Arepa Venezolana. From Venezuela with Love

Arepas

Most people think the complexity of a meal and the difficulty of its preparation are proportionally related to its deliciousness. In some cases it may be true but like everything else in life, things are always relative.

Here’s one very simple recipe that will definitely cause you a culinary orgasm. The dish is called arepa and it comes from the South American region of Gran Colombia. It’s the undisputed national dish of Venezuela and its origin can be traced directly to the indigenous Timoto–Cuica people who inhabited the Andean region in the western part of the country. Arepas are also hugely popular in neighboring Colombia.

The oldest arepa recipe known today comes from a book called “Viaje y descripción de las Indias (1539-1553)” by Galeotto Cei. Here is a translation from Spanish:

They make another kind of bread (with corn) resembling tortilla, a finger thick, round and large like a French dish, more or less. It’s put to cook on a griddle over fire and is brushed with lard to prevent it from sticking, flipping it until fully cooked on both sides and this variety is called arepas and some fecteguas.

Ingredients

Cornflour, salt, water, some vegetable oil

Preparation

As you can read from the quoted description, it’s hardly rocket science. All you need is cornflour, a pinch of salt and water. 250 g of cornflour is enough for a satisfying breakfast for two people. Add a pinch of salt, then start pouring water slowly while mixing continuously until it forms a thick paste. Add a little bit of vegetable oil and mix it well into the paste. It should be thick enough to be shaped into flat round patties.

Experienced cooks prepare each arepa by rolling part of the mixture between their palms until it forms a ball and then slightly applying pressure while continuing to roll until the ball flattens. The prepared shapes may be cooked in different ways, for example fried in oil or baked. The indigenous way is to cook them on firewood. Preparation time varies and it depends on the thickness but it’s usually about 5 minutes per side on medium fire.

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Serving suggestions

You can serve arepas in many different ways. There are elaborate recipes for arepas stuffed with cheese, ground meat or vegetables. In case you find stuffing cornflour dough a bit too complicated or time-consuming, you can simply slice an already cooked arepa in two parts (like a bread roll of a hamburger) and add a ground meat patty or freshly sliced vegetables in between.

In Venezuela, arepas are often eaten with perico, the Latin American version of the European scrambled eggs, which is made by frying diced onions and finely chopped tomatoes in butter and adding several eggs at the end.

In some western parts of Colombia, people serve them with hot chocolate.

There is one way to serve arepas, which I especially like. Put them on a plate and add a small slice of butter on top of each one. The aromatic mixture of baked corn and melting butter will definitely make you happy.

Designer’s advice

There are many varieties of cornflour and some of them are white in color. In case you want to achieve a corn-like yellow look, you can use artificial food colorants (which I definitely don’t recommend) or some natural spices. Turmeric powder will add a very rich yellow color and a bit of ground paprika will bring an even darker note. However, be aware that unlike artificial colorants, most natural ingredients will also alter the taste of the arepas. An interesting serving decoration is to put chunks of mozzarella cheese on top of each arepa and sprinkle with paprika powder. You can further add a whole grain of black pepper or a squirt of mustard on top of the mozzarella chunk. As with any other dish, use your imagination and trust your gut instinct.

Bon appétit!

Pizza di Jackson Pollock, from Scratch

Alphadesigner's Pizza di Jackson Pollock Raw

Apart from being a design exercise, I have always considered cooking a form of art. And while the visual aspect of food is mostly refined in desserts and some ludicrously posh gourmet dishes, I think pizza can be a perfect foundation for artistic exercises. After all, out of all other types of food, nothing else resembles canvas like pizza dough does. The Jackson Pollock actually idea came to me by accident after I already made the pizza – when I took it out of the oven, it just looked like one of his paintings.

So here’s how to become a food artist.

My recipe for the dough is based on a recipe by Jamie Oliver published on the Channel 4 website. Of course, I modified it a bit to suit my needs.

Dough ingredients

1 kg plain flour, 1 table spoon salt, 1 table spoon sugar, 4 table spoons oil, 15 gr dry yeast, 600 ml water

Dough preparation

Mix the water, olive oil, sugar and yeast in a bowl. Leave to rest for 10 minutes for the yeast to activate. Sieve the flour on a wide flat surface, add the salt, make a well in the middle and start pouring the liquid from the bowl little by little, gently mixing it with the flour starting from the wall of the well outwards. After the consistency becomes more solid, begin kneading it with your flour-dusted hands. Play with the ball of dough for a little bit, if the surface allows you to, you can even smash it down few times as a part of the cooking theater. It will certainly charm whoever is watching you. After you’re done, leave the dough to rest for at least 1 hour, I personally prefer an hour and a half. By that time the dough should triple in size.

When it’s all ready, take the dough and put it back on the flat surface, knead for a while to make it smooth and push the air bubbles out. Divide in several equal parts (I usually make 4 balls), dust them with flour and stuff them in the fridge. They can survive for a week or so, so use them in that time period. When you are ready to make a pizza just take a piece and roll it out. Oil the surface of the baking pan and spread the dough inside. Now you’re ready to add the topping.

Topping ingredients

Main ingredients: zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, olive oil, grated Mozzarella cheese, ham
Spices: paprika powder, salt, fresh mint leaves

Topping preparation

Cut the tomatoes in small cubes and leave aside. Heat the olive oil in a pan and put the crushed pieces of garlic to fry for a minute. Be careful not to over-fry them because they will taste bitter. Add the cut tomatoes, some water and leave everything to boil for about 5 minutes. Add more water in the meantime in case it is necessary. When the tomato-garlic paste is ready, spread it on the dough. Next should come a thin layer of grated Mozzarella cheese and on top of it you can add the finely cut zucchinis, the mushrooms and the ham. Sprinkle some paprika powder and freshly cut mint leaves on top and put in a pre-heated oven at 180-200 degrees C for about 20 minutes.

