If any of you have ever experienced a diet, cleanse, or other temporary shift in normal eating behavior, you may be all too familiar with the element of restriction. Thanks to instructions clipped out of a tabloid magazine or printed from a forwarded email, you may have limited your sugar intake, eliminated dairy, and/or cut out gluten entirely. You may have painfully lamented to coworkers, family, and friends about how you haven’t had a beer in three whole days or that you actually forgot what chocolate tastes like. But you may have learned some healthier eating habits along the way.

In my past experiences, a dairy-free diet has led me to enjoy my coffee black, a low-fat diet has helped me explore how to cook chicken breast so that it stays moist (I pound it first for even cooking), and a gluten-free diet has helped me find new ways to enjoy sandwiches.

This final discovery is a little tricky, because a sandwich, by definition, involves at least one piece of bread. A sandwich without bread seems like tiramisu without coffee or ceviche without seafood or citrus juices. So let’s redefine our terms: I’m talking about the basic construction of two slices of *something* that hold together various sandwich fillings.

Instead of bread, I’ve learned to marinate and grill eggplant slices, which are perfect bread and taco-shell substitutes. Between the eggplant slices, you can stack sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, maybe with a bit of tapenade.

I’ve also made mini-meatball stackers with grilled zucchini slices, Atkins-style sandwiches made with two slices of cheese holding some salami or ham, open-faced bell pepper boat sandwiches topped with coleslaw and ham salad, and romaine lettuce burrito rolls stuffed with chicken strips and guacamole. The possibilities are endless. But they aren’t necessarily diet-friendly.

Over time, as with any healthy eating endeavor, you are going to find ways to take your new knowledge down a darker path and turn that healthy bread substitute into something deliciously evil.

Those slices of rye bread in your corned beef sandwich will switched to two succulent fried potato pancakes, only adding to all the extra sodium. Then, when you go to the fair, you may try creating sandwiches with fried zucchini or eggplant slices. It will only be a matter of time before you learn about the corn-based arepa pancake.

I first came across cheese-filled arepa sandwiches (“mozzarepas”) at the countless street fairs in New York City. They were buttery, cheesy, and had a great corn flavor. After playing around with various recipes, I’ve finally settled on one that is easy, delicious, and bound to please all your party guests. They can be enjoyed individually, paired to make grilled cheese sandwiches, or even topped with jelly for a unique experience.

Then, when you’re done devouring them all, you can diet once more for further epiphanies in healthy — and evil — eating habits.

Hold-the-Bread Arepa Sandwiches

IMG_8475Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 corncobs, freshly boiled
  • 1 1/4 cup finely ground yellow corn meal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Sliced Mozzarella or Provolone

 

Directions

After boiling the corn, use a knife to cut the kernels off and grind them in a blender. You should have a nice pulp. Add yellow cornmeal (pass it through a coffee grinder to make a finer mix, if necessary), flour, sugar, salt, and shredded mozzarella, and mix well in a big bowl.

Bring milk to a boil as you add the butter, being careful not to burn it.

Make a well in your dough and gradually stir in the hot milk mixture.

Mix to a good pancake-batter consistency. If you don’t end up needing to add the rest of the milk, so be it. If it’s too thick, add more milk.

Heat a lightly buttered griddle or pan and spoon batter to make small pancakes. Flip when golden brown.

To make a sandwich, you can top an arepa with sliced cheese once it flips and then add the second pancake when done. Or you can just cook them all, top with cheese later, and nuke them in the microwave to melt.