I was born and raised in Venezuela, so it’s safe to say that I’ve been eating arepas multiple times a day my entire life. Plus, I’ve been making them for over 18 years! Arepas have a special place in my heart, and now that I live in the US, they are still a staple in our weekly diets (my husband LOVES them! He even has a t-shirt that says AREPAS). Today I’m going to teach you how to make arepas, a million tips to get them right and share a lot of traditional filling options. It’s super easy!
What is an arepa?
Arepas are cornmeal cakes that originated in South and Central America. If you ask me, of course I’m going to tell you they are Venezuelan and that Venezuelan arepas are the best, but I’m completely biased. They can be found in other Central and South American countries an honestly, I would have them anywhere. I’ve tried them in Colombia before, and even though they are a little bit different, they are still delicious!!!!
They are often compared to tortillas, or even bread, but they are neither. Arepas are just arepas 😉
How to make arepas – Ingredients
Back home, we make them in a pan called ‘budare’ and then we put them in the oven. But you can definitely use a regular pan or fried them. Any form of arepa is worth the try and they are all delicious!
I’m honestly reading through other top performing posts on Google about arepas and I’m cringing. Some people add baking powder or oil… Please don’t do this! This is not the traditional way to make arepas! Other websites say that arepas are pronounced ay-ray-pas. I’m cringing!
Arepas are pronounced: ah – reh – pahs
You only need 3 ingredients to make an arepa: Corn flour, water and salt. That’s it!
Of course I’m going to tell you that the corn flour you should use is from a brand called PAN. I honestly believe is the best one and it’s the one I use and have used my entire life. It’s usually on the ethnic aisle in the grocery store or you can also find it on Amazon as ‘Harina Pan’ (Here’s how it looks like). Make sure it says ‘Harina Precocida’.
I don’t think there are many Venezuelans that measure the quantities LOL. I pretty much add water and salt and then start adding the flour until it has the desired consistency. Feel free to try this too. It will make you look like an expert arepa maker. You can make a bunch and save some for the rest of your week (I explain how to do this the right way below). However, if you need measurements, here’s the best I can do:
- 2 1/2 cups of water
- 2 cups of PAN maize flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
PS: You’ll need spray oil to spray the pan. And of course, the desired ingredients for filling the arepa (more on that below).
The amount of arepas will depend on the size and thickness. I usually make them without measuring anything lol so this post was a true challenge. These quantities should make 6-8 traditional sized arepas.
How to make arepas – Instructions for the dough
You can literally read the instructions in the back of the Harina Pan flour. It’s so easy, but there are some things to know.
- Mix salt and water together FIRST
- Add the flour slowly and start mixing using your hands to avoid lumps. You can add more flour as you go until you get the desired consistency.
Very important note: Let the dough sit for 10-15 mins. The consistency you are looking for is very soft, so soft that it’s slightly hard to manipulate, but not too hard (you should still be able to make a ball but it will be sloppy). However, after you let it sit it will be a little bit more manageable. This guarantees that they’ll be toasty on the outside and soft in the inside, so please, let your dough sit for 10 minutes at least.
The consistency of the dough should be moist. If it cracks or feels too dry, you’ll need to add more water and mix it. I promise you can mess this up. If they are too soft just add more flour little by little (one TBS at a time).
How to make arepas – How to cook
- Start pre heating the pan at medium heat (wait until it’s very hot, but it should be medium heat). It takes a while. (don’t add the oil while it’s pre-heating).
- Pre-heat the oven at 375
- Form balls with your hands (around 3-4 inches diameter)
- You have 2 options here: make them flat using your hands (about 3/4 inch). Unless you are an expert at making arepas it will be hard to make them perfectly round. However, you can put the balls directly in the pan and make them flat there (this is a great tip for beginners!).
- After the pan is very hot, spray it with canola oil or any other oil you have (try not to use olive oil because it will change the flavor)
- Cook for 8-10 minutes on each side. In here you can get creative too. If you like them very toasty, leave them longer and skip the oven.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes at 375. Arepas rise a little bit when they are fully cooked. Another trick is to tap them to see if they are ready (they sound kind of hollow if they are ready) Hope this makes sense LOL.
Pro tip: If you want, you can make a ton of arepas and store them in the fridge. The trick is to only cook them in the pan (7-10 minutes on each side because they have to be a little bit raw), let them cool down and store them in a container with a lid. The way to reheat them is to add a little bit of water on each side and bake them at 375 for 12-15 mins. They will be as good as new!!!
What to fill the arepa with?
This is where things get interesting… and delicious!!! Arepas are meant to be filled and honestly, you can get pretty creative and have as much fun as you want!
As Venezuelans, this is what we play with the most. If we are having arepas for breakfast the filling will be eggs, cheese or shredded beef with beans, cheese and avocado, ham and cheese, turkey and cheese… I mean honestly it will depend on your taste and each household.
All of these fillings work for any time of the day. I personally prefer eggs in the morning, or turkey or my very favorite: butter, black beans and avocado. If I’m having them for lunