It may not be the national dish of Venezuela (that honor is reserved for pabellón criollo), but it would be impossible to picture a Venezuelan food spread without at least one arepa in sight. (It would also be wrong not to acknowledge that the same thing can be said for a Colombian food spread.) But no matter where you are, an arepa, which is made of pre-cooked corn flour — also known as masarepa — and water, is more than likely grilled and then sliced open to be filled with anything from queso blanco, eggs, or avocado to black beans, meat, or seafood.
One of the most popular fillings for Venezuelan arepas is reina pepiada, an avocado and chicken salad whose name translates to “curvy queen.” It was created in 1955 by the owner of a Caracas arepa stand who wanted to pay homage to Susan Dujim, that year’s Miss Venezuela.
Honduran chef and master bread-maker Bryan Ford didn’t necessarily grow up eating arepas, but after he spent almost the entire four years he lived in Miami dining at Doggi’s, a local Venezuelan restaurant, he knew he had to develop his own reina pepiada arepa recipe. With some experimentation, Ford was able to achieve the flavors and textures he loved so much in the Doggi’s version. “The crunch from the peppers and onions, combined with the moistness of the shredded chicken and the creaminess of the avocado offers a very delightful bite,” he says. For Ford, arepas are also the ideal party food, whether you’re hosting and want something that will come together fairly quickly, or need a fun, hand-held dish to take to somebody else’s gathering.
Venezuelan Reina Pepiada Arepas
For the arepas:
2 cups white or yellow masarepa
1 teaspoon salt
2 1⁄2 cups warm water
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil, divided, for pan frying
For the filling:
2 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded (this will yield 3 cups of shredded chicken)
1⁄4 red onion, diced to yield 1⁄2 cup
1⁄4 white onion, diced to yield 1⁄2 cup
1⁄2 red bell pepper, diced to yield 1⁄2 cup
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, minced
1-2 whole avocados, sliced (if you prefer to mash them, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice to prevent browning)
1 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Additional avocado for serving, optional
Step 1: Combine the masarepa and salt and mix well. Slowly add the warm water, stirring until the dough comes together. Make sure there are no lumps. The dough should be well hydrated and have the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. Once it is smooth and pliable, set it aside to rest for about 10 minutes.
Step 2: On the stovetop, preheat a cast-iron skillet over low to medium heat.
Step 3: With moistened hands, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Using your palms, flatten each one into 3 1⁄2 - to 4-inch discs about 1⁄2-inch thick.
Step 4: Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and gently fry the arepas in batches (a 10 1⁄2 -inch skillet will comfortably fit 4). Cook for around 7 minutes, then flip the arepas, adding another 1 tablespoon of oil if needed, and cook for another 7 minutes. The arepas are done when they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan, add another 1 tablespoon oil, and repeat with the remaining batches,
Step 5: While the arepas cook, make the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mixing them well.
Step 6: Let the arepas cool until they can be handled comfortably. Cut each arepa three-quarters of the way around, leaving a seam on the edge so it can be stuffed like a pita.
Step 7: Fill each arepa with about 3 tablespoons of the filling. Top with fresh avocado and enjoy!
Bryan Ford is the Central American master baker, best-selling author of New World Sourdough, and personality behind the Magnolia Network’s the Artisan kitchen. He’s also the co-founder of Flakey Biscuit Media, a new media and production company that amplifies diverse voices.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa