How to Make Colombian Arepas (well, the ones my mother-in-law makes….)

Ok, so I have had a number of requests for how to make Colombian arepas because the photos of the ones I put up on Facebook seem to get everyone’s mouths watering.  Some of our friends (and visiting Colombian friends to “Hotel Ocampo”) have gotten to eat these in person and all say these are very yummy.

First of all, let me say that my methodology is just one way of making them.  There are many variations on the arepa.  You can read all about the various types here.   But like most things, it’s all about the family recipe that gets passed down–and we all like what we grew up eating….  My mother-in-law, Rosa Elena gave me a recipe on arepas many years ago that I still use now.  I have a marbled notebook in my kitchen that has handwritten recipes mostly of things she’s taught me to make.  She gave me a Colombian cookbook many years ago but it’s in the metric system and I’m just a little too lazy to do the math.

photoSo, here’s the recipe and some photos (and this photo on the right is from dinner last night, a pretty typical Colombian meal, this one just happens to be meat-less):

  • 2 cups maza (cornmeal)—you can get this in the Latin American food section of the grocery store (I like the white masa that is the instante type)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • Queso blanco (or farmers cheese, can be bought in blocks at local Latino grocery stores the best kinds are wrapped in plantain leaves).  I am now starting to see “queso fresco” at places like Stop n Shop, but is just isn’t as good as the small-scale places IMHO
    1. Put maza, salt in a large bowl, stir to mix together.  Add ¾ package of Queso Blanco crumbled up.  Stir to incorporate all three ingredients.   If you really like cheese, go ahead…crumble up that whole package and throw it in!
    1. In a glass bowl or large pyrex pitcher microwave together the milk and water until hot but not boiling.  Then stir it into the maza mixture.  At first you will need to use a large wooden spoon, but eventually your hands until it is a large ball.  If it still seems like it’s not fully incorporated make a little more liquid 50/50 milk/water.
    1. Next get your griddle ready on the stovetop, greased.   Have heated to warm/hot.  You will then take a size of the maza mixture (a bit less than a golf ball) and roll in into a ball and then mash until about 1/2 inch thick.  Place arepa on griddle (continue until griddle is full, you may have to repeat multiple times).  Cook evenly on each side in low heat.
    1. Can be served warm, they taste very good with butter, or the rest of the container of Queso Blanco on them!  Colombians also eat them with an egg, or they can be sliced in half and stuffed with chicken, beans, or shredded beef.   You can also put slices of fruit on top, like avocado.  Yum!  Arepas can be made with or without the cheese and are sold all over Colombia, it is a very popular food.  They are often a side in a large meal, or eaten alone with café at breakfast.

And if you are a visual person like me, here is the step-by-step that we photographed at home (with thanks to my little kitchen helper)!

Ingredients: Masa and Queso Blanco (You all know where to get water, milk and salt!)…see the plantain leaf wrapping up the cheese!?!



Step One:  Put the masa into a bowl with salt (dry ingredients)


Step Two:  Mix in the crumbled cheese


Step Three: Mix in the milk and water


Step Four: Roll into small balls of dough mixture in hand, flatten out.  Use your fingers to smooth out the edges.
Step Five: Put the arepas on the griddle.  Turn over as they brown.  Make sure to keep enough oil so they do not stick, cast iron skillets are best (some Colombians deep fry theirs, I like to just use the pan method so I can tell myself this is a healthy thing….).  They’ll be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  If you make the arepa too thick you can mash it down with the back of the spatula a little bit after you turn it over the first time).  Practice makes perfect….for your final product!!!



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