Westborough Korean: An All-Time Favorite

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Dinner at Westborough Korean

I had this post in draft limbo for over a year, and yet, this was the first place I wanted to write about. One of our all-time favorite spots:

Westborough Korean Restaurant
in Westborough, MA (Central Mass).

Sometime ago during Christmastime, excited to come in for some hot food, (in both senses of the word).

It is only fair to warn you that, for the time being, I remain a mere novice enthusiast in the world of Korean cuisine. I have only been to places in Toronto, South Florida, only a spot or two in NY, and some in MA. I have a long road ahead of me with destinations like the LA Koreatown and, well, Seoul itself placing high in my travel priorities. I will even share the fact that my very first exposure to Korean cuisine was not until I was of college-age, I believe. Many a moon ago, I attended for the nth time in my life the Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, one of my family’s favorite excuses for a Disney trip. A new kiosk was setup between China and the African Outpost for Korean food. I ordered a small dish of Korean BBQ, and this small, seemingly-unglamorous step was the stepping stone that embarked me on a journey of love for both Korean food and its culture—and yes, Korean dramas and K-Pop, but that is besides the current point. Before this, I was unaware of Korean cuisine and its deliciousness.

I first came across Westborough Korean—let us call it WK for brevity—through a handful of online reviews that led me and my sister to this small, somewhat hidden dive. There is actually another Korean restaurant of sorts, Sapporo Restaurant, essentially across the street from WK. Sapporo has the entertaining option of grilling tables where you can cook your own meats and veggies, a characteristic trait of Korean restaurants. Although good, Sapporo is more along the lines of the typical commercial, more readily available restaurant, with higher prices and more widely-known menu items, plus the fact that Sapporo is both a Korean BBQ and Sushi Restaurant. It’s good, but compared to WK, there is a trade-off between brand/appearance and menu diversity versus richness of the meal plus bang for your buck. It’s an amusing note to point out that both places close one day a week, with Sapporo closing on Mondays, and Westborough Korean closing on Tuesdays, so worst case scenario, if you miss one you can still attend the other.

At WK, the food is plentiful, rich and varied in flavor. The meals are preceded by an arrangement of banchan, multiple small side dishes that provide for an overall wholesome experience. Banchan consist of items including but not limited to kimchi, spinach, potatoes, candied lotus roots, cubed radish kimchi, sweet potato noodles, soybean sprouts, mung bean jelly, cucumbers, broccoli, spicy eggplant, fish cakes… See below for articles on even more possibilities. Banchan is a particularly exciting element of Korean meals since you have a diverse assortment of flavors and nutritious elements from which you can pick and choose throughout the meal, a parallel to the bread and butter served during Western meals, but with much added culinary value, if you ask me.

Banchan at Westborough Korean. Depending on the day, they might be slightly different items.

The meals are served in a warm, small and intimate environment by a friendly staff we have been fortunate to get to know. The walls are decorated with subtle artwork covered in Korean lettering, in addition to one TV playing American shows opposite to another TV that plays Korean programming such as the famed Korean dramas or game shows. I particularly enjoy looking at that latter TV when the news come up, trying to figure out what the hangul captions are describing about a particular event in their own side of the world or even on our interlacing politics.

Fam with our friend Ann.
Dave and I and little kid peering from the left side of the picture.

A review wouldn’t be complete without suggestions on the must-get items from the menu. My family and I are creatures of habit and, once we find the items that make us fall in love with a place, it’s tough to dissuade us from venturing much further. One day, though, Dave and I will undergo the task of trying out every other delicious item on the menu… Some other time, some other day… For now, the two items we simply cannot do without at WK are the Dolsot Bi Bim Bap and the spicy Pork Bulgogi. These two alone provide the nutrition and flavor we crave for at a great price we can enjoy between four people and feel fully satisfied with. When we go with more people or even feel particularly “starved”, we add the Galbi Gui (to die for), and the Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon) as appetizer. I would highly suggest to enjoy yourself as well and get some soju, a drink which I particularly love. While it resembles sake, it holds a sweeter and softer flavor, which personally makes it a lot more pleasant for my particular palette—I typically struggle a bit to drink sake; by contrast, I am always eager to order soju, and like sake, it is also served in similarly small-sized servings.

