The first time we try a dish and the circumstances in which we do it have a huge impact on how much we like and how well we remember it, even many years later. The aroma or taste of it often transports us back to that time. It can be a harbinger of warm, happy memories, or of feelings of revulsion. Just ask any adult what he thinks of that dish he was made to eat as a child.
How nice that most people who have tried Arepa Salada (Dominican Savory Cornbread) get that same feeling of excitement, discovery and anticipation that is usually associated with a food that many of us first encountered on road trips.
Funnily enough, and an example of the way that even between regions there can be different names for foods, or sometimes how we prepare them, the first time I tried it it was under another name: Torta — or “toita”, to tease my Cibaeño friends.
For me arepa salada brings back memories of road trips through El Cibao (the valley in the center of the country). It is accompanied by memories of greasy, flavorful roadside foods, crisp air, misty mornings, childhood excitement and that lovable cibaeño accent that I wish I could imitate.
This is the savory version of the more famous sweet Dominican Arepa, and as you may imagine, there are tons of versions of this recipe. I picked the one I like the most, and I have to say that it is one of the most moreish dishes I have ever tried. As luck would have it, it is very versatile, and I have experimented with topping it with cheese and toasting for breakfast, having it on its own as a snack, or serving it on the side to accompany sauce-rich dishes.
There’s no wrong way to eat Arepa Salada.
- 4 tablespoons of butter , divided
- 3 1/2 cups of low-fat chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
- 3 1/2 cups of coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons of salt (or more, to taste)
- 2 cups of cornmeal
Butter a 2 1/2 quart [2 1/2 lt] baking pan with a tablespoon of butter (see notes).
Heat oven to 350 ºF [175 ºC].
Mix coconut milk and broth, salt to taste. Mix in parsley, cornmeal and the remaining butter. Stir the batter with a spatula and pour into a 3 qrt [3 lt] cooking pot and heat on the stove over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid sticking.
When it breaks the boil, lower the heat and continue stirring until it thickens enough to start lifting from the pot when you stir and it sticks to the spoon.
Pour batter into the pan and bake until you insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean (30-40 minutes). It should be light golden brown. Let it cool down to room temperature before removing from the pan.
Serve alone as a snack, with pollo guisado, or your choice of stewed meat.
To obtain the traditional pot-shaped cake, bake it in a enamel cast-iron pot (dutch oven). The disadvantage is that you might have a hard time getting it out in one piece. If you don't want to take that risk, bake in a nonstick baking pan, the deepest you have.
Cornmeal is slightly finer than polenta. If you find it impossible to find cornmeal, use polenta, but be aware that the texture will be a bit "grainier" than with regular cornmeal.