My mom, my sister, and I fell in love with homemade arepas when I was in high school. We used to make them to go with South American/Mexican-style dishes (i.e. refried beans or corn), but we'd also eat them as a starchy side dish with main course salads. When you fry them, which I'm not actually certain is the authentic way to make arepas, they develop a lovely crust on the outside and an almost creamy consistency on the inside. And when you add cubed fresh mozzarella to the arepa batter, you wind up with delicious gooey, stringy, melty cheese in every bite. You do have to be careful to keep a hot pan when frying, as the copious cheese can stick to the pan and make the arepas hard to flip. —Cara Eisenpress
Test Kitchen Notes
The best part about this recipe was the way the mozzarella oozed out of the arepas with every bite. I was also amazed at how easy the arepas were to make—I'd always been a bit intimidated by them, but they were quick enough for a weekday meal. I will say, though, that the recipe isn't joking about being "oversized." In fact, I got scared off and wound up making four normal-sized patties instead. I appreciated the bare simplicity of the spring vegetable topping, but I might add some herbs or an acid next time to brighten it. —vrunka
For the Spring Vegetables
sugar snap peas, washed and trimmed
thin asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
small zuchinni, trimmed and cut very thinly (on a mandolin if possible)
To make the vegetables, bring a pot of water to the boil. Salt it well, then add the sugar snaps and the asparagus and let cook for about 1 minute, until very green. Add the zucchini, and let cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until cooked.
Drain the vegetables and shock them with cold water. Drain again, and set aside.
Finish the vegetables when you've started frying the arepas: sauté the shallot and the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until just beginning to get golden. Add the vegetables and cook to warm them through. Season with salt and pepper.
To make the arepas, combine the masa harina, mozzarella, and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of room temperature water, stir well to combine, then leave for 5 minutes.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan (big enough to fit 2 arepas). Take a little of the arepa dough and throw it into the pan. When it sizzles, you're ready to cook.
Divide the arepa dough into two balls. Flatten each into a disk with about a 7-inch diameter. Add to the pan. Cook on each side for 7-8 minutes, until the arepa has formed a crust and is quite golden. Be careful when flipping, as the cheese can stick to the pan.
When the arepas are done, lift them onto plates and top each with half of the sauteed vegetables and some freshly ground pepper.
I'm the founder, editor, and head chef at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen (www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com), a site dedicated to easy-to-execute recipes and stories from a quarter-life kitchen. I'm also the author of In the Small Kitchen published in 2011.