Designer’s advice

I highly recommend using a rectangular-shaped baking pan since there are no known round paintings by Jackson Pollock.

Bon appétit!

Alphadesigner's Pizza di Jackson Pollock Cooked

Baby Potatoes in Thick Boiling Lava Sauce

Baby Potatoes in Thick Boiling Lava Sauce

Ingredients

Main ingredients: 1 kg baby potatoes, 4-5 carrots, 1 onion, 2-3 pieces of garlic, 200g Mozzarella cheese
Sauce: 500g tomato paste, 200ml water, 3 table spoons wheat flour, 2 table spoons soy sauce, 2 table spoons olive oil
Spices: fresh parsley, salt

Preparation

Boil the baby potatoes in water for twenty minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain to stop the cooking and put pour into a baking pan. Slice the carrots and the onions in large chunks and mix with the potatoes. Add the freshly cut parsley, several crushed pieces of garlic and salt.

In a large bowl, mix the water and the flour. Add a little bit of salt and stir until you reach smooth consistency. Add the tomato paste, olive oil, and soy sauce. Pour the mixture on top of the other ingredients in the baking pan. Add the grated Mozzarella cheese and mix everything gently. Bake in a pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes.

Designer’s advice

Serve hot. Decorate the dish with whole pepper grains, sprinkled on top. A glass of red wine would add a pinch of sophistication to the color harmony of your table. Enjoy!

Baby Potatoes and Broccoli in Honey Mustard Custard

Baby Potatoes and Broccoli in Honey Mustard Custard

Ingredients

Main ingredients: 1 kg baby potatoes, about 250g broccoli, 4-5 green onions, 200g Cheddar cheese
Custard: 100ml cream, 100ml milk, 2 eggs, 1 table spoon English mustard, 1 table spoon of honey, 1 table spoon wheat flour
Spices: fresh dill leaves, pepper, salt

Preparation

Boil the baby potatoes in water for twenty minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain to stop the cooking and put aside. Boil the broccoli in water for 5 minutes, drain and mix with the potatoes in a large baking pan. Add the freshly sliced green onions and salt according to your taste.

Whisk 2 eggs in a cup and add the flour. Stir until you reach smooth consistency, then add the mustard, honey, cream and milk. After blending add the freshly chopped dill leaves and some salt. Pour the mixture on top of the other ingredients in the baking pan. Add the grated Cheddar cheese and mix everything gently. Bake in a pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes.

Designer’s advice

Serve with several spoons of thick yogurt and sprinkle with some paprika for color.

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Turkish Delight by alphadesigner

Making Turkish delight is not as difficult as you may imagine but it requires a little bit of extra time and a lot of stirring. Note that this recipe does not contain gelatin. Maybe a posh cookbook may trick you into putting some but this is not how the Turkish (or any other Balkan people) do it. If you want to make genuine Turkish delight, stick to this recipe. Remember that flavors vary according to taste, you are free to choose yours and nobody will arrest you for that. As long as curry is not your first choice, that is. One of the most used is rose water.

Ingredients

Main Ingredients: 4 cups granulated sugar, 1 ½ cups corn starch, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 2 ½ cups water, 1 cup walnuts, rose water (for flavoring)
Decoration: ½ cup coconut shavings, 1 cup confectioners sugar (optional)

Preparation

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and 1 cup of water in a pan and boil for about 30 minutes until the mixture gets a glue-like consistency. Then remove from the heat and leave it aside. Mix the corn starch and the remaining water in another pan. Stir well and cook until the mixture begins to form a ball inside the pan. Then slowly add the sugar mixture while stirring constantly and allow to boil for a while until it becomes really sticky and its color changes to gold. Add the walnuts and various flavorings you prefer. :)

Pour the mixture in a oiled container and leave it to cool completely. Then cut in any shape you like and roll the cuts in the coconut shavings and/or confectioners sugar.

Designer’s advice

Use a warm, wet knife for cutting. If you put a lot of nuts inside, don’t cut in pieces that are too small, make long thick sausage-like chunks instead and roll them well in coconut shavings.
Bon appétit!

Hijacked Rice Pudding

Hijacked Rice Pudding

Ingredients

Main ingredients: rice, eggplant, plantain, carrot, potato, garlic, onion, tomato, olive oil
Spices: fresh mint leaves, turmeric powder, fenugreek seeds, sweet paprika powder, salt, sugar
Topping: yogurt, wheat flower, water

Hijacked Rice Pudding

Preparation

Slice all the vegetables in cubes, except the garlic, which should be simply crushed. Put the oil to heat in a pan. Add the potatoes first and leave them to fry for a while until you see a crust beginning to appear. Add the plantain, the carrot, the onion, a teaspoon of sugar, salt and the fenugreek seeds. Leave to fry for a bit longer. Add the eggplant, the tomato and the garlic last. Remove from fire and add the fresh whole mint leaves. Cover the pan and leave aside.

Now is a good time to preheat the oven (180-200 degrees C)

Boil two teacups of rice in water (proportion for basmati rice is 1 part rice – 2 parts of water, thicker variety of rice require more water). After the rice is cooked, pour it in a baking pan. Spread it well and leave aside. In a bowl, mix 3 spoons of wheat flour with 100-150 ml water. Stir well until the mixture becomes smooth. Add 3 spoons of yogurt, a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a teaspoon of sweet paprika powder. Continue stirring until smooth consistency is reached.

Take the pan with the fried vegetables and pour them over the rice. Spread it well and when done, pour the mixture from the bowl over the vegetables. Bake in the over for about 15-20 minutes until the surface becomes crusty.

Designer’s advice

Serve on a white plate decorated with mint leaves.

Bon appétit!