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How Chef Grace Ramirez Makes Lactose-Intolerant-Friendly Arepas, Pomegranate Mousse, and Café Con Leche

No need to skimp on the sour cream or milk.

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For Chef Grace Ramirez, family is everything. The cookbook author of La Latina she still makes dishes she learned from her grandparents, and she uses food to carry on her family traditions.

The only potential roadblock in creating authentic Venezuelan recipes like her family taught her? Ramirez’s lactose intolerance. Fortunately, her discovery of Lactaid® has allowed her to continue making dishes that remind her of home, using real milk. Her aunt Solange, who’s also lactose-intolerant, first introduced her to the brand. Now, they spend their quarantine cooking meals together over Zoom, using Lactaid products.

One recipe Ramirez loves to make at home: arepas. It’s a comfort food that reminds her of home and her family; the smell of cooking them reminds her of when her grandparents made them when she was young. Here, these cornmeal patties — which happen to be gluten-free — are griddled and then baked, and used as a vessel for stuffing with anything (including heaping piles of Lactaid sour cream). And a filling meal of arepas is best followed with a pomegranate mousse and a café con leche, if you ask the chef.

Here’s how Ramirez makes her special arepas with avocado and chicken, pomegranate mousse, and café con leche at home.

Arepas

Makes 8 arepas

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pour warm water into a large bowl. Add salt and mix. Slowly start adding and mixing the cornmeal with your hands, until the mixture comes together and is smooth, without lumps. Once combined, let the dough rest for about 5 minutes (no need to cover it).

Meanwhile, heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan or flat grill plate over a medium-high heat, and brush with oil.

Knead dough again until smooth, about 3 minutes, until it doesn’t stick to the bowl or your fingers. If it’s too dry, then add 1⁄2 tablespoon of water at a time as you knead. Divide dough into eight evenly sized balls, and press each ball into a flat, round disc of even thickness. Each should be about 10 centimeters in diameter and 2 centimeters thick.

On the stovetop, grill batches of arepas, as many as will fit into your pan, for about 3 minutes on each side, or until they form a golden-brown crust.

Place arepas on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper, and place in the oven for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until arepas sound hollow when lightly tapped. You also can put the arepas directly onto the oven shelf.

To stuff arepas, split them open like a pita bread — not all the way through, but just enough to get some of the hot, soft insides out. True arepa eaters put the insides on the side of the plate, mix them with butter and/or cheese and eat them separately.


La Reina Pepiada (arepas with avocado and chicken salad)


Stuffs 4 arepas

Directions

With a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic clove.

Cut open the avocado, remove pit, and scoop out flesh. Place in a medium-sized bowl. Add lime juice, sour cream, chile, and chicken. Mix until just combined, and season to taste.

Cut arepas open (see recipe above) and stuff with chicken and avocado mixture.


High-Protein Pomegranate Mousse

Makes 1 cup

Add cottage cheese, lemon or orange juice, and honey to a blender. Process until smooth and creamy and few lumps remain.

Fold half of the fresh pomegranate seeds into the mixture, and serve the rest on top.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.


Café con Leche

Makes 1 cup

Directions

Prepare your coffee. If you have an espresso or Nespresso machine, use it! Otherwise, brew a bit of very strong coffee on the stove or in a French press coffee maker.

Steam or heat your milk until it’s as hot as possible without bringing it to a boil. Pour the milk over the coffee. Add sugar to taste. Enjoy!

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