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What Are Arepas?
Arepas are small, versatile griddled cakes made from a dough of freshly ground cornmeal. Arepas call for their own specific cornmeal flour, called masarepa (which is different from the masa harina used to make Mexican tortillas or tamales). Their preparation varies by region: They can be baked, fried, steamed, or boiled.
Arepas are traditionally eaten for breakfast or as appetizers and side dishes, but they can also be split open to create handheld sandwiches, similar to gorditas or pupusas.
The History of Arepas
Arepas can be traced back to the Timoto-Cuica tribes of pre-Columbian South America, in a region that has since split into Venezuela and Colombia. Thanks to archaeological discoveries of dough-making tools and griddle-like cooking implements, it’s thought that the arepa was developed around the same time as the cultivation of corn in the Andes, about 3,000 years ago.
Venezuelan vs. Colombia Arepas
The basic arepa, which is traditionally cooked on a griddle known as a budare, is crispy on the outside, with a soft, crumbly texture and earthy, sweet flavor reminiscent of cornbread on the inside. If you don’t have a traditional griddle, a cast iron skillet is a good substitute.
- Venezuelan arepas tend to be on the thicker side, which makes them easier to stuff with a range of ingredients: roasted veggies, fried plantain, black beans, fresh cheese, avocado, egg, or stewed meats, for starters.
- Colombian arepas tend to be thinner and flatter, with a sweeter batter. They’re mostly enjoyed warm with a smear of butter, or topped with simple add-ons like cheese or tender braised meat.
Easy Homemade Arepas Recipe
Prep Time10 min
Total Time30 min
Cook Time20 min
- 4 cups arepa flour (look for brands like Goya or PAN, which offer two varieties; white corn flour is the most commonly used)
- 3 cups warm water
- 5 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- Combine the water, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl and stir to dissolve.
- Add masarepa ½ cup at a time, whisking constantly (but gently) to incorporate. When all the flour has been added, the dough should have a soft, supple texture that holds together when pressed. If it seems too dry, add more warm water, a tablespoon at a time.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let rest for 10–15 minutes.
- Portion the arepa dough into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then press down lightly with your palm to form into discs.
- Heat a cast iron griddle or skillet on high heat. Lower to medium heat, and add a ½ tablespoon of oil. Fry the arepas 4–5 at a time until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.
- Transfer to a rack to cool, and repeat with remaining dough. Enjoy arepas whole or slice open and fill with toppings of your choice.
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