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For several months I have been wanting to get together a group of my Latino friends for a potluck celebrating the food from our respective countries. It finally came to fruition a few weeks ago.

I brought two key elements to Venezuelan cuisine–arepas and carne mechada. Carne mechada is the main component to pabellon criollo, Venezuela’s national dish. Pabellon criollo also contains arroz blanco (white rice), caraotas negras (black beans) and tajadas (fried plantains).

I love arepas and was happy when my local grocery store started carrying harina de pan, the pre-made arepa mix used in Venezuela.

Apparently, when I was a little girl in Venezuela (I have no recollection) I got the nickname Varona (varon is little boy in Spanish) because my boy cousins got to eat arepas for breakfast and I was given something else. Being treated differently from the boys did not mesh well with me(a femisinst from the start) so I said I was a varon-a so I should get to eat arepas too. From that moment my Tia Lisbeth has called me her varona.

Our latino potluck was quite a feast. I think I am still full from it.

Delicious cheese enchiladas by Crista.

Arepas–Venezuela’s “bread”

I challenged Felipe to an arepa contest to see which country (Colombia vs. Venezuela) made better arepas. Clearly he was scared and bought pupusas instead.

This rice is an Arias family recipe.

My co-worker Erandi made carne de chile y papas.

Carne Mechada Recipe

Ingredients:
3 lbs skirt steak
1/4-1/2 cup dry red wine
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:
1 onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 small jar of pimentos
18-24 ounces of unsalted tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Preparation:
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Cook the onions and garlic until tender. Add meat and sear on both sides. Add 1/4 cup of red and bay leaves, cook on low for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Add more wine or water if meat begins to dry. Remove from heat, let cool. Using two forks pull apart meat to shred.

About 2-2 1/2 hours into cooking the meat, saute the onions and green peppers with olive oil in a separate pan. Add the meat and remaining ingredients. Simmer another 30 minutes until all the flavors are blended.

Food for Thought:
-Play around with the amount of tomato sauce you add to the mechada sauce. If you want it to be more saucy then add 24 ounces, if you want more meat the add less.
-I have been unable to find the queso blanco we eat in Venezuela. Every “white” cheese I find in the Latin-American section at the grocery store just doesn’t measure up.
-Worcestershire sauce in Spanish is salsa inglesa, which one mean British (English) sauce if we were doing a literal translation. I don’t know why this makes me chuckle every time.

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