I’ve been meaning to make Arepas forever, and when I saw an old Diner’s Drive In and Dives rerun featuring these I took it as a sign…and I’m glad I did. The combination of the still warm, fragrant Arepa with the cool, creamy, slightly tangy Chicken and Avocado filling is indescribable.
The Chicken and Avocado filling was named Reina Pepiadais, in honor of Susana Dujim, Miss World 1995. (Reina means “queen” in Spanish, and pepiadais, I understand, is perhaps most politely translated as “curvy.”) The Arepas, though, can be filled and stuffed with all manner of things, served plain, or maybe dragged through a salsa.
In my find, the equation for bread is flour plus water equals mess, but the dough for these little gems is so well-behaved I had them formed and in my cast iron skillet in seconds (excepting the short rest time.) It was like working with play dough – even a child could make these and they would be fun way to get the kids (or in my case grand kids) in the kitchen.
The only trick here is to make sure you have the right type of corn flour – you want to use a precooked flour, masarepa or masa precocida. I found it in my supermarket, but if not, check a Latino market or the internet. Pan seems to be the preferred brand. Masa Harina (for tortillas or tamales) just isn’t the same thing and just won’t work properly.
That these little Arepas are inexpensive is beside the point – they are so delicious I’m a little dumbfounded that this was an under $5.00 meal. I served my Chicken Avocado Arepas with my own interpretation of Aji Salsa as a side. I’ve fallen in love with this salsa – so much so that I ate the rest of mine with a spoon when I finished with my Arepa! Cost for the Arepas and the Chicken Avocado filling was around $3.24, and 1/2 recipe of the Aji Salsa about another dollar.
Arepas: makes about 8 arepas, depending on size.
- 3 cups precooked corn flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups very hot or boiling water (1/2 cup of this could be milk or buttermilk)
- 3 tablespoons oil (part can be melted butter)
- oil for skillet
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except the oil for the skillet. Don’t worry if this looks too wet, the cornmeal will absorb the water. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Check your dough – it dough should be smooth and not stick to your hands. If it appears too dry, add a little water and knead it in, then let it rest another five minutes. If too wet, knead in a little additional flour and let rest.
Using your hands, form balls of dough out of about 1/2 cup of dough and press to form a cake about 4 inches wide and 3/4 inch tall. If the dough cracks at the edges, mix in a little more water and then form the cakes.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Sauté the patties, a few at a time, to form a light brown crust on one side, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip and brown on the other side. Don’t cook these too fast or they won’t be done in the middle.
When all the patties have been browned, transfer them to a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they sound lightly hollow when tapped. Serve immediately with the Reina Pepiadais (Chicken and Avocado Salad filling.)
Chicken & Avocado Filling (Reina Pepiadais) : Serves 4 to 6
- 2 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or use leftover chicken)
- 1/2 small onion, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
- scant 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 jalapeno seeded and minced (optional)
- 1/2 cup seeded and diced (1/4-inch) red bell pepper (optional)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- 1 green onion, white and green parts, finely chopped
To make the filling, place the chicken breasts and onion in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool chicken in liquid, if time allows (It helps to keep the chicken moist.) Roughly dice or shred.
In a bowl, add the chicken with the rest of ingredients together and mix (best done with clean hands.) You’ll want to “mush” the avocado and break the chicken up a little. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add more vinegar if needed. The filling should have a slight pleasant, but not sour, tang. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Fill the still warm arepas with the cool, creamy filling and serve with salsa, if desired.
Note: In the photo, above, I forgot to “mush” in the avocado, and other times I’ve remembered. I decided I almost like it better with the chunks rather than the mush.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
This recipe would be a wonderful place to use chicken left over from another recipe.
