I have gotten seriously bored of the usual things I cook, so I’ve been trolling through my recipes bookmarks, looking for something new and exciting. I think I might be getting a bit too snobby though, because lately all the new recipes I’ve tried haven’t lived up to my expectations, despite their reputable sources. First there was the big crumb coffee cake (too much crumb, not enough rhubarb). Then another rhubarb experiment-The Minimalist’s rhubarb crisp (too much cinnamon in the topping, too much sugar overall). I took one bite and instantly knew what I would do differently if I ever made it again. My mom will offer this as final proof that I am picky and particular, I prefer to think I have a sophisticated palate. But I am worried I’ll turn into one of those people who has to do everything themselves because no one else does it well enough. Though I don’t think anyone will ever best my dad on peanut butter toast, he really knows how to cover those corners.
Ben and I have been watching Top Chef Masters and it’s funny to listen to the judges try to nitpick every little thing about the food, which is by all accounts exemplary in every aspect. The competitors are all established award-winning chefs so finding fault with their work should be a difficult task. Then Ben wondered aloud if people whose job it is to pick something apart can ever really just sit back and eat something and enjoy it, and that made me start to worry about my future.
Well tonight I tackled another Minimalist recipe, this one for arepas, which are a kind of Venezuelan corn cake or corn fritter. Think latkes but with cornmeal, corn kernels and green onions. I planned to fry these up and top them with black beans, roasted red peppers, pico and yogurt (sour cream’s low-cal cousin) but there were a couple bumps along the way. Mainly, although I followed the recipe to a T, the batter it produced was unworkably wet. Which is hilarious because in the accompanying video Mark Bittman stresses that the important thing is the liquid to cornmeal ratio, which I had presumed he’d already worked out for my benefit in the recipe. Sadly, the recipe as it is written does not work. I stared at the mess in the bowl for 30 seconds, like it was that disappointing 5th grade lab experiment where my sugar crystals never grew. The batter I ended up with was more akin to corn chowder than pliable dough, and though I added a bit more than 1/4 cup of extra cornmeal I still didn’t get the desired texture. I decided not to add any more for fear of ruining the flavor of the arepas and opted to risk disfiguring burns by dolloping the batter into the pan rather than try and mold it into patties. Maybe it’s me and I’m using some crazy weird European cornmeal, but since the package says ingredients: stone-ground corn I’m going to guess the problem lies not with myself. So I would suggest starting out with 1/2 cup milk and then adding more if needed, depending on your particular cornmeal. Despite looking unweildly in the bowl, the batter actually cooked up really well. All in all this was a delicious meal, with the corn and roasted peppers adding wonderful sweet bits to the earthy beans and fresh pico. Next time I might try a sharper cheddar (what’s known as mature here) to get some real punch in there for contrast. The arepas are easy-if you can make a pancake you can make arepas-and a one-bowl affair (easy clean-up, you’re welcome Mom!). They would also be great topped with grilled veggies or meat instead of the beans.
Arepas with Corn and Cheddar
adapted from Mark Bittman at the NYTimes
1 cup yellow cornmeal, finely ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels (I used frozen ones and thawed them first)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 small serrano or jalapeño chili, seeded and minced, optional
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
corn, canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil for frying the arepas
Combine cornmeal, salt, cheese, corn kernels, scallions, cilantro and chili in a bowl. Melt the butter in the milk (I did this in the microwave) and add to the dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Add a bit more milk, if necessary, until your batter is a bit like wet bread dough. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes during which time it should firm up a bit and resemble a corn version of meatloaf mix, if that makes sense. Scoop out batter and form into patties about 1/2 inch thick. Add a few tablespoons of oil to a hot skillet and cook patties over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook an additional 3 minutes. Makes eight arepas.
my own recipe
1 cup dried black beans
1 cup onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried mexican oregano or whole cumin or both
Pick over black beans and remove any stray pebbles, twigs and broken beans. Place in a large-ish container and cover with at least twice the volume of water. Allow to soak 4-6 hours. Place medium saucepan over medium heat and add oil, onion and garlic. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add salt and spices, then beans and their liquid. Add enough hot water to cover the beans by about 1/2 inch. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat so that they simmer gently. Do not leave the heat to high or they will taste nasty! Check beans every 20 minutes or so, topping off with hot water when necessary. Cook about 1 1/2 hours if you want beans that still maintain their integrity, 2 hours if you want loose and saucy beans. (and who wouldn’t want those?) Makes about three cups.
I think I’m going to start posting some recipes as I’m making them, and tell you the adjustments I try and see how that goes. Maybe you readers who like to cook can try them out and tell me what you think of them, too?
UP NEXT: Barbecue pulled pork ciabattas with creamy slaw and oven fried potatoes.