TCI Voices: Veganuary with Maria Claudia Schubert-Fontes
By Maria Claudia Schubert-Fontes
This year for Veganuary, I decided to try a flexitarian approach. I have participated in Veganuary for about four years now and always leave the experience with new recipes, hacks, and ideas for simple swaps I likely would have never considered. But this year felt different to me. I’m currently about to move out of my apartment, my grocery budget is more constrained this year, and most importantly, I wanted to prioritize my mental health. I knew that the challenge had become an added stressor for me in previous years, and I wanted my experience to center food curiosity and joy, not restriction. So, as I entered into this Veganuary, I sought out recipes that used ingredients I already had in my kitchen and tried to remix some cultural dishes to make them vegan.
For this blog, I’m going to share one of my favorite recipes from this month: tofu “carne” molida arepas with black beans, plantains, and avocado. Arepas are corn-based and work as a vessel for all kinds of fillings. They were a staple at my house growing up, and finding new and creative fillings that matched the taste and seasoning of home was essential for me.
For this recipe, I used almost all of the same ingredients my mom would use to season beef but with a few ingredient swaps.
*Please note that the following recipe calls for an Air Fryer and Harina P.A.N. for the arepas. If you do not have access to an air fryer, you can place them in the over for 8 minutes on each side.
To make the tofu:
- I first took a block of tofu out of the freezer and allowed it to defrost (I learned this hack from @sweetpotatosoul). Freezing the tofu switches up the texture to be chewier and better resemble meat-like protein. I like to lightly press the tofu, but don’t stress too much about getting all the water out because you will be dicing the tofu up and putting it in the air fryer. What I also appreciate about this hack is that the air fryer removes all the water in the tofu ensuring your tofu comes out crispy and firm.
- Chop the tofu into large pieces and put it in the air fryer for 5 minutes.
- While the tofu is in the air fryer, you can blend an onion, four cloves of garlic, a half a red pepper, and a tomato (optional), adding in three tablespoons of cumin and four tablespoons of coconut aminos (replacement for Worcestershire sauce), if you have vegan Sazon, you can also add two tablespoons of it. Once you have all the ingredients, you can blend them until you have a sauce.
- Take the tofu out of the air fryer, and begin to crumble them into pieces, similar to ground beef.
- Chop up half an onion and half of a bell pepper and saute in a pan for a few minutes until both are soft.
- Add in the sauce from the blender and two bay leaves (hojas de laurel) and wait for it to boil before lowering the temperature to a simmer and adding in your tofu. Allow the tofu to marinate in the sauce while you make the arepas.
To make arepas:
- You will need Harina P.A.N. Depending on where you are; you can find some in a Latine-owned grocery store or online. Harina P.A.N. has a long shelf life and only requires warm water and salt! When you are ready to make your arepas, you fill a bowl with lukewarm water (less is more in this step because the amount of water you pour will determine the number of arepas that come out. Try pouring a cup of water for your first round and see how many arepas come out. Some folks like to add a teaspoon of salt to taste, and if you didn’t grow up eating arepas, you might find them bland, so this is recommended! Then begin to slowly pour your Harina P.A.N., mixing intermittently to avoid flour from clumping together. The consistency should be sticky but firm. To test it out, you can roll a small ball in your hand and see if it keeps its shape. If it doesn’t, that indicates that you need more flour.
- Once you have the right consistency, roll a handful of masa into your hands and roll it until you’ve made a ball. Try to make it as circular as possible, avoiding jagged edges.
- Afterward, you can begin to lightly flatten the ball into a pancake shape until you have an arepa that is about half an inch thick. Then, place your arepa on an oil-lined pan and set it to medium-high heat. Continue adding arepas to the pan and turning them over when they are a golden/golden brown color.
- Once they have cooked on both sides, you can add them to your air fryer for 5 minutes on each side at 400 degrees or 8 minutes on each side at 350 degrees in the oven. You will see them puff up once you get them out of the oven and an old trick to see if they are cooked on the inside is to tap them in the middle. If they sound like a drum, you know they are ready to eat!
If you are looking for a quick black bean option, I recommend looking at pre seasoned cans of black beans (Kirby creole seasoning is an affordable option). Alternatively, you can buy a cheap can of black beans and add three cloves of garlic (or garlic powder), two hoja de laurel (bay leaves), and salt/pepper to taste.
You can add a side of plantains or avocado to this as well! Depending on the ingredients you have to buy, this recipe can cost anywhere from $8-$14 and make 3-4 servings.