- Chicken: I never buy full price chicken – it goes on sale too often. Some sales are better than others, but usually every few weeks it will drop to 99 cents a pound, and I stock up then. I prefer bone in breasts over boneless (see Bone-In Chicken Breasts, How to Deal with in a Frugal Manner) but I’ll buy either bone in or boneless at this price. I portion the chicken in Ziploc bags, a breast per person for meals and freeze. If breasts are super large, I’ll trim them down to about six ounces and make tenders for the kids or use the bits for stir fry. Cost for 12 ounces is about 75 cents.
- Avocados: Always on sale for $1.00 a piece here, sometimes we get lucky and they’ll be larger bags for less that aren’t too far gone (can you say guac?) Cost for this one: $1.00
- Green Onion: I try to buy on sale for about 50 cents a bunch (usually during Holidays) then put the white tips in a jar of water in a sunny window to regrow. Kids love taking ownership of the project. I only need to replenish every few months. Cost is so minimal that I don’t even count it.
- Jalapenos: They never really go on sale here, but they’re so small the cost is always minimal. These were about 23 cents, half was 12. Make sure to have another use for the half; I often make Mexican Rice and add a jalepeno, or if I have a half left like this, use it.
- Onion: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
- Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1/2 an onion is about 5 cents.
- Red Onion: The cost for Red Onion is a little higher than a standard onion, but they keep just as long. The same suggestions applies for storage. I used part in this recipe and part in the Aji Salsa – two tablespoons is about a penny. (Keep any that you don’t use in the door of your fridge and you’ll be less likely to forget it’s there; they keep a long time, just trim off the cut edge which has a tendency to dry out.)
- Mayonnaise: Buy your condiments in the summer when there are coupons out there and big sales – I look for about a dollar for a 32 ounce jar (notice I said jar – the squeeze bottles generally cost the same and hold less, plus you can’t get all of it out.) If you miss the summer sales, another great time of the year for condiments is right before the Super Bowl. Cost for 1/4 cup is about 13 cents.
- Corn Flour: I paid $1.89 for a bag – unfortunately it was measured in grams, but I think I’ve figured it pretty closely. The bag holds 1960 grams, and a cup is 104 grams. Keep flour like this in your freezer if you don’t use it often. Using three cups works out to about 30 cents.
- Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 24 cents.
- Bell Pepper: There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a seventy cents a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 50 to 75 cents for the green bell. Cost for 1/2 the red pepper, about 50 cents.
- Vinegar: I pick up a jug of white vinegar around Easter – often with a coupon, and often on an unadvertised sale. It keeps forever and is dirt cheap. The better vinegars are often on sale at Easter, and on sale with coupons sporadically through the summer. Cost nominal.
- Fresh Herbs: I grow my own in the garden, and also keep a few ones I often use on the back steps in a strawberry pot. When winter comes, I bring indoors. Indoors is not always ideal for herb growing, but since a plant costs about the same as a bunch, there’s really no loss, even if it dies off; just snip and dry. Cost: nominal.
- Nutrition for Arepa: Cal 193 cal from fat 51, 26%; fat 5.9g; sat fat .98g; chol .63mg; sod 180.95; tot carb 32.65; fib 2.74g; sug .69g; prot 3.98g
- Nutrition for Filling: (1/4) Cal 215.93; cal flr fat 113.78 58%; tot fat 13.2g; chol 40.37mg; sod 143.99mg; tot carb 10.6g; fib 3.8g; sug 2.38g; prot 14.89g
Put Your own Spin on It:
- The filling is just an avocado chicken salad – no reason you couldn’t add almost anything you’d like.
- The recipe I found used red bell pepper, but I’m guessing that a red aji dulce pepper would be the more authentic version.
- The filling is wonderful served in lettuce cups if there is any left over.
- I imagine that any number of salads or “salsa” with mangoes, pineapple and such would be wonderful with these little arepas.
- Of course, there are many arepa fillings to choose from – I’ll be trying a black bean filling next.
I can’t wait to try these Arepas: Arepas with Black Beans and Avocado Salsa from Sara’s Kitchen.
Recipe made June 2012; Repriced February 2014