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getting tropical in colorado

Recipe: arepas with guasacaca

It has been snowing horizontally in my ‘hood for the past couple of days. I rather like the vertical snow more – you know, the kind that falls gently and accumulates so you can ski it? But I’ll take any snow we can get at the moment because we haven’t had our usual Big Dump Snow Day yet and it’s nearly November. Meanwhile, we’ve been taking care of business at home – like choosing who won the Doughnuts cookbook giveaway! Jeremy gathered Kaweah’s ragtag crew of toys, assigning each one a number and randomly distributing them in a line (that is, they are not laid out in numerical order). Then we recorded the number of the first toy she touched. We did this three times.

kaweah picked the number 557

Our number is 557. We had 274 qualifying entrants (I basically accepted entrants up until Kaweah had a number) and 557 MOD 274 is 9. Congratulations Emily Vigue! You’ve won a free copy of Lara Ferroni’s Doughnuts! I’ll send you an email to get your shipping address right away!

In case you’re wondering just how random my selection process is, my resident astrophysicist came up with the method and we had it verified for pure idiotic randomness by my friend and resident economist (also statistician), Erin. Not to mention – it’s Kaweah – does ANYONE know what goes on in that little brain of hers?

well, right now you know what kaweah is thinking

Erin and Ali came up yesterday so Erin could teach us to make arepas. Erin has been wanting to share arepas with us forever and ever. She learned how to make them the proper way in Venezuela. While I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in tropical climates, I am more than willing to partake of the cuisine. I’ve been wanting to try and blog about arepas ever since Erin mentioned them, so it all worked out. And if you see henna tattoos on the hands of our models, yes – they were at the party too!

start with harina pan

Erin told me there are two brands of harina that she is aware of and harina PAN is the one you want to use. You probably won’t find it in your neighborhood grocery store unless you are lucky enough to have a good Latin American market nearby (if so, color me jealous). So burn that image above into your brain because it is soooo worth it to make these delectable little pockets of savory amazingness.

pour the harina pan into a large bowl

add warm water

and some oil (and salt)

mix it together with your hand and let it rest

While you let the harina sit (Erin says ten minutes minimum, but the longer the better), you can make the guasacaca, a Venezuelan avocado salsa. Sounds like huasakaka – no hard G, okay? The ingredients are relatively easy to come by.

onion, jalapeño, parsley, cilantro, garlic, and avocado

blender it

You’ll also need a little salt, some white vinegar or rice wine vinegar, and oil (which you add last – always last). This might have come together easier had we used the food processor or if we hadn’t packed the leafy herbs in first. If you go the blender route and your blender sucks as much as mine does, then please blender the onion, vinegar, and avocado first. That will produce enough liquid to get the rest of the ingredients blendered properly, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time pushing ingredients down toward the blade over and over and over again (with the blender OFF, of course).

erin finally gets the guasacaca to blend up

brilliant green color

The guasacaca smells so good and fresh! Just wait until you taste it. Bright, creamy, tangy, slightly spicy, and smooth. Ali and I began to think of all the foods we could use as vehicles for guasacaca. Okay, but we had to finish making the arepas. Erin corralled us back to the table to show us how to shape the patties. Erin is specific in her instructions on how to form the arepas because she likes the crunchy bits more than the soft interior. I like the crunchy more than the squishy too. Her formula is approximately 4-5 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch in thickness.

flat, even, rounded, no cracks

cook on a lightly oiled flat surface

The arepas took about ten minutes a side to cook, but this will depend on the pan you use and your stove. When you begin to hear the arepas crackling and popping, start checking the bottoms. When they turn a light golden color, they are ready to flip over. After flipping, they will begin to crackle and pop again. Check for the golden bottom and begin tapping the arepa with your finger. It should be somewhat springy and Erin describes the sound as a thunk. If you are making a lot of arepas, then place the finished ones in a baking dish in a low oven (like 250°F) until ready to serve.

