Colombian treat can be made in so many ways

By Sandy Leibowitz

I MUST have been about six or seven years old and I remember being eye level to my grandmother’s stove.

I saw these white, round things frying in oil. What I vividly remember was the distinct hole on the edge of these round patties and wondering what they were.

Just then, I watched my grandmother take a fork and use the hole as an anchor to flip what I would later learn were her arepas (Colombian corn pancakes).

The oil would make the dough puff up into a small balloon and it was always such a treat to see and, of course, taste.

My grandmother recently confirmed that this is the way they did it in Colombia when frying arepas, since the hole is needed to safely flip.

Although these arepas were fried in oil, they had a light and airy quality to them and a sweetness that came through from the corn. They were golden brown pillows of joy!

Arepas are essentially griddle cakes made from pre-cooked cornmeal.

The beauty of this is that arepas can be prepared in a myriad of ways: grilled, fried or sauteed in oil.

In addition they can be stuffed, topped with ingredients — or extra ingredients can even be mixed into the dough. They also can be made on the sweet side (my grandmother would put a little sugar in the dough), but they are more commonly served as a savoury dish.

Arepas are a popular staple in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisines.

My Mami Lucy (she never liked being called grandmother because it made her sound old) was born in Colombia, but told me that Venezuelans are known for making more elaborate arepas, and that Colombians keep them pretty simple.

These spiced lamb arepas with hummus are definitely not your traditional arepa, but the flavours work so well together with the mild corn flavour in the masa (dough).

I sauteed them to achieve a char on the outside, which creates a delightful crunch that is met by the creaminess of the hummus.

Spiced ground lamb then coats your tongue, and the sweet tomatoes, mint and pine nuts just bring the whole thing together.

Spiced Lamb & Hummus-stuffed Arepas


For the arepas:

  • 2 cups corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups warm water
  • Olive oil, for sauteeing
  • For the lamb:
  • 1½lbs ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For serving:

  • ½-1 cup shop bought hummus (or homemade hummus)
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
  • ½ cup tomato, diced
  • ¼ cup red pepper, diced (optional)
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts


Mix the corn meal, water and salt in a bowl until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes until the mixture sticks together. Separately, in another bowl, season ground lamb with all the spices.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Cook lamb until fully browned. Keep warm (covered) until ready to serve.

Form arepa patties about 3 to 4 inches across and ½ inch in thickness using hands.

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and cook arepas until brown (or charred, depending on preference) on both sides. Both sides should be crispy.

Allow to cool and then slice the arepa lengthwise without cutting all the way through.

Spread hummus on the top and bottom flap of the arepa. Add the spiced lamb mixture and top with diced tomato, diced pepper (if using) pine nuts and mint. Serve immediately at room temperature. Makes 8 arepas.

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