Not to sound like Andy Williams, but - Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be? This story has many beginnings. I have a very deep interest in South American flavours and cooking. I've been researching recipes for years. I also love Central American flavours, and most of all Mexican cooking. But living in rural Canada, I cannot obtain the ingredients. So I dream. BUT since I live in the vegetable capital of Canada, I'm very fortunate that we have migrant workers all during the season, and since we're in the Harvest season now, even more visitors to our little town. So our stores go to the trouble to stock their local ingredients. And after a ten year search, I found some P.A.N.! That's pre-cooked corn flour! It was better than winning the lottery for me. Finally, I could try to make Arepas. This is a cornbread that is popular in South America. Argentina and Ecuador especially. It's a disk like bread that you slice almost open and stuff with a multitude of different ingredients. Another beginning to my story is that I've never been to South America, and poverty dictates that I most likely never will. So I like to soak up their culture looking at photos of their landscape and art and food online. But you can't really know if you're absorbing it or not since you don't taste the flavours and savour the aroma in the streets. Hope for the best I guess.
So with my treasured P.A.N. I set about to make a recipe. Now here I go off the track again. I searched the internet and settled on a few different versions and combined them into one. I'm quite lazy about lard, so I used Canola oil and so on. And I have a stray cat issue in my backyard, and the violence and general grossness of it prohibits me from going out to grill. I should have though since I nearly burned the house down doing the bread in the oven. Oh let's not beat around the bush. It took me nearly three hours to buck up a chicken sandwich. The house was filled with thick smoke from top to bottom. I worry that not one of 4 smoke alarms went off since Mario complained of burning eyes from the smoke. My kitchen pretty much looked like a corn bomb exploded in it. I felt really discouraged and I will most certainly have to clean the oven tomorrow.
But that's not the story. The story is that only once in a Blue Moon do you find a recipe on the internet that literally hits it out of the ballpark as far as authenticity goes. I haven't had one like this since my Pozole Roja recipe. I've now learned that if a recipe takes hours and hours to make and has a ton of ingredients in it, you can't miss. If you're pacing the floors with worry and thinking you're going to have to dump it and call out for pizza, you've usually got a winner! And do you know why that is? It's because if you stick with it through thick and thin, your love is going to shine through when it hits the table. And that's what happened in my kitchen tonight. So let's roll with some Pure Love! This recipe was adapted from Julie Loria from the internet.
For the filling you'll need:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 onion sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ripe chopped avocado
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno finely chopped
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped red or yellow pepper
the other half of that onion, but finely chopped
2 green onions sliced
juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper to season
For the Arepas
3 cups of warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
3 cups of P.A.N. - or pre cooked cornmeal
2 tablespoons of canola oil or vegetable shortening melted. (I used Canola oil)
Boil the chicken breasts with the 1/2 sliced onion and salt and pepper for about 20 minutes until it's fully cooked and let it cool completely.
Mash the avocado, mayonnaise and vinegar together and add all the other ingredients. Let it chill and shred and add the chicken when it's cooled down. Season with salt and pepper and more vinegar to make it slightly tart. Keep in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
Now to the Arepas. I thought I would never try this recipe ever again until I tasted them. This undertaking is not for the faint of heart. But here is where I will help you out. Do Not Attempt to bake these in the oven. They must be crispy on the outside and the recipe dictates that you brown them in the frying pan and put them on the direct rack on the oven. Epic Fail. Seal them in the fry pan and for God's Sakes - Grill Them! The oil drips out of them and causes a God Almighty Disaster of smoke and disbelief! And now I know why everybody has an outside stove in South America.
Stir the 3 cups of warm water with the salt until the salt dissolves. Slowly add the 3 cups of cornmeal stirring with a wooden spoon. Make sure you have no lumps and let the dough sit aside for 5 minutes. Just enough time to pour a fresh drink since you'll be sweating now from the work of that. Add the canola oil or lard and mix it all in. Preheat your grill and a frying pan to medium heat with a bit of oil in it. Divide the dough into 6 portions and flatten each one out into 1 inch thick patties. Fry for 3 or 4 minutes and flip. They need to be golden brown. Set aside and then put them on the grill on low heat. Don't let them scorch. Keep flipping, but they need to be crispy on the outside. About 15 minutes in all. Let them cool and slice them 3/4 open to a Pita Pocket like state and stuff with your filling.
Lots of work, but off the charts for authentic flavour. This recipe has one of two places - Either you're trying to get your mind off your troubles, or you've found the sexiest Latin lover ever in life and you're looking for him to put a ring on it. Either way, you win. Cheers my friends!