Halloumi, refried beans, fresh salsa and avocado are stuffed inside a deliciously moreish fried Colombian arepas, made from masarepas flour, cheese and butter. South American cuisine doesn’t get much better than this!
Country Number 37: Colombia
Buenos días and welcome to country numero 37, Colombia! Colombia is a large country situated at the northern tip of South America. It has a large coastal border and a largely mountainous terrain. Colombia’s name derives from Christopher Columbus (would you ever have guessed?!). It is heavily influenced by its Spanish colonisation, and its population is largely mestizo (mixed Indian and Spanish descent), although it has large African and European minorities.
Colombia has a few standout features you might already know about. Firstly, the Spanish spoken in Colombia is known for its relative ‘purity’. In other words, it has not altered much since colonial occupation, and as such, as far as we can tell has remained much the same since the 16th century. Secondly, as anyone who has watched Narcos probably already knows, it is the world’s largest producer of coca, the plant used to produce cocaine. Thirdly, Colombia has the world’s second-fastest growing economy behind China. This is in part due to its high level of petroleum and coal, as well as exports in technology and electronics. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Colombia has bestowed us with Shakira, a true gift to the world. As we all know, those hips don’t lie.
History of Colombian Cuisine
Due to its varying terrain, Colombian cuisine changes a lot depending on the area. It shares a lot of similar staples with its South American neighbours including cereals, potatoes and cassava, legumes, a wealth of fresh fruit, meat, and seafood. Strong Spanish and indigenous influences impact the cuisine, and the African slaves brought across by the Spanish also imparted an African influence. Most meals incorporate rice, beans and meat, and soups are also very popular.
Popular Colombian Vegetarian Dishes
- Patacones – twice fried plantains served as a side to many dishes.
- Empanadas – deep-fried pastry pockets stuffed with vegetables, potatoes, cheese, or eggs (meat ones are also common).
- Arepas – corn-meal based pockets stuffed with a variety of toppings.
- Postre de Natas – a dessert made of boiled foamy milk, eggs, raisins and rum.
- Obleas – giant round wafers stuffed with various sweet toppings (including arequipe, the Colombian dulce de leche) served by street stalls.
- Salpicon de Frutas – a sweetened fruit salad/cocktail.
Vegetarian rating of Colombian Cuisine:
Making Colombian Arepas with Halloumi, Avocado & Refried Beans
Arepas come together pretty quickly. Basically, the number of fillings you want determines how long it will take you. It requires you to make an easy dough (which doesn’t need any rising time), which you roll out, shape and then griddle-fry. While you’re making the arepas you can cook up or prepare the fillings so that it is all ready to serve at the same time. For stuffing the arepas, we selected a cosmopoliatan variety of fillings (which are not all typically of Colombian origin). We fried up some halloumi, made aji (salsa), sliced up some avo and refried some beans with which to stuff it.
I would recommend making up and shaping the arepas dough first, followed by preparing the aji and cooking up the refried beans, and when you are ready to serve, frying up the arepas and halloumi at the same time to keep them both hot and gloriously crispy.
How to make Colombian Arepas
Once you’ve made the dough, it won’t take long to whip up this truly delicious meal!
- Make arepas dough by mixing corn meal, water, mozzarella cheese, butter and salt together in a bowl. Knead until soft, then smooth into a ball, place between two sheets of baking paper, and roll to 1cm thickness. Cut into circles using a glass.
- Make aji by chopping up and combining tomatoes, an onion, and fresh coriander. Toss in lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Make refried beans by frying onion in an oiled pan at medium heat before adding garlic, kidney beans, chilli powder, and seasoning. After cooking for a couple more minutes, transfer to blender, pulse until chunky, then return to pan and refry for another 5 minutes.
- Cook arepas by frying each circle on a greased griddle or frying pan on a medium heat until golden, between 3 and 5 minutes per side.
- Cut halloumi into slithers and fry in a greased pan on medium-high heat until crispy and browned, around 1 minute per side.
- Slice up an avocado, and slice arepas in half, and fill with various toppings. Enjoy!
Ingredient notes for Arepas
- Masarepas flour- It’s absolutely essential you get the right flour to make arepas. Regular cornmeal won’t work (if you want to know more about the differences, take a look at this article). Masarepas generally can’t be found in a normal supermarket. We purchase ours from our local Argentinian store, so you might need to seek out a specialty store in your area or purchase the flour online. Brands to look for include Harina PAN, Areparina, Harina Juana, and Goya.
- Cheese/butter – omit cheese and substitute butter with a dairy-free alternative to make vegan.
Serving suggestions for Arepas
Obviously, what you stuff your arepas with is up to you. We loved the combination of this recipe provided by the juiciness of the halloumi, the freshness of the pico de gallo, and the heartiness of the refried beans. However, feel free to include various other toppings including eggs, guacamole, black beans, kumara, or even pulled jackfruit.
Other South American dishes to try
Colombian Arepas with Halloumi, Avocado & Refried Beans
- 2 cup warm water
- 2 cup masarepas flour
- 2 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tomatoes (diced)
- 1/2 red onion (diced)
- 2 limes (juiced)
- 1/4 cup fresh coriander
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 white onion (diced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tin of kidney beans
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
- Sliced avocado
- Fried halloumi
- Salsa (pico de gallo)
- Refried beans
- Mix water, flour, mozzarella, butter and salt together in a bowl. Knead until soft. Roll into ball, place between two sheets of baking paper, and roll until 1cm thick. Cut into circles using a glass.
- Toss tomatoes, onion and coriander together. Squeeze over lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
Make Refried Beans:
- Sauté onion in oil on a frying pan over medium heat until soft, around 5 minutes. Add in garlic, kidney beans, chilli powder and seasoning. Cook for a further two minutes, then transfer to a blender. Pulse until a chunky consistency, then return to pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Fry arepas on a greased griddle pan or regular frying pan on a medium heat until golden on each side, between 3 and 5 minutes. In a separate pan, fry sliced up halloumi at a medium-high heat until crispy and browned on each side, around 1 minute.
- Once everything is cooked, slice arepas in half horizontally and stuff with various toppings. Enjoy!
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