Sometimes, and for me, quite often, I have to do things wrong before I can do them right. This is a gross understatement. Anyway, my first attempt at making arepas was successful, and my family loved them, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I kept remembering a thick, yellow corn tortilla that I once had in Panama for breakfast. It was crispy, lightly salted, and soft on the inside. And it was served with a sweet café con leche, oh my.
After having a conversation with my sister Jane (via text!) while making a couple of different versions, she mentioned how she remembered them being grilled in butter. Well, darn it if everything isn’t just a lot better grilled in butter. So today, when I got home from running errands, I whipped up another batch, just the way I wanted to, with wild abandon. Nobody was home.
Let me tell you, I was not careful. I was in a hurry. My kitchen was a mess because I had been making yogurt and straining it, and my counter was full of stuff. I threw some ingredients in a bowl, in the way I imagined these things should taste. I even let the butter almost burn before grilling them, and they came out perfectly.
Here is what you’ll need – yellow precooked cornmeal flour (Masarepa, or P.A.N.) that you can find at your local Latin American grocery store, water, salt, cheese, and perhaps some spices.
Here’s what I did: I put one cup of the cornmeal flour in a glass bowl, added a pinch of salt, and about a half cup of grated cheese… you can use any kind you like. I actually used Trader Joe’s Mexican Style Cheese Blend, even though it’s just queso fresco in the picture above. I mixed it up with my hand, and poured in a cup of cool water and a little bit more. So maybe one cup plus two tablespoons.
I then mixed it up really well with my hand, kneading it and squishing it through my fingers (sorry, but it’s true) so that it was nice and smooth. The dough was very wet, but it started to firm up pretty quickly.
Then I added a dash of cumin and a dash of oregano, because I felt like it.
I then did a bit more kneading and squishing. Like I said, the dough was wet, but firming up quickly. I put some butter in a nonstick skillet and heated it up on medium high heat, which took a few minutes. Which was perfect, because the dough needed just a few minutes to sit and firm up. When the butter started browning, I panicked and quickly made golf-ball sized balls of dough, flattened them to about 1/2 inch, and put them in the skillet, thinking I had blown it because of the butter turning brown. Sizzle sizzle. But when I flipped them after about three minutes, I was so happy to see how beautiful they looked!
This was exactly what I was going for! And they not only looked like the arepa that I had in Panama, but they also looked like the arepa that I had recently had in Oregon. Really, butter solves so many problems. But if you are vegan, you can skip the cheese and fry in oil, and I think they would still be delish.
After flipping, I cooked them for another 2 to 3 minutes, and then put them on a plate with a paper towel. When I finished making the second batch, while the pan was still good and hot, I made a couple of scrambled eggs for my lunch. Now, this whole process probably took less than 15 minutes. LESS THAN 15 MINUTES. I served the eggs with an arepa, topped with roasted tomato salsa and greek-style yogurt. Heaven.
I then had to have a couple more arepas, to make sure they really were exactly how I wanted them to be. And they were.
Yellow Cornmeal Arepas
- 1 cup Precooked Yellow Cornmeal flour (Masarepa or P.A.N.)
- Dash salt
- Pinch of Oregano
- Pinch of Cumin
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice
- 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons water
- Butter for the pan (salted is fine)
Mix all the ingredients well, kneading with your hand (just use one hand, you’ll need the other hand to be clean!).
Put a goodly amount (1 Tablespoon?) of butter in a skillet over medium high heat.
When skillet is hot and butter is sizzling, make golf-ball sized balls of dough, flatten them to about 1/2 inch, and fry them in the butter, about 3 minutes on the first side, and about 2 minutes on the second side. Or if you prefer to not risk burning them, you can heat the pan on medium heat, and fry them for 5 minutes each side. They will still come out golden and crispy, with no hint of burn.
Makes 8 or 9 arepas.