the fixins: sliced avocado, shredded cheese, guasacaca, and carnitas

slice 180° (that’s half a circle) of the perimeter open with a knife

The point of slicing the arepa open is to create a pocket. Once you make the incision, insert the knife into the arepa between the two crunchy exterior sides and sweep out a pocket. You can carefully scrape out some of the soft dough and eat it later with butter. Just don’t poke a hole or anything through the arepa, that would be muy sad. Once the arepa is open and the pocket is ready, it’s time to get down to business. You can fill arepas with anything, really. I whipped up some carnitas while we were making the arepas and guasacaca.

some avocado slices


cheese and guasacaca

ali tries her first arepa

happy erin

Erin told us that in Venezuela, they have the guasacaca in squeeze bottles. Some people will take a bite, squirt more guasacaca on, take a bite, squirt more guasacaca… I asked if anyone just takes the squeeze bottle and squirts a stream of guasacaca directly into their mouth? Of course, I would never do that in polite company… not to mention the arepas are so unbelievably good they demand to be devoured with guasacaca and well… devoured in general.

arepas: so much goodness in one little pocket

Arepas with Guasacaca
[print recipe]
from Erin

avocado, sliced
carnitas or black beans
mozarella cheese, shredded
guasacaca (see below)

Slice the top half of an arepa open along the seam with a butter knife. Carefully scrape out some of the moist filling from the entire interior (you can save it to eat later with butter). When the arepa is hollowed out, fill it with avocado, carnitas (or black beans), cheese, and guasacaca.

2 cups harina PAN (Erin says to get THIS brand and not the other)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsps vegetable or canola oil (something without strong flavor)
more oil for cooking

Place the harina in a large bowl and add the warm water, salt, and vegetable oil (we used 3 tablespoons). Gently fold the mixture together until the moisture is roughly evenly distributed. Set the dough aside for at least ten minutes. The longer, the better. Meanwhile you can make the guasacaca (see below). When the dough has sat long enough, mix it together with your hands and moosh out any lumps between your fingers. Make sure it is uniformly mixed. Begin to form patties approximately 1/2-inch thick and 4-5 inches in diameter. You want them to have a uniform surface (avoid cracks) and to be relatively even in thickness. Using a paper towel or brush, apply a thin layer of vegetable oil on a flat pan like a cast iron skillet or something flat (NOT a non-stick pan). Set over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, place a few patties (like 3 or however many will fit without crowding) on the surface. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on your heat and pan) until the bottoms begin to crackle and pop. Check the bottoms for doneness – when they are lightly golden, flip them over. After another 5 to 10 minutes, check the bottoms for doneness. They should be lightly golden and when you tap the arepa, it should be slightly springy. Remove from heat. If you are making a lot, you can keep the cooked arepas in a baking dish in a low oven (like 250°F) until you are ready to serve. Makes 1/2 dozen 5-inch arepas.

guasacaca (guacamole salsa)
1 onion, peeled, topped, and cut into eighths
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
2-3 tablespoons of white or rice wine vinegar (more if necessary)
2-3 cloves of garlic (3 if you like garlic – I like garlic)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and cored
2 cups fresh parsley
2 cups fresh cilantro
salt to taste
3 tbsps vegetable oil

Place the onion, avocado, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeño in a blender (or food processor) and purée until smooth. Add the parsley and cilantro and purée until smooth. If it is too dry and won’t blend, add more vinegar and push it toward the blade with a spoon or a spatula between pulses. Add salt to taste and then add the oil last.

42 nibbles at “getting tropical in colorado”

  1. Sarah says:

    Jen, arepas are my favorite! Thanks so much for sharing this lovely recipe – i will be making them soon! ~sarah

  2. Lisa says:

    I live in the boonies of Northern BC – I am lucky enough to have masa in the store. Is masa similar to PAN? Or do I have to just make the guasacaca and eat it on its own?

  3. Brit says:

    This looks fabulous! I knew arepas were gluten free, but I never went out to find a recipe. I can’t wait to try these!

