This post is dedicated to my adventurous husband and daughter who bravely tried something that they a) had never heard of, b) knew was a little spicy, and c) couldn’t slather with melted cheese, as is their typical preference.
This dish was super easy, and can be made both vegetarian and mild very easily.
(Or, you can go all-in and cook the jalapenos with their ribs and seeds and everything and get even MORE heat!)
What are Arepas? Similar to Polenta patties, they are like small pancakes made with pre-cooked white or yellow corn flour, available inexpensively in large grocery stores under the Goya brand or online. Pan-fried in a hot skillet with a little bit of oil, they are a fast foundation to several Central- and South-American dishes. They are very versatile and can be served at any time of day with eggs, vegetables, cheese or meat. All you need to do is mix the flour with water and form into palm-sized balls, then pat them flat and cook in a frying pan.
Arepas with Pickled Jalapenos & Avocado
Time: Less than 40 minutes start to finish.
Quantity: The recipe below feeds about 2 1/2 people, which was exactly our size. Adjust accordingly! It doubles very easily and most people will be satisfied with one arepa, or maybe one and a half if you’re a growing boy like Mark ;)
- 8 ounces ground beef (1/2 pound)
- 1 cup Masarepa (or corn flour) — see note above on where to buy
- 2 radishes, ends removed, sliced
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
- 1 lime, quartered
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 large bunch cilantro, de-stemmed
- 2 TBSP red wine vinegar
- 2 TBSP sugar
- 1 jalapeno pepper (can sub jarred jalapeno slices)
- seasonings, such as cumin & chili powder, to taste (I used carne molida blend)
- 1 cup room-temperature water
- olive oil, for cooking
Start by washing, drying and preparing the produce: cut off the ends of the radishes, then slice them thinly into rounds; quarter the lime; pit, peel and slide the avocado to desired thickness; toss with the juice of 1 lime wedge to prevent browning; peel, halve and thinly slice the red onion; pick the cilantro leaves off the stems, discarding the stems; slice the jalapeno into rounds (or slice lengthwise and chop into smaller pieces, discarding ribs and seeds for less heat); end by washing your hands so you don’t transfer the heat of the pepper to other parts of the dish (or rub your eyes by accident — ouch!)
Next, pickle the jalapeno and onion. In a small pan, combine the jalapeno, sugar, vinegar and half the onion. Add 2 TBSP water and heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, cook and stir occasionally for just a couple minutes, or until the liquid is mostly reduced. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Then, brown the beef. In a large non stick pan, heat 2 TBSP olive oil on medium-high until hot; add the beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, for 2-3 minutes or until it’s just cooked through (no more pink). Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside; wipe out the pan with a paper towel.
In the pan you just used to cook the beef, heat 2 TBSP olive oil on medium high until hot. Add the rest of the onion plus the spice blend to your taste (I did just the tiniest pinch because I was making this mild) plus salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, just a couple minutes or until fragrant; add the cooked beef and the juice of 1 lime wedge. Cook another two minutes, stirring, until just combined, then transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan again for the arepas.
To form the arepas, combine the flour with a huge pinch of salt and 1 cup of lukewarm water. Stir until just combined; the dough should be damp and easy to work with. Using wet hands, divide the dough into four equal-sized balls, then flatten into 1/4 inch thin rounds on a clean work surface like a dry cutting board.
In the pan you just cleaned out, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium-hot until hot. Add the arepas all at one time, cooking 2-4 minutes per side, or until they are golden and cooked through.
Plate your food by placing the arepas in the bottom of each dish, topping them with the ground beef, then avocado. Garnish with the radishes, cilantro and as much pickled jalapeno and onion as appeals. Serve with the remaining lime wedges on the side. Yum!
Carne Molida is a spice blend made up of 2 Parts Ancho Chile Powder, 2 Parts Chipotle Chile Powder, 2 Parts Garlic Powder, 2 Parts Ground Cumin, 2 Parts Ground Coriander, 2 Parts Mexican Oregano, 1 Part Cocoa Powder, 1 Part Ground Nutmeg, and 1 Part Cornstarch. I barely used a pinch of this; you can decide what type of flavor you like and what heat level you desire and adjust accordingly. You could just as easily add a dash of cumin and chile powder and call it a day.
Masarepa is a quick-cooking flour. Its most popular use is in making arepas; the name “masarepa” is a combination of the words “masa” and “arepa,” meaning “dough” and “cornbread.” As I said above, you can buy it online here if you can’t find it locally.
Cooking Jalapeno with sugar and red wine balances out its heat a little, but you should only use a tiny amount of chopped jalapeno in this dish if you really hate spicy food. Adding in the ribs and seeds will intensify that level significantly. I cooked a little bit and then made sure Mark and Georgia didn’t get any actual Jalapeno chunks on their plate, which satisfied my desire to get the flavor into the dish while making sure they didn’t bite down into anything hot.
This can be easily doubled with one pound of ground beef and so on. You can also very easily sub in vegetarian ground crumbles or omit the meat entirely and insert cheese, eggs, or sturdy roasted vegetables with the same seasonings.
The deconstructed toddler version:
And no, she didn’t really go for the radishes. She did try them, though.
Happily, avocados and carbs are already favorites of hers, so the patties and everything else went down the hatch. Like me, she never really eats red meat, so the hamburger she sort of picked at and gave a few courtesy nibbles. I’m not worried about her disliking ground beef, though. While it’s a rich source of iron, protein and zinc, no toddler needs to eat red meat to get those nutrients if they eat enough good fish like salmon, eggs and full-fat dairy products like cheese and whole milk, and she’s better off without all the unhealthy saturated fat in beef (to say nothing of the hormones and antibiotics found in most U.S. meat, which isn’t safe for anybody). If you do eat a fair amount of red meat, good tips for keeping it healthy enough for toddlers include purchasing higher-end cuts that have less fat; picking lean ground beef when buying it for hamburgers; and broiling instead of pan-frying, which reduces the amount of fat retained.
the kind of fat you want to retain forever: those cheeks
I hope you enjoy this one. We tried it during our free trial of Blue Apron, which we’ve now decided to subscribe to this summer on a temporary basis to see how we like it. When pricing it out — $60 per delivery, which includes three meals that feed exactly two people — it made more sense than dropping $25 every other night on takeout when we don’t have enough time or ingredients in the house to make dinner. We always seem to have just enough extra to give Georgia a taste with her dinner, too, so it comes out to an economical $10 per person. I’ve decided to “skip” two weeks each month, so that we only get deliveries from Blue Apron every third week, and in between we rely on our old favorites, like pasta with meatballs, risotto, shepherd’s pie and spaghetti carbonara. Now that it’s summer and our garden is firing up, we’ll rotate this lemony pasta with sweet sausage in more frequently, as well as homemade pizza to use up all those peppers, tomatoes and basil. And, of course, there’s lots of fresh greens available at the farmer’s markets these days to go alongside any of these dishes to lighten them up and add some vegetables!