Eating a gluten-free diet can really make you miss a good sandwich. Despite what many will tell you, gluten-free sandwich bread usually isn’t that great. It never exactly approximates wheat bread, usually suffering from a gritty texture, brick-like density, or a bland, white rice flavor. Many GF folks forego sandwiches entirely, preferring to eat foods that are naturally gluten-free. After all, it’s a better bet to eat something you know will be delicious, rather than a pretender that will never be as good as the real thing.
Enter arepas. This delicious, corn-based flatbread manages an uncommon feat in the gluten-free world — arepas allow you to make a delicious sandwich without suffering the pitfalls of gluten-free sandwich bread. A Venezuelan specialty, they’re made from arepa flour, a specially-processed corn flour available in Hispanic markets and online. When cooked, arepas look and act much like English muffins. They’re wonderful served piping hot straight out of the oven, split down the middle, and filled with your sandwich ingredients of choice. Crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, their texture is irresistible. Furthermore, their mildly corn-y flavor pairs well with ingredients from a variety of cuisines. I’d venture a guess that a hot, melty arepa pb&j would be out of this world. Let me know if you try it!
Today I went a pretty traditional route, filling my arepas with leftover cooked, sliced chicken breast, avocado, cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of green onions and cilantro. The combination was fantastic, and a little salsa on the side didn’t hurt things either. I’ve listed quantities for my fillings below, but you can eat your arepas with any filling you like! From butter and jam to ham and swiss, arepas are endlessly adaptable.
makes 6 arepas
for the dough:
2 1/2 C. (20 oz.) lukewarm water
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups (330 g.) P.A.N. arepa flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil (for cooking)
for the filling:
1/2 lb. cooked chicken breast
1 medium avocado, sliced thinly
3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated on a coarse microplane
2 green onions, sliced thinly
2 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 C. salsa (on the side)
1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the water, 1 tsp. olive oil, and salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved.
3. Pouring the cornmeal into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients in a slow, even stream, mixing with a dough whisk as you pour.
4. When all of the cornmeal has been incorporated into the water, continue to knead with the dough whisk for an additional 5 minutes.
5. Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap. Set aside.
6. Divide the kneaded dough into even six pieces (about 150 g. each). The dough will be a bit sticky — wet your hands to make it easier to handle. Use your hands to shape each piece into a flat disk, about half an inch thick and 5″ in diameter. As you shape the disks, place them on the plastic wrap-covered cutting board. This will make it easy to transfer them to the skillet.
6. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large (12-inch) non-stick skillet over medium heat. Gently place the arepas in the pan and cook them for five minutes on each side (10 minutes total). When the arepas are golden brown on both sides, transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
7. Bake the arepas for 35-40 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped.
8. Serve arepas immediately. Split them in half while still hot out of the oven, then fill with desired fillings. Serve with salsa.