To this day, Westborough Korean retains the title as one of our all-time favorite food spots to go to, independent of cuisine labels.

Kimchijeon with scallions and sauce, cut into slices like a small pizza pie.
Platter of spicy pork bulgogi on the left plus two stone bowls of bibimbap. Red gochujang sauce being drizzled on the second bowl.
The staff that makes it all happen.

On a somewhat sad note, this was one of my pseudo-attempts at bibimbap to help me through my withdrawal from WK, back when we had moved out of the area… I will not be sharing said wanna-be recipe, though.

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Withdrawal-induced dish cooked in remembrance of an actual bibimbap dish.

But, I will be sharing an actual bibimbap recipe by Maangchi, as seen in the video below.

Bibimbap Video Recipe by Maangchi:

Happy Spring?
-Kika


Bonus links, on banchan:

 

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Dump-it-in-there Chili v1.0

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Chili con carne with fresh Rosemary and Baking Cocoa Powder
Note: For now, links in this post are not affiliate links. If that changes, we’ll let you know.

Chili (con carne)! One of our favorite foods to make in the slow cooker—hm, no, let’s not kid ourselves… One of our favorite foods to make. Period. It’s fun because you can just dump everything in the slow cooker and keep adding and adjusting flavors as it cooks. You get plenty of time to evolve the flavors, blend them in, and see what makes sense to add or what’s missing from it.

For us, chili always varies a little depending on what we have in the pantry and fridge. Cans of tomatoes with sauce, tomatoes with green chilies, corn, kidney beans… Then your freshly-chopped jalapeños, onions, carrots… And seasoning with whatever makes you happy—but that still goes well together, of course… You don’t have to, but why would you do that to yourself?—Here, I used adobo, extra salt & pepper, gochugaru, hot Hungarian paprika… Italian seasoning? Indeed. Extra garlic powder, fresh minced garlic… And as shown in the above image, fresh rosemary, (chopped very finely to let it blend into the chili), and baking cocoa powder (unsweetened; not sure sweetened would work well for a chili).

Side note: Dave got the idea to use chocolate for the chili from Cincinnati chili—the one that’s used as a topping for spaghetti… Which still makes me shiver, but alas, my husband likes it.

Dave reminded me afterwards that I had forgotten to add cumin, a staple of chili, so we sprinkled some in after serving… Quick recovery, (certainly wouldn’t have blended in as well as if it had been cooked in, but quick recovery nonetheless).

The best part about having a multi-purpose slow/pressure cooker? You can sear the meat in the slow cooker itself before you start dumping the rest of the ingredients in it. If you are one to embrace the joy of diminished mess, you’ve reached home ♡ Back to the meat, I seared ground beef with a splash of chicken stock. We usually prefer, (for all intents and purposes, not just chili), less than or equal to 85% lean beef for greater flavor, but if you don’t want as much fat or having to drain the fat, you can use a leaner option. For the time being, though, I can’t say with full certainty that I saw (tasted) added value to the searing with chicken stock—personally, Dave’s drifting away from using chicken stock due to its pungent flavor and scent, and I share a bit on his view, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

Finally, two tricks we particularly like to do for chili:

  1. If the chili is too watery/thin, you can use a thickener such as corn starch or, our favorite, corn meal/flour such as Harina PAN or Goya’s Mazarepa.
  2. If the overall flavor of the chili is too heavy from all the meat and sauces, I like to lighten/brighten it a bit with lime.

So as I mentioned above, as the chili slow-cooks, you can keep tasting the chili and think about whatever flavors/kicks it might be missing and continue to add items as needed. My suggestion is: add little by little to make sure you don’t over do it or accidentally overpower items you didn’t intend to.

The slow cooker is your canvas. Have fun.