  4. Randi says:


  5. Regina says:

    Those arepas look delicious! I’ve always wanted to try them. and that guasacaca looks amazing-love the color. Plus I love any recipe that allows me to throw ingredients into a blender and then its done :D I just found your site the other day and I must say I really love it. your photos are amazing and I love that you incorperate your dog into your posts.

  6. Susan @ SGCC says:

    Snow! It was 85 degrees here today. Sigh…..

    I adore arepas! We have a little Colombian place here that serves them filled with some kind of creamy, spicy chicken stuff. Oh, so good! They’re also great buttered and just filled with cheese. Muy sabroso!

  7. Jane L says:

    Creative method in choosing a random number !! This description of arepas sounds easier than I thought. I will give it a try. Thanks for sharing multiculturals recipes…

  8. Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks says:

    Most of the places that sell arepas sell the fried versions and on occassion that’s fine. But, it’s also nice to have a healthier version. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Wei-Wei says:

    Hmm, now I’m confused on what arepas are… Do they have to involve guasacaca and carnitas? Because I just saw a post by Caitlin on Healthy Tipping Point about arepas. Check it out:

  10. farmerpam says:

    Love the green color.

  11. Lori says:

    Whoa- totally my kinda meal. Delicious.

  12. The Enchanted Cook says:

    I love your random picker!! I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out a clever way to do a drawing I have coming up and I just love your way. Now all I need is a dog! ;-)


  13. Nico says:

    Hey, these look great! I found your blog via tastespotting when I was looking for snickerdoodles and I just posted my adaptation on my own blog. Everything you do looks so pretty and interesting. I love the photography!

  14. Marijoe says:

    I’m from Venezuela, and I can say your arepas look better than mine ;-) And even though carnitas is not a traditional filling, it will be soon in this house!!!
    You should try making empanadas with the Harina Pan, they are delicious too.

  15. Ruth Ann says:

    Arepas seem really interesting. Never saw those before.

  16. manisha says:

    Henna and arepas! And some of my favorite gals! Guasacaca in a squirt bottle is right up my alley. Can’t wait to try these soon.

  17. Fergle says:

    “mod 247”? Wow, this is the best food blog ever!

  18. Sergio says:

    Hi Jen,

    I am from Venezuela, and I love a good arepa. They are so easy to make if you have harina P.A.N. — it’s all you need, and they take 20 min!

    I think your recipe is flawed though. The consistency of the dough seems good (it should be moist enough such that it doesn’t crack too easily when flattened). However, cooking them only on the stove is not enough. After they get a crust and some color on the pan (I like them much darker; the black, seemingly burnt bits are the best part), you must put them in a ~425F oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until they sound like a little drum, as your friend said.

    There is an art to making them such that they actually inflate and become hollow… Just throwing that out there.

    Also, some people find the dough inside the arepa unpalatable, so when you split it in half to fill it up, you can remove some of the doughy part to have the right amount of crunchiness.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog!


    ps. I love the henna tattoo :) .

  19. Allison says:

    Oh man… I’ve never had arepas before, but those look amazing. If you hear a loud rumbling… that’s probably my stomach as I’m looking at your photos. ;)

    And, as always, <3 you and your geekiness. That's an awesome way of picking the contest winner. ^_^

  20. Stephane says:

    Oh, wow! I WILL be making this. And I agree w/Sergio: LOVE the henna tattoo!

  21. Margie says:

    Congratulations to Emily!

    These recipes sound yummy…a must try, and soon!

  22. Grant says:

    I gotta give a shout out to Igor and Becky of Denver’s El Caribe Arepas here. I eat at least one of their arepa every Sunday at the City Park farmer’s market and they are sooo delicious!

  23. Tracy says:

    Haven’t tried this before but it looks so yummy, i think i have to try now.

  24. Joy says:

    I love arepas. They look great.

  25. Anne says:

    I’m muy sad I am not eating an arepa right now!

