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Madison, WI is famous for its summer festivals. There is at least one grand one per month that attracts a hungry crowd. You see, at all of these fests, there are a lot of food carts. Some of these are extensions of restaurants that most people can’t get to for lunch. Some of these are carts all on their own with specialties like cheese curds, falafel, more falafel, and 42 other places that I can’t think of right now.

While celebrating what bookends the season for me at the Willy St. Fair this summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing, for the first time, arepas—an unassuming corn disc stuffed with black beans, plantains, and cotija cheese—from the Caracas Arepas food cart.

Sometimes, when I discover something new, I get kinda pissed off that it took so long for me to find it. This exact thing happened with the aforementioned falafel, nearly 20 years ago at the same festival.

I get a little fixated on certain things, and this little maize pocket of goodness is no exception. So, I set about recreating this “simple”, homey, delectable delight—I quoted simple because it only has three ingredients, but it needs to be perfect.

Pre-cooked corn flour.

I spotted the flour on the bottom shelf at Woodman’s and my eyes lit up like a kid’s on Christmas morning. I had pictured looking for one of those little boxes of polenta, but A WHOLE POUND?! Do you even KNOW how many arepas that will produce?! I don’t, actually. But I know it’ll be a lot.

I let a couple of weeks go by cuz I like to ruminate over some things (and elope to Mexico over others) and then decided it was time to dive in. I whipped up a batch of Braulio’s beans and got to work searching YouTube for instructions. I found The Frugal Chef and her arepas video. Water, a little salt, and flour. “Simple.”

I don’t have an action shot of me making the patties, cuz it takes two hands, but it’s important not to overwork the dough cuz that makes them less fluffy inside and then they won’t want to become pockets (you’ll see my solution to this shortly).

Happy, happy, corn, corn.

I pulled out my Green Pan griddle (holy crap, it’s more than twice the cost now) and let some butter dance around on it before gently placing these cakes of wonderfulness onto the surface.

One of them is smiling at me!

After a short while—probably five minutes—I flipped them and put some more butter down in case Side A soaked it all up. Side B should look roughly like the above, and if done correctly, you should be able to slice it crossways and stuff it with beans. This batch turned out a little close-textured (as Mary Berry might condescend), so instead of putting the beans inside, I simply plated them on top! Problem solved. I’m not letting a little overworked dough get in the way of putting these in my face.

Not too shabby.

Top with cotija cheese and dig in.

Since I will never tire of Mexican or Hispanic foods, I thought I ought to throw together some Elotes.

Wisconsin’s corn on the cob season was quickly drawing to a close, but we were still able to grab a few ears. My intention was to grill them on the, well, grill… but, it wasn’t a beautiful summer evening (in fact, it was a freezing fall night), and fixing up the grill for corn seemed too much work. So, I used the next best thing: a gas stove!

I just realized my kitchen is the same color as corn.

Five roasted cobs later, I carefully sliced the kernels off into a bowl. A bowl already prepared with Mexican crema, mayonnaise, cotija, and Chili powder. Stir it up, throw in a little salt and pepper, and serve.

Elote seasoning.

Elotes y Arepas

Tasty, corny, and very much worth the effort*.
*This recipe does not include ingredients or instructions for whatever you want to put in, on, or around your arepas.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: Hispanic, Mexican
Servings: 3

Equipment

  • Flat-top Griddle

Ingredients

Elotes

  • 5 cobs corn
  • 1/3 c mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c crema
  • 1 tsp chili powder chipotle, preferably
  • 1/3 c cotija cheese

Arepas

  • 2 c masarepa (precooked corn flour)
  • 2 c warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Instructions

Elotes

  • Roast the cobs either on the grill or gas stovetop until an appropriate amount of grill marks appear. Stand a cob on one end and slice the kernels off from top to bottom, leaving none behind. Repeat until cobbed out.
  • While the cobs are roasting, mix together the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.
  • Stir in kernels and pop into the fridge to cool.

Arepas

  • In a large bowl, dilute the salt into the warm water. Gradually add flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is pliable enough to use your hands. Mix with hands, being careful to not overwork the dough. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Make a ball with the dough and work between hands to form a patty—mix oil and water in a bowl to coat your hands to keep the dough from sticking—keeping the edges smooth.
  • Heat a griddle and melt butter. Put patties on the griddle until golden brown spots appear on one side. Keep flipping until both sides are nice and golden.
  • Slice and stuff with your favorite anything and eat it like a sandwich. Alternatively, top with that same anything and eat it with a fork. Adiós!