During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the months of September and October. For more, head here.
I come from a very unique background: My parents both immigrated to the U.S. when they were just teenagers, my dad from Venezuela and my mom from Brazil (though we also have family in Argentina with Lebanese and Syrian roots — try to keep up!).
Both of their families settled in Miami, Florida, in the '80s, a booming melting pot of mostly Latin American expats. They met in high school and married soon after graduating college, after which they had four little girls: my sisters and me.
That said, growing up there was absolutely no shortage of comfort foods in our very mixed household: empanadas, niños envueltos, hallacas, feijoada, pão de queijo and kibe (my mouth is watering as I write this). But the one dish that really stuck with me as I left Miami to pursue my degree and later my dreams in New York City, are Venezuelan arepas. Not only because they remind me of lazy Sundays at home, my dad filling our kitchen with aromas of perico y queso blanco, but because they were so easy to make; I could whip them up in my small dorm with just a burner. So I did.
In the 10 years I was away from Miami, I perfected my arepa-making skills. I mastered the art of making the impeccably moist dough, rounding them out into perfectly sized patties and getting just the right golden-brown hue as I crisped them on the pan. I would continue our Sunday brunch tradition while living in Brooklyn, introducing them to friends and making them for my now-fiancé. As I stuffed them with gooey cheese and chicken breast with avocado — or kept it sweet and simple with just plain butter — I would think of my dad, hoping I was making him proud. Any time I felt homesick, arepas were there for me.
Today, living back in Miami and having 24/7 access to my dad’s cooking, I continue to work on perfecting my arepa recipe, but every now and again, I'll beg him to make them. There’s just nothing more comforting than the original.
Get my recipe for Venezuelan arepas here:
For more of our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage, tune into TODAY All Day’s special, “Come with Us: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month,” hosted by Tom Llamas. Watch Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST at TODAY.com/allday.