Aside from the ingredients, either a griddle or nonstick pan is all you need to make arepas. Arepas recipes are corncakes, popular in Colombia and Venezuela, and known as gorditas in Mexico and pupusas in El Salvador. They vary not only by country but also by regions within the same country.
Regardless of the type of arepa, the basic ingredients are almost always the same: cornmeal, hot water, salt and butter. There are various brands of white and yellow cornmeal available at bodegas and even mainstream grocery stores, but I prefer to use P.A.N.
Arepa sin sal is a small, typically roundish salt-free corncake, popular in the Paisa region of Colombia. It calls for cornmeal, hot water and butter. This salt-free corncake is a sidekick because its blandness complements savory treats and dishes, such as fried salami, chorizo (sausage) and the Bandeja Paisa.
Arepa de queso is a corncake stuffed with queso fresco, although mozzarella will do you good in a pinch. I like to shred the cheese and work it into the dough, after kneading the basic ingredients for approximately three minutes. However, some prefer to form the corncake and stuff it with a slice of cheese. Regardless of how you prepare it, you can enjoy this variety of arepa for breakfast on its own or as a stand-in for toast with some scrambled eggs.
Arepa de choclo is humankind’s gift from the people of Colombia’s Andean region — and thank you. These arepas are made with corn, preferably shucked fresh from the cob, but a can (drained) will do just fine, rather than cornmeal.
Recipes for arepas de choclo vary, and you can prepare them on the stovetop or in the oven. Colombian bakeries serve the baked-in-the-oven variety with a slice of white farmer’s cheese on top. You can have these arepas with cheese, without cheese, for breakfast, for lunch or as a snack — depending on how large you make them. These arepas don’t typically accompany any other dish simply because they don’t have to. They are all you need.
The thing about arepas de choclo is they tend to fall apart when you make them on the stovetop, which is why some people will either bake them in the oven or start on the stovetop and finish them off in the oven. Here’s Mama Gomez’s recipe and some tips on how to keep them from breaking apart.
Mama Gomez is old-school, so she mixes all the ingredients by hand. I stick them all in the blender to ensure the batter is thick and mixed perfectly. I can quickly tell if it’s going to be too dry, which of course means the corncakes are going to break apart. If the batter is too dry, add a little bit of milk and blend again.
She taught me to make arepas on a griddle, but you can use a cast-iron skillet or even a nonstick pan if it’s large enough. To prevent your corncakes from breaking apart, make sure your cooking surface is nice and hot. Melt a bit of the butter over medium heat. Ladle in the batter the way you would if you were making pancakes. I prefer to form the arepa and place it on the griddle, which can get messy for beginners.
Let the corncake cook for about two minutes, until the underside is golden brown and flip it with a spatula, cooking the other side for an additional two minutes. Repeat this process with the remaining batter, and don’t forget to keep adding butter to the griddle so you don’t burn your corncakes. I actually forgo butter and use cooking spray, and get equally delicious results.
Serve immediately with a slice of white cheese on top and enjoy!