Happy splattering, 
Kika & Dave

Dump-it-in-there Chili v1.0

  • Servings: 4+
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

This first iteration of our Chili con carne does not have actual measurements yet—it was mostly written from memory—so feel free to experiment and add items little by little. Since it takes a while to cook, you have plenty of time to tweak throughout the whole cooking process.

Always prep the ingredients before beginning to cook!

Equipment

  • Slow cooker (with a searing option if possible)

Ingredients for the Beef

  • Ground Beef (~1.5 lbs; 85% lean)
  • Chicken Stock (optional; a splash; either salted or unsalted)
  • Adobo seasoning
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Gochugaru

Ingredients for the Chili

  • Tomatoes in Tomato Sauce (1 large can)
  • Tomatoes with Green Chilies (1-2 regular cans)
  • Corn (1-2 small cans)
  • Kidney Beans (1-2 regular cans)
  • Jalapeños (~2; finely chopped)
  • Onions (~1; finely chopped)
  • Carrot (~1 large one; finely chopped)
  • Adobo seasoning (to taste)
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • Gochugaru (to taste)
  • Hot Hungarian Paprika (to taste)
  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Garlic Powder (to taste)
  • Minced Garlic (to taste)
  • Rosemary (to taste; very finely chopped)
  • Baking Cocoa Powder (unsweetened; to taste)
  • Corn Meal / Flour (white; to taste)
  • Lime (squeezed juice; to taste)

Directions

A. Searing the Beef

  1. Turn on the searing setting on the slow cooker.
  2. Once it’s hot enough, (test by flicking in a few water dropletsdrop in the ground beef.
  3. Add the following items to taste:
    • Chicken Stock (optional; a splash; either salted or unsalted)
    • Adobo seasoning
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Gochugaru
  4. Once the beef has browned, turn on the slow cooker setting.
  5. Proceed to step B.

B. Making the Chili

  1. Drop the prepped Chili ingredients in the slow cooker:
    • Tomatoes in Tomato Sauce (1 large can)
    • Tomatoes with Green Chilies (1-2 regular cans)
    • Corn (1-2 small cans)
    • Kidney Beans (1-2 regular cans)
    • Jalapeños (~2; finely chopped)
    • Onions (~1; finely chopped)
    • Carrot (~1 large one; finely chopped)
  2. Season with/add the following ingredients to taste:
    • Adobo seasoning
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Gochugaru
    • Hot Hungarian Paprika
    • Italian Seasoning
    • Garlic Powder
    • Minced Garlic
    • Rosemary (very finely chopped)
    • Baking Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
    • Corn Meal / Flour (white)
    • Lime (squeezed juice)
  3. Continue to mix & taste for the remainder of the slow-cooker timer (~6 hours).

C. Serve

  1. Serve in a bowl to keep warm.
  2. Top with any of the following:
    • Cheese
    • Lime
    • Corn Tortillas
  3. Enjoy.

fin


References

[1] “Chili con carne” Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_con_carne
[2] “Cincinnati chili” Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_chili

Belgian Street Food at Saus Boston

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From top left clockwise: Session Lager, Frik, Green Monster Sauce, Hand-Cut Fries, and Poutine

Woohoo! We’re finally reaching true New England winter weather. After last year’s let down with its near-non-existent skiing season, this year we’re finally reaching near-zero and slightly sub-zero temperatures (depending on where you’re standing in the region).

Sure, one alternates between the excitement of piled-up snow, the grudge against slushied sidewalks, the heart-warming Christmas decorations, and the slightly-excruciating pain of improperly-covered extremities that nearly succumb to the cruel, piercing cold. Nevertheless. What better time of year to find your favorite spot to escape the cold, warm up with your favorite comfort food, and sip (or chug) on your new favorite beer?

After dropping off family at Logan Airport, Dave and I figured we’d find something to do in Boston. Dave wanted to go ice skating; a new outdoor rink had opened by City Hall. I figured, “Hey! Let’s try a new place not on Quincy Market!” since, for whatever reason, my family nearly always went exclusively to Quincy Market / Faneuil Hall when we visited Boston. So I googled restaurants by City Hall and found Saus Boston.

