Location: South America
Population: 31.5 million
Geography: A tropical country of varying landscape of beaches, mountains, and plains.
Signature flavours: Corn, rice, beans, cheese, plantain, cocoa
Eric lived in Venezuela up until going off to college, so he was well-versed in the local foods. Initially, he had hoped that I would be assigned Venezuela, so he could be an observer as I took on the dishes of his childhood. But later, realizing he had actually never cooked much of the food that was so familiar to him, he became excited at the prospect. He enlisted his friend Mariadela, also a Venezuelan expat living here in Toronto, to come and cook with him.
Arepas: Cornflour patties served with various fillings. Eric and Maria prepared two fillings: tuna salad; and cheese and pulled “beef” made with jackfruit.
Prep and cooking time: 40 minutes
Pabellón Criollo: The national dish of Venezuela, this multi-item plate consists of rice, black beans, fried plantain, and pulled beef. Eric made the beef from jackfruit (the same as he used for the arepas) marinated in Worcestershire sauce, tomato, garlic, and olive oil.
Prep and cooking time: 6.5 hours (including marinating time)
Marquesa: A layered chocolate dessert made from tea biscuits, chocolate, and condensed milk.
Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes (plus at least 8 hours to chill)
The Shopping List
Jackfruit was found at the T&T Asian supermarket. The corn flour, plantains, and Maria cookies came from the Latin American section of our excellent local FreshCo. Eric avoids lactose, and hunted down sweetened condensed coconut milk for the marquesa at Bulk Barn.
While arepas are quite widely available in Toronto, I don’t think I’ve ever tried one. The corn patties are delicious, especially when served as fresh and hot as they were tonight. They were crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. They were equally delicious filled with tuna salad or pulled beef.
The jackfruit beef was a pleasant surprise in both the arepas and the pabellón. While not entirely “meaty” in texture, jackfruit falls apart the way pulled beef or pork does, and it absorbs flavour very nicely. It was sweet and garlicky alongside the salty black beans, white rice, and perfectly fried plantains of the pabellón. The marquesa was thick and chocolatey, with a crunchy cookie topping and softened layers of cookie under gooey chocolate and condensed milk. After the meal, the three of us exclaimed over the food. Not a single thing disappointed, and there will certainly be arepas baking in our oven again in days to come.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.