Arepas is a dish eaten all over Colombia and it might just be the recipe you need to switch up your summer breakfasts. Here’s an expert guide on how to make it.
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Arepas is a classic Colombian dish made from maize dough. It’s simple to make, versatile and completely delicious. Traditionally eaten as a breakfast dish, arepas can work for any meal of the day, which is perhaps why it has become so popular on TikTok, with the hashtag #arepas reaching 84.4 million views.
Mariana Velasquez, a food stylist and chef, has grown up eating arepas, which is why she created her own take on the recipe for her new book, Colombiana. “We used to eat arepas when we went on road trips. Simple shacks would cook arepas on open fires and I remember smelling the sweetcorn and seeing the cheese ooze off them, before eating them from a plantain leaf,” Mariana says.
Mariana’s food explores the nuances of Colombian cooking but she says that her home country’s cuisine is difficult to define. “We are one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world which means we have several regions in a small country,” she says. “We have a coast in the Pacific Ocean, a coast in the Caribbean Sea and the Andes mountains run through our country so that gives us many subcultures, which means our food is really varied.”
“Arepas is a unifying food for our country,” Mariana continues to explain. “You’ll find them all over the country. It’s kind of like the core of our cuisine.”
Mariana uses sweetcorn to make her arepas, which she explains was a common part of Colombia’s indigenous people’s diets and a type of food that is eaten a lot around the country today.
“The essence of Colombian food is abundance and generosity – more is more. It’s also nourishing, wholesome and made from simple ingredients,” Mariana adds.
What you will need to make sweetcorn arepas
For the arepas
- 1 cup sweet yellow corn kernels
- 1 cup pre-cooked yellow cornmeal or Masa Arepa
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup quesito or fresh ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated Manchego or Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons semi-skimmed milk
For the raw tomato and avocado salad
- 2 cups ripe cherry tomatoes, halved crosswise
- 2 Hass avocados, pitted, peeled, and cubed
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 100g quesito or queso fresco, crumbled
- ½ cup coriander leaves
How to make sweetcorn arepas
- Grind the corn in a food processor until the kernels break apart and the mixture is smooth.
- Transfer the ground corn to a large bowl and add the cornmeal, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, the ricotta cheese, and manchego cheese.
- Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients to combine. Add the 3 tablespoons butter and the milk and stir until the mixture comes together. Do not overmix. In the beginning, your mixture will look like a very loose pancake batter. Don’t fret, the cornmeal will take a few minutes to absorb the liquid and achieve a better consistency.
- Allow the dough to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the raw tomato and avocado salad: in a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes and avocados, add the lemon juice and olive oil and toss to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Preheat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.
- Melt the 2 tablespoons butter until bubbles form.
- Measure ½ cup of the batter and pour into the pan—pancake style. You can fry the arepas 2 at a time or more, depending on the size of your skillet. Do not crowd the skillet.
- Cook the arepas until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. You may need to turn down the heat as you go so that the pan doesn’t get too hot from batch to batch.
- Place the finished arepas on the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.
- Repeat with the remaining batter.
- To serve, plate each arepa and top with a spoonful of the tomato and avocado salad, the crumbled quesito and the coriander leaves.
Mariana’s expert tips for perfecting your arepas recipe
Opt for high quality ingredients where possible
Mariana’s sweetcorn arepas are made from simple ingredients. Because of this, it’s crucial to make sure every ingredient counts and she advises that you should choose high quality ingredients if you can. “Get your hands on the sweetest corn you can find and buy it in season if possible,” she says. “Make sure your tomatoes and your avocado are ripe and take care to choose the right cheeses.”
Be specific with quantities as a beginner
Arepas are made similarly to pancakes and, with a recipe like pancakes, you might take a little bit of liberty when it comes to quantities and measuring and simply go by what you think is right based on your experience. However, if arepas is a new recipe for you, avoid using this method when cooking them. “The first time you follow a recipe, be very specific and then the second time, you can make it your own,” Mariana says.
You can adjust it by changing the type of cheese you need and adding some more milk if you prefer a more runny batter, as well as changing up how you eat your arepas. “As well as with a salad, I like to eat arepas with scrambled eggs, sunny side-up eggs, mashed avocado or, simply, with a little bit of butter and cheese,” Mariana says.
Use a hot griddle
The arepas cook very quickly so you need to ensure the cooking process is absolutely as it should be. “It’s key for the griddle to be hot because you want the outer layer of your arepas to be caramelised – that gives it that depth of flavour from the sweetness of the corn,” Mariana says.
You can find more recipes at Stylist.co.uk.
Mariana Velasquez, chef and food stylist
Mariana is a food stylist and chef. A published author of three recipe books, she has also styled, art directed, developed recipes and collaborated on more than 20 cookbooks throughout her career. First Lady Michelle Obama hired Mariana to style the First Lady’s “American Grown” project.
Images: Mariana Velasquez