Arepas have been a breakfast staple in my family for as long as I can remember. Most often made in a big batch for weekend family gatherings (which was pretty much every weekend), the recipe was passed down from my abuela and perfected by my aunts. Properly cooked, they are crisp and chewy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
My abuela always used white masa harina. Yellow was for making empanadas and banana leaf tamales. I did not encounter yellow corn arepas until I moved to New York City as an adult, but loved this gooey, cheese-filled version just as much. There is even a yellow sweet corn variety of masa harina I’ve seen at Latin markets--used for making arepas dulces. My favorite way to eat arepas is to make mini white corn arepitas and serve in a picada (platter of fried snacks) with a mug of hot chocolate on the side, just like I had in Cali, at a roadside stand on the way to visit relatives in the mountains.
I’ve cut the ingredient proportions significantly for this recipe. Rather than use the whole bag, as my family usually does, this calls for just 1 cup, which is enough to serve 2 people, but mainly, it is to help you get a feel for making arepas through repetition. For a crowd, I recommend multiplying this (please check out my tutorial on Food52’s YouTube!)
According to my Mom, the original way to make arepas was to ferment the dough for up to a week. Cheese is a more modern way to get that cultured flavor. My personal twist is to use cultured butter instead of the standard cheese and butter combo to get that depth of flavor. I use plant-based cultured butter to make this vegan. This recipe is big on “feeling” your way through versus measuring (think pizza dough). Have fun, especially if you use my aunt’s trick to shape the dough (see the YouTube video)! That’s my favorite part. —Anitalectric
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- makes 3
masa harina precocida (precooked variety)
salted cultured butter (plant-based or dairy), softened
- Place the masa harina in a medium bowl.
- In a separate, small bowl, whisk the salt into the water with a fork until dissolved (should taste salty but less so than seawater). Pour the water back into the measuring cup.
- Use your fingers to whisk continuously while pouring ½ cup of the water into the masa harina to form a shaggy dough. Add cultured butter, kneading until masa is smooth. Continue to add salted water one spoonful at a time until the masa starts to become soft and homogenous (it should start to form a ball). If you go too far adding water and the dough gets sticky, add a small handful of harina to balance it out. (Note: I usually end up using around 2/3 of the water.) (Abuela’s texture trick: aim for the soft, yielding consistency of your earlobe). Taste a small morsel of masa and adjust salt or butter if desired.
- Rest the masa in the bowl, covered, for 10 minutes while you preheat pan over medium heat.
- Form discs ½” to ¾” thick x 4.5” in diameter (or 2.5” in diameter for mini). Oil the pan (or gently brush softened butter on the arepas) and cook for about 10 minutes each side, until golden brown. Serve piping hot.
- Recipe notes/tips: If you shape the arepas too thin you will still get a crispy crust but will sacrifice inner fluffiness. Make sure to keep them at least ½” thick while shaping. (Think more English muffin, less tortilla.) Use the shaping trick in the video so the sides stay tidy and do not crack. If the arepas crack excessively while shaping, you may need to add another spoonful or two of salted water. Do not press down on arepas while cooking or you might crack them or smoosh out their inner fluffiness. Spreading butter on finished arepas helps them stay moist and flavorful. Serve arepas hot off the griddle and eat immediately. I do not recommend eating arepas cold. Any extras can be stored tightly wrapped and refrigerated, reheated in a microwave (will not be the same as fresh). This recipe is small by design to familiarize you with the dough. I recommend doubling, tripling or even quadrupling the recipe once you have the basics down. Arepas are quite filling. I recommend 1-2 arepas per person. If you cannot find cultured butter, I recommend regular butter, but substitute a portion with dry, finely crumbed cheese like cotija or parmesan for flavor. If you cannot find masa harina precocida--the Colombian or Venezuelan variety, you can use Mexican masa harina in a pinch. Mexican masa harina is used for making corn tortillas, which are a world away from arepas. It has added lime (labelled "nixtamalizado"), and is not precooked. The flavor will be slightly sour and you may need to compensate with extra water and cooking time.