Arepas de Harina (Venezuelan Flour Arepas)

Arepas are as Venezuelan as it gets. Most households always have some on hand, whether to use for sandwiches as a main meal, or to eat on the side. The corncake version gets most of the attention, but this version from the Los Andes region of Venezuela is my favorite. Arepas Andinas, also known as arepas de harina (flour), get their name because unlike their cornmeal counterparts, these are made with all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. The result is a wider, thinner pocket that can hold more filling, which is clutch if you're trying to fill these up with black beans like I usually am. By Larisa Alvarez for Food Network Kitchen.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 50 min
  • Active: 50 min
  • Yield: 6 arepas
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Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting if needed 

1 teaspoon fine salt

1 cup warm water

1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil, , plus more for greasing if using a cast-iron skillet

Black beans and queso duro (hard cheese; see Cook's Note), or ham, crema and queso duro (hard cheese), for serving, optional

Directions

  1. Sift the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour and salt into a large bowl. If bits of flour remain after sifting, dump those into the bowl as well. Evenly distribute the flour and salt with your fingers, if necessary.
  2. Spread your fingers apart and make a claw with one hand and start circling the flour mixture. Drizzle in the oil slowly with your other hand, while continuing to circle with your fingers to create little pea-sized clumps. Squeeze any larger chunks and separate them with your fingers.
  3. Pour about a couple of tablespoons of the warm water into a corner of the bowl and mix a mound of flour with your hand, staying in that corner, until the water is absorbed and a clump of dough forms. It should feel malleable but dry. Remove this dough to a work surface and repeat with another mound of flour, until you have a couple of tablespoons water left, each time removing the newly formed dough to the existing pile. When there is just a little flour left, add the water a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to gather most of the flour. You may not use all the water -- it's better for the dough to be too dry than too wet.
  4. Combine all the mounds of dough into one and knead on your work surface until it all comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, lightly dust the work surface with whole-wheat flour. If the dough is still crumbly, knead in a couple of drops of water until the dough holds together but is not sticky. The dough should be dry enough that you do not need to flour your work surface. 
  5. Shape the dough into a vertical log and knead the dough a little at a time, starting at the top and working towards you: Fold over 1 inch and knead; then fold over 3 inches, knead again; fold over 4 inches and knead; and so on, until the dough accumulates on the sides, forming a horizontal log. Position the log vertically again and repeat this process 7 more times. Once you are done, the dough should be smooth and uniform. 
  6. Roll the dough into a neat log and cut into 6 equal pieces, each weighing a little less than 4 ounces. Working with 1 piece at a time, knead the edges of the dough into the center, turning the dough a little after each knead until turned 360 degrees. Gather all of the edges and bring them together in the center, then push the center down gently to resemble a flattened soup dumpling that's as round as possible. Flatten it slightly, remembering which side has the gathered ends -- we'll call this side the "tail" and the more smooth side, the "face."
  7. Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat or a nonstick skillet over medium. Lightly oil the cast-iron with a paper towel. If you have a good nonstick skillet, no need to oil it.
  8. Roll out each arepa, tail-side down, to about 6 inches in diameter. Cook in the skillet, face-side down, until the face is opaque, 35 to 40 seconds. All we want is a very superficial, even cook on the skin -- it should be mostly pale but a couple of little light brown freckles are okay. Flip and cook until the bottom is completely opaque with some larger golden brown spots, 90 seconds to 2 minutes. A little char is normal. Flip a final time and watch your arepa puff up! If you see a small hole in the arepa, push down with a spatula to trap the air in. When the arepa has puffed up, about 30 seconds, remove to a towel or napkin and wrap to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining arepas and serve immediately.
  9. For serving, you can cut the arepas into half-moons and stuff them or you can slice them into two rounds and sandwich your filling between the rounds. My favorite fillings are black beans and queso duro (a salty, hard white cheese), or ham, crema and queso duro. I also like to stir together some crema with grated queso duro to spread inside the arepas. We also serve plain arepas as sides for other meals.

Cook’s Note

Look for queso duro (hard cheese) at a market that carries Latin American products.