerator and can be reheated quickly in the microwave.
2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups white arepa flour (masarepa)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over medium-low heat. Stir the mixture often and remove from the heat when the butter has melted.
In a large bowl, whisk together the arepa flour, grated mozzarella cheese, sugar, and salt. Slowly add the milk-butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is very smooth and has come together in a large dough ball. The dough should hold together well. Divide the dough into 16 pieces and shape each piece into golf-ball size rounds. Smash each of the balls between your palms to form ½-inch thick discs. Set aside.
Heat a large cast iron frying pan or heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Once hot, pour just enough vegetable oil into the skillet to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Don’t add too much oil; you are browning the arepas, not frying them. Add half the arepas to the oil and cook for about five minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Remove the arepas from the skillet and set aside on paper towels while you cook the remaining arepas. Serve immediately.