Tomorrow, the country’s eyes and taste buds—not to mention just about every famous chef ever to flip a tortilla—will begin to descend on Miami Beach for the 2013 South Beach Wine and Food Festival, by far America’s most Hispanic-flavored food festival. Never ones to miss out on the delicious fun, NBCLatino caught up with several Hispanic foodies participating in the festivities and asked them a few questions about what they love to cook and devour. Up first: Lorena Garcia, the Venezuelan-born chef and restaurateur who last year partnered with Taco Bell to create a special menu, the Cantina Bell, to help elevate the chain’s take on Mexican-inspired fast food. Along with the TV likes of Andrew Zimmern, Giada de Laurentis and Aaron Sanchez, Garcia will host the Kellog’s Kidz Kitchen, a family-friendly event in which children explore a food garden, learn the basics of healthy eating and prepare their own meals. Here, in her own words is Garcia. Also, don’t miss her arepa recipe that follows.
First dish you ever made? Corn tamales for breakfast when I was six.
How did you know you were born to cook? When I would find excuses to cook and have my friends over to host a lunch or dinner party at a very early age.
Favorite food memory? On Sundays, having my whole family together, and my mother making her famous “chupe.”
Worst food memory? My first visit to China, having monkey brains and jellyfish on the table for dinner.
Sweet or Savory? Savory.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate.
Burger or taco? Taco.
Who inspires you and why? My mother, for her perseverance and focus on everything she does.
Favorite comfort food? Chicken soup.
Three things currently in your fridge at home? Eggs, skim milk, cheeses of all kinds. Also, a variety of lettuces, garlic, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, a head of cauliflower. And a bottle of Prosecco.
What food do you hate? Red beets, even though I make a great beet vinaigrette.
Finish this thought. A perfect meal is…
…the one you share with the ones you love.
Arepas stuffed with reina pepiada
For the arepas
2 cups Doña Arepa, Harina P.A.N., or Areparina corn flour
1 T sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 T vegetable oil
For the reina pepiada
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken (about 1/2 rotisserie chicken)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and finely diced
1. Adjust your oven racks to the upper- middle and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Whisk together the corn flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk the butter into 21/2 cups of water, then add it to the flour mixture, stirring until well combined. The dough will start out loose but the flour quickly absorbs the liquid. Start to knead the dough in the bowl and once it becomes very soft and doesn’t stick to your hands, after about 8 minutes, the dough is ready to be shaped (if, while kneading, the dough seems too stiff and breaks apart, add a few tablespoons of hot water; if it is too sticky, add a little more corn flour).
4. Divide the dough into 16 equal balls and flatten each between your palms into a 3 1/2- to 4- inch patty that’s about 1/3 inch thick (for a less rustic-looking arepa, press the arepa into a disk using a flat-bottomed plate; you can wet your hands with a little water if the dough is slightly sticky).
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 or 4 arepas to the pan (depending on how big your pan is); the arepas should sizzle as they hit the skillet. Cook the arepas until they’re golden and have a nice crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip them and brown the other side for an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the arepas to a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil (if the pan is dry) and the remaining arepa dough disks (you’ll probably need to use two baking sheets to bake the arepas).
6. Bake the arepas until they puff up, 20 to 30 minutes, switching the pans so the top baking sheet is on the bottom and the bottom moves up to the top midway through cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before serving with butter, cream cheese, queso fresco, or mozzarella.
7. Place the chicken in a large bowl. Add the onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cilantro and salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Gently stir in the avocado, taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed.
8. Slice a slit into the top edge of each arepa and gently wiggle a paring knife into the arepa, creating a pocket. Divide the chicken salad among the arepas and serve. Makes 16 arepas.