Long story short, we did not ice skate (though we did walk by the area), and it turns out City Hall is next to Quincy Market. And so is Saus Boston… There goes my geographical awareness.

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Porter in the front, Lager in the back
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Walls decorated with framed comics

Dave was both really impressed and inspired by the spot. You walk into this relatively small place, a few tables, walls decorated with framed comics, and your ordering counter below colored-on chalkboards listing the menu items. You look at the menu and feel the immediate magic of, not only the emphasis on fries, crispy Belgian fried “hot dogs” (Frik or Frikandel), sweet waffles, and gravy-covered POUTINE—though Québécoise, people also enjoy poutine in Belgium[3] —but also the list of SAUCES you can add to your fries and other foods. Just the idea of more than a dozen sauces makes me excited to come back and try the others. If you scroll back up, the first image of this post shows the Green Monster sauce. I know the point is to try Belgian food, but I must be honest on the fact that I am especially fond of this sauce since it reminds me of a variety of Hispanic sauces used to accompany steak. Aside from the brightness of the cilantro, you can sense a flavor similar to ají dulce but less sweet, which makes sense based on their use of habanero peppers. Let me rephrase my statement to I am enamored with this sauce and can’t wait to try the others. It’s like fries getting a royal treatment.

As you enjoy the comfort of street food indoors and their selection of beers (if you so choose to drink), Saus provides you with a warm, cozy escape from the cold. Dave and I sat surrounded by wooden furniture, comics, and the occasional couple and groups of friends meeting up or looking for a spot to remove their winter jackets. We eventually finished our meal, and with the mild grin of a satisfied belly, we let ourselves stay just a bit longer before venturing back into the slushied streets.

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Cozy Spot

Happy snow hopping,
Dave & Kika


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Updated picture (March 2017)

References

[1] Saus Boston, http://www.sausboston.com/
[2] “Frikandel” Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frikandel
[3] “Le Québec en Belgique – Grande fête de la poutine à Villers-la-Ville” at Belgique-Tourisme.be http://www.belgique-tourisme.be/informations/evenements-villers-la-ville-le-quebec-en-belgique-grande-fete-de-la-poutine-a-villers-la-ville/fr/E/63938.html (Hit “translate” on your browser if needed).

[Bonus link FYI]: “11 Budget Belgian Street Foods (for Less than $10)
by Agness Walewinder of eTramping.com, 18 April 2013
http://etramping.com/11-budget-belgian-street-foods-for-less-than-10-dollars/

Venezuelan Arepas with Shredded Beef

venezuelan arepas with carne mechada
(Top left) Carne Mechada in the Pressure Cooker (Top right) Arepas on the Pan (Bottom) Arepa with Carne Mechada

Saturday September 10th, 2016

On this day, it was Dia Mundial de la Arepa! (World Arepa Day!). Even amidst the bizarre food shortening situation in oil-rich Venezuela, let us have them in our thoughts—and wish a cascade of good fortune to people like my cousin who opened up his first food business in Caracas!—hoping they can have full pantry shelves again.

Alas! Let us return to the marvelous topic of arepas. Arepas are a form of flatbread made with corn flour which you can stuff with whatever [edible item] your heart desires. It is the breakfast hamburger of sorts, though Venezuelans also have them for dinner, often going to the “areperas” in the wee hours of the night after partying. If you’ve ever had pupusas, yes, they’re similar to them, though each country will swear by their own recipe**, and you can also find Colombian arepas[2], and other recipes, some which are made with the yellow corn flour instead of the white one and make me go, “That’s not an arepa, that’s a cachapa, but I’ll eat it anyway ’cause it’s good,” etc., etc.

So to celebrate World Arepa Day, we made Arepas with Carne Mechada (Venezuelan Shredded Beef) and White Cheese, which ideally would be a semi-firm, slightly salted cheese such as the so-labeled “Queso Para Freir“, but our grocery store had none so we used mozzarella cheese. Worked WONDERS. And for the steak we used skirt steak as one of his suggestions, (the other being soup/stew shank, which I realized just now after translating it with mighty Google, since I didn’t know before how to translate “lagarto”).

