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Arepa means different things in different places.  In most South American countries, they are cornmeal cakes made with pre-cooked cornmeal, either baked or fried, and usually split, a little center scooped out, and filled with meat, cheese, cooked eggs or whatever. It's sort of a fat, moist sort of tortilla or taco. In other places they are eaten plain, and cooked either in cakes or a solid bread or cake in a pan.  A variation is a sweet arepa, usually with coconut, sometimes ripe banana. 

I have eaten some awful, dry arepa and some very good arepa.  Our Dominican friend, Baldemiro Escalante, a great cook in his own right, once brought me some of the best plain arepa I've ever eaten, made by his sister-in-law, Nancy.  Here's a recipe Baldé makes with our small dooryard bananas, one most people will like for a slightly sweet treat.

Arepa Dulce con Guineo
    (Sweet Corn Cake with Banana)

3 C. whole milk
1/4 C. butter (1/2 stick)
1 can (13 to 16 oz.) coconut milk   (*Note)
   with enough added evaporated milk to make 3 cups
2 C. or 16 oz. peeled, ripe bananas
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 C. sugar
2 C. fine yellow corn meal
1/2 C. raisins

Preheat oven to 350º F.   Generously butter 2  8" square cake pans, or 2 other pans or casseroles about the same size.
 

To cut stirring time, place whole milk and butter in a Pyrex or glass cup or bowl and heat in the microwave to almost boiling.  Separately, measure coconut milk and evaporated milk to total 3 cups and set aside.
 

While milk is heating, put ripe bananas in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater until mashed well.  Add salt, cinnamon, sugar, still beating; then add cornmeal.  Continue to mix well until all lumps are gone.  If too stiff to handle, add a little coconut milk mixture.

Place whole milk and raisins in a heavy large pan and put over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  When boiling, slowly add banana-cornmeal mixture, stirring vigorously.  Rinse out bowl with remaining coconut milk mixture, and add to the saucepan.  Stir until it comes to a boil, and turn down to lowest setting.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Pour into prepared cake pans, and bake for about 1 hour, or until golden on top, and it springs back when touched.  Cool completely.  Keep refrigerated.

Note:  Do not mistake real coconut milk for the liquid inside a raw coconut.  Actual coconut milk is extracted from coconut meat, and is a rich, flavorful and healthy treat although high in calories.  You'll find it in most groceries, and surely in ethnic grocery stores.

 

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