Zucchini is a delicious and versatile green tubular vegetable. First, there are many different creative ways to use it — hot or cold, as noodles or chopped, as a side dish or in a salad — the possibilities are endless. The mild flavor of zucchini allows it to easily be added or hidden in many foods, especially if it is grated or pureed as in this recipe for arepas with zucchini. Second, as a vegetable it adds nutrients and health benefits when served in our meals.
Exploring other cultures through food
There are two things that I especially love about my job and the ways it allows me experience and relate to food. Most importantly, I love trying new foods from different cultures, especially when I get to share them with friends who are also from these places. But also, I love taking recipes and trying to rework them to add nutrients or to make them even the tiniest bit more healthy.
Discovering Colombian arepas
Which brings me around to arepas. Arepas are a new food with which I have recently become obsessed. I have been working with a traditional Colombian recipe to make some slight adjustments without altering the overall flavor and texture.
I’ve had arepas before arriving in South America, but had never cooked them myself. Following a conversation about arepas with a Colombian and a Venezuelan friend, I just had to try to make them. As a side note here, arepas are very common and popular in both of these South American countries, but each country has a different recipe and way of eating them. I must say that both types of recipes are amazing to my tastebuds!!
The basics about arepas
The basic recipe for making Colombian arepas is really simple — it’s only six ingredients. The preparation is really simple as you just basically throw everything in a bowl and mix it up. It’s the cooking that takes a bit of time, unless you have a large griddle pan or skillet which allows you to cook more at one time.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, an arepa is a corn pancake of sorts though it’s more dense in texture than American-style pancakes made from flour. The corn flour used to make arepas is much finer than corn meal used commonly in the states so the arepas don’t have the gritty or firm texture that cornbread does.
Also, the recipe I am making is more savory than sweet. I like to eat them in several ways. First, they make a great substitution for toast alongside your eggs in the morning. Or you can eat them with a dip such as guacamole or hummus in the afternoon for a snack. I’ve also used them alongside a soup, a bowl of beans or some other juicy dish I can dunk them in.
Making arepas with zucchini
The main ingredient in this dish is called pre-cooked corn meal (pictured on right). There are other brands available, but the one that I am most familiar with is P.A.N. Check the baking aisle or ethnic foods aisle in your grocery store. Or you can always buy it online.
Another key step in making arepas with zucchini is removing some of the additional moisture the zucchini adds to the arepas.
After you have grated the zucchini, lightly sprinkle it with salt and allow it to sit in a strainer for at least 15 minutes to allow some of the water to drain out of the zucchini. It’s also important to wait until after you’ve thoroughly mixed the zucchini into the dough to add more water. The first batch I made was a little too wet because the zucchini added more moisture than I suspected. So don’t be surprised if you end up not adding any of that final cup of water.
Colombian Arepas with Zucchini
- 1 cups zucchini grated
- 2 cups precooked white corn flour
- 1 cups queso blanco or queso fresco
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups water separated
- 2 T olive oil
- .5 cup water additional to use as needed
- Place grated zucchini in a strainer and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set it over a bowl or in the sink and allow it to sit for 20 minutes so some of the water moves out of the zucchini. After 20 minutes, squeeze the zucchini in a cheesecloth or clean dish towel to remove more of the water.
- Place corn flour, zucchini and salt in a large bowl. Grate the cheese and add it to the meal.
- Add 1 1/2 cups water and olive oil to bowl with corn meal.
- Mix dough well with a spoon or hands to combine all the ingredients.
- Add additional water slowly only if it’s needed. I suggest adding it a few tablespoons at a time, so you don’t add too much liquid. Dough should be firm and not sticky.
- Roll it into balls about 1.5″ around and then flatten into circles that are about ¼ thick.
- Lightly spray a non-stick skillet with spray and place pan on medium heat. Once heated, place arepas into pan and cook each side for about 5-6 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough in batches until all cooked.
Overall, this recipe for arepas with zucchini stayed very close to the original texture of a Colombian arepa. Even though I did feel the texture was a bit softer, but not enough to ruin them.
Perfect for meal prep!! Since they make so many you can store them in your refrigerator or freezer and eat them as you want. Simply heat them on top of the stove or in the oven. I did find that when I reheated them the next day, they seemed to firm up a bit more than when first cooked.
I hope you try this recipe out soon and leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on the recipe and this version of arepas.