Amongst our wondrous wedding gifts, we got the Armando Scannone cookbook, “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” from our beautiful friends the Ferreiras. Here, Scannone provides a superb recipe for carne mechada—which made me all the more excited since it was our first time making it!—with the title “Carne Mechada Frita con Cebolla y Tomate.” In the recipe, though, he cooks the meat a bit in the oven and then pan-fries it, whereas we used one of our other awesome wedding gifts: the mighty pressure cooker (courtesy of my aunt and nonnos in Italy) which turns any hard meat into a juicy soft-skinned delicacy. Now, the recipe does call for a bit of ketchup, which some of you (including Dave) might find preposterous, but believe us when we say that both Dave and I loved it, and the flavors blend amazingly together.

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Venezuelan Cookbook: “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” by Armando Scannone

Sunday September 20th, 2016

We’re still extending the celebration and making it for our friends this week, so we hope you get to make them too and share in on the awesomeness! Recipes for the Carne Mechada (Shredded Beef) and the Arepas near the bottom.

We extended the arepa celebration by sharing it with our non-Hispanic friends during game night. Always a big success! *Thumbs up*

Thursday November 3rd, 2016

Hm, took me almost 2 months to post this post… (And now I’m posting about posting a post**).

A few notes to the video at the top:

  • For the arepas: Add the water and milk as well as the salt and sugar before the corn flour, that way you can the latter combo into the former one to make it more uniform before you start to solidify it with the corn flour.
  • Slowly whisk in the corn flour so as to get a uniform mix (instead of a lumpy mix).
  • We realized we should use the brush to butter the arepas, not the pan.

* VENEZUELAN AREPAS ALL THE WAY! YEAH!! *CHEST BUMP*
** WE MUST GO DEEPER. (Hm, lots of yelling in the footnotes)

Carne Mechada (Venezuelan Shredded Beef)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

An iconic Venezuelan item. Great for arepa filling or as part of a larger dish, often accompanied by rice, beans, and plantains.

Carne Mechada Recipe (as modified for pressure cooker) from: “Carne Mechada Frita con Cebolla y Tomate” by Armando Scannone in his book “Mi Cocina II: A la Manera de Caracas”.

Equipment

  • Pressure Cooker
  • Medium Sauce Pan

Preparing-the-Beef Ingredients

  • Skirt Steak (1 lb)
  • Onion (3/8 cup [grated])
  • Garlic (1 Clove)
  • Oil (1 Tbsp)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (1/2 Tbsp)
  • Ground Cumin (1/8 Tsp)
  • Ground Black Pepper (1/4 Tsp)
  • Salt (1 1/2 Tsp)
  • Red Bell Pepper (OPTIONAL; 1 small Pepper [sliced])

Beef-Sauce Ingredients

  • Tomato (1 Cup [optionally skinless; deseeded; finely diced])
  • Red Bell Pepper (1/4 Cup [deseeded; deveined; finely diced])
  • Onion (1 Cup [finely diced])
  • Oil (1/4 Cup)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (1/8 Tsp)
  • Ketchup (1 Tbsp)
  • Salt (1/2 Tsp)
  • Ground Black Pepper (1/8 Tsp)

Directions

  1. Preparing-the-Beef Steps

    1.  For marinade, add to a bowl and whisk together:
      • Onion (3/8 cup [grated])
      • Garlic (1 Clove)
      • Oil (1 Tbsp)
      • Worcestershire Sauce (1/2 Tablespoon)
      • Ground Cumin (1/8 Teaspoon)
      • Ground Black Pepper (1/4 Teaspoon)
      • Salt (1 1/2 Teaspoon)
    2. Rub skirt steak all over with all of the marinade.
    3. Let marinate for 1/2 hour.
    4. After done marinating, sear the steak on both sides (you can do it directly on the pressure cooker if it gives you that option).
    5. Add steak with marinade into pressure cooker (or leave it in pressure cooker if that’s where you seared it).
    6. **Optional** Add the red bell peppers (a small handful [sliced]).
    7. Add water to the minimum fill line of the pressure cooker.
    8. Lock pressure cooker and cook according to its “meat” settings. (In our case, our pressure cooker‘s default “meat” setting was 12 psi for 40min).
    9. [If making arepas, you can begin making them before proceeding to making the Beef-Sauce]
  2. Beef-Sauce Steps

