Oh Arepas! If you haven’t heard of them, or had one, let us introduce you to these amazing little corn cakes!
First, let us start by saying that we have a certain love with Colombia which is where we first tried Arepas. Julie’s bestie is from Bogota which helps, but we’ve been to Colombia twice and had some great times there. It’s a country with pretty much anything you could want, amazing beaches, breathtaking mountain scapes, jungles, the Amazon rainforest, huge modern bustling cities, small villages with people selling their wares roadside, the list goes on. We think it also holds a special place in our hearts because it was where we started our world tour off. Flying from cold Boston to the tropical lushness, beaches and history of Cartagena brings a certain euphoria that’s hard to beat. Imagine walking around in a centuries old city surrounded by walls that predate the country you’re from, the people are vibrant, not only in spirit, but also in dress and attitude. This was where we had our first arepa, from a lowly street cart in the center of the old walled city. A warm, griddled corn cake, stuffed with butter, cheese and the most yellow pineapple sauce you will ever see.
Another great Arepa indulgence was from a street cart in Medellin. Just a cart with a griddle and some amazing arepas, what more could you need?!
From then on, it was something we would seek out in every city in Colombia and upon each return to this gorgeous country. Arepas are very close to papusa from Honduras, and El Salvador, also close to a tamale, just not wrapped in the corn husk, or even not far off from Johnny cakes from the US. It’s clear that a cooked corn mush, that is then filled or fried was a life sustaining food for the First Nations of North and South America. We think it’s a great introduction to Colombian foods and can’t wait to share our love of it with you.
There are many varieties of arepa. There’s white, yellow, baked, grilled, pan fried, stuffed, topped, slathered…you get the point! The ones we make in this recipe are blended with cheese, then stuffed with more. We also make some that are just stuffed with cheese. Feel free to riff on this recipe, the most important thing to not change is the type of corn meal to use. We use PAN brand precooked corn meal. We found it at Aldi, but almost any supermarket should have it. It is simply something that you can’t just substitute, regular cornmeal won’t work, neither will masa harina. It has to be Arepa corn meal. It costs about $3 for a kilo (2.2 pounds) so it won’t break the bank!
Arepas Con Queso
Makes about 12 snack sized arepas
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
These are so simple, literally 4 ingredients (5 if you want to include water!)
– 2.5 cups of cool water
– 2 cups PAN Precooked corn meal
– 1.5 tsp sea salt
– 6 oz Monterey Jack
– 3 Tb oil/ butter/margarine or mixture
Let’s make the dough!
First step, grate about half of the cheese, the other half, cut into 1/4” slices, then cut those in half.
In a bowl, combine the water, corn meal, sea salt and grated cheese. Don’t be afraid, get your hands dirty and use them to mix it all together! After you get a nice thoroughly mixed dough, let it sit for 5 minutes, this will let the dough hydrate.
While the dough is hydrating, this is when we normally make the dipping sauces.
Now, to form the arepas, if you follow our recipes, you know we are fans of measuring out with a scale, you don’t have to of course, but we did with these, and made each 3oz dough ball. Form the dough into a rough flat circle, then take the cut cheese and place it in the center. Fold the edges of the dough onto itself until you get a nice round flat patty, making sure not to let the internal cheese poke through.
The fastest way to do these is on a griddle, so if you have one, use that. If not, any wide mouth sauté pan will work.
First, melt your cooking fat of choice in the pan. If you’re using butter, be careful not to go to high on the heat, it could burn the butter solids and give you black specks of burnt tasting nastiness. We recommend medium heat.
Place the arepas into the pan, let them sizzle away for 5 minutes, then flip and let the other side cook for 5 minutes. We let them drain on parchment paper or paper towels. Then that’s it! You’re done! Check out the Aji dipping sauce below, use your own favorite or just eat these cheesy gooey arepas by themselves!
Aji Amarillo Dipping Sauce
Aji is the name for chili peppers used in central and South America. Aji Amarillo, meaning yellow chili pepper, is the most easily found. We purchased this jar at a local Latin food store but it can also be found online and at Amazon. It is a nice subtle heat with a hint of yellow bell pepper.
Makes approx 1 cup
4 Tb mayonnaise
1 Tb +/- Aji Amarillo paste (depending on your heat level)
1 ripe lime
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, season with salt to taste.
And that’s it! It takes almost no time to whip up these gooey, cheesey corn pockets of deliciousness and is sure to be a hit whether you devour the whole dish on your own or decide to share with friends. Please leave a comment and let us know how the cooking went for you!