  26. Diana Banana says:

    ha ha ha, i love how you just “whipped up some carnitas,” as if it was as easy as whipping up some iced tea or something! anyone who goes over to your house is lucky :)

    i’d also like to know if harina PAN is the same as masa. in s ca the mexicans swear by Maseca brand masa, and that’s all i’ve found here in boston as well.

  27. jenyu says:

    Everyone, masa is not the same as harina PAN according to Erin. I believe harina PAN is a finer grind than masa.

    Wei-Wei – I have a suspicion that Erin would not classify Caitlin’s arepas as arepas. Arepas are the little pockets of harina. Guasacaca is guasacaca and carnitas are carnitas. I think I mentioned that you can stuff the arepas with anything (it’s in the post).

    Sergio – duly noted. Yes, Erin scoops out the center dough and doesn’t eat it.

  28. Rene says:

    DEE-liciousness! I was at the Mexican market today, drooling over the carnitas and realized it would make a perfect shortcut for this. I also bought some crema fresca and salsa and we just piled it all on the arepas. The guasacaca sauce is a real winner. I would use this as a dip for tortilla chips, on sandwiches, on my breakfast cereal…Will definitely make these recipes again. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Erin says:

    Erin here. I’m so glad you all like the arepas and guasacaca! They definitely made me nostalgic for Venezuela.

    Quick notes. Maseca is a brand of pre-cooked corn meal just like PAN is. It’s a good substitute if you can’t find Harina PAN, but it’s not the same. “Masa” is kind of a general name for the mixture of harina, water, salt, oil, etc, after they’ve been combined.

    Wei-Wei — I looked at that link. Caitlin’s “arepas” are really more like “cachapas”, which are also a common Venezuelan street food served with butter, ham and cheeses. Arepas, like Salvadorean pupusas or Mexican tamales, use corn flour, while cachapas are pancakes made of a sort of corn mash, cooked corn mashed with some kernels intact but not a fine flour.

    Sergio–I never once lived in an apartment with a working oven in Caracas! But yes, when you can put them in the oven, it’s a nice touch. The “thunk” comes out nicely though, even without the oven.

    And no, carnitas are not a traditional filling. My personal favorite is black beans and white cheese or shredded beef, but who here would turn down Jen’s carnitas!?

  30. Tony says:

    Arepas are always good, great for sunday morning breakfast, if you guys want to step it up a notch try adding cheese, my wife adds it to the flour as she is mixing it, other people add a good portion of it by making a little pocket with your finger and dropping it in before flattening the dough, so the cheese will melt as the arepa is cooking, she likes using Mozzarella, lately we have been trying Monterrey jack and it worked out fine, you get more of that stringy cheese effect with the mozzarella though. and please please do not use maseca, if you are going for the Venezuelan/Colombian type of arepa, they will still be delicious it will just be a different kind of arepa, closer to a Mexican gordita or a Salvadorean pupusa.

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  32. Diana says:

    We made your recipe tonight and it was dynamite. We just loved it. Everything about it was marvelous. Arepas are sure to become a part of our repertoire. Thank you so much!

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  34. Samantha says:

    I made the guasacaca and LOVED IT!!! My Vitamix had a little bit of trouble blending everything but I was able to finally get it blended. I only added a quarter of an onion and put a little more oil so it would blend. Fantastic!!!! Thank you!

  35. Nataly says:

    Hi everybody:

    I am from Venezuela and it is the first time I see an arepa with carnitas and guacamole, but it sound good. the original arepa with avocado is “Reina Pepiada”, it is chicken with avocado and mayonnaise. Harina Pan is correct also I think it is the best. Where are you from? It is funny who are preparing arepas are not venezuelan.
    thank you for shearing our culture.

    bye bye

  36. jenyu says:

    Nataly – my friend who made these spent a lot of time in Venezuela.

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  42. Nilda says:

    Thank you for sharing your fabulous recipe and experience in making the delicious arepas. It is the first time I heard of the delicious looking aguacate salsa. I can wait to try it! Your pictures and instructions are phenomenal.

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