    1. Add oil (1/4 Cup) in a medium sauce pan.
    2. Heat on stovetop at medium high.
    3. Add the onion (1 Cup [finely diced]), and cook until softened/translucent, typically 3-4 minutes.
    4. Add the following and cook for about 5 minutes:
      • Red Bell Peppers (1/4 Cup [deseeded; deveined; finely diced])
      • Tomato (1 Cup [optionally skinless; deseeded; finely diced])
    5. Add the following and cook for 4-5 minutes:
      • Worcestershire Sauce (1/8 Teaspoon)
      • Ketchup (1 Tablespoon)
      • Salt (1/2 Teaspoon)
      • Ground Black Pepper (1/8 Teaspoon)
    6. [You can then begin shredding the beef and set to low heat once the timer goes off]
  3. Shredding Beef and Mixing with Sauce

    1. Once the beef is done cooking and the pressure cooker is done depressurizing—if it has a release pressure button, you can use that to accelerate the depressurizing process—open the pressure cooker.
    2. Pick up the beef with a set of tongs (or fork or whatever your preference. (Forget the sliced bell peppers or eat them as a side or reuse in another recipe).
    3. Keep the beef broth from the pressure cooker (you might need to add some to the beef sauce).
    4. Set the beef on plate or kitchen board.
    5. Pull apart the beef with the tongs/fork(s) until you have a good set of beef strands.
    6. Add beef to beef sauce currently in sauce pan.
    7. Mix beef and beef sauce at medium heat for about 2 minutes (add beef broth as needed if it seems a bir dry).
    8. Remove from heat.
    9. Stuff and arepa or eat on its own.

fin

Arepas

  • Servings: 4.5
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Equipment

  • Frying Pan
  • Oven

Arepa Ingredients

  • Corn Flour Goya or Harina Pan (2 Cups)
  • Water (1.5 cups)
  • Milk (1.5 cups)
  • Salt (1 Tsp)
  • Sugar (3/4 Tsp)
  • Butter (about 1/4 Cup [melted])

Directions

  1. Making the Dough

    1. Add the water (1.5 Cups) and milk (1.5 Cups) in a medium bowl.
    2. Add salt (1 Teaspoon) and sugar (3/4 Teaspoon).
    3. Mix.
    4. Slowly add and whisk in the corn flour.
    5. Let settle for a couple of minutes (until flour thickens).
  2. Cooking the Arepas

    1. Heat a frying pan to medium heat.
    2. Grab about a fistful of dough.
    3. Shape dough into a round flatbread (about 1/2-inch thick, 4 inches in diameter)
    4. Butter each side of the uncooked arepa.
    5. Place on the pan and add as many arepas fit on the pan.
    6. Flip arepas once browned.
    7. [Arepas may be done once both sides brown, or for better results proceed to step 8]
    8. Turn on oven on low broil setting.
    9. Place arepas (with both sides browned) inside oven, (place them on a baking tray or directly on the oven racks).
    10. Cook in oven until arepa shell is slightly hardened (knock on them to test, they should sound hollow).
    11. Once done, take out of the oven.
  3. Preparing the Arepas
    1. Cut arepa through the side to make a pocket, or so as to open the two circles in half with a joined side.
    2. You can remove a bit more dough or leave it all, butter the inside and fill with beef, cheese, scrambled eggs, beans, or whatever your heart desires.

fin

References

[1] “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” by Armando Scannone, 2012. (Earlier versions available from some resellers on Amazon.)
[2] “Latin American Cuisine: Colombian Arepas” by Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/04/latin-american-cuisine-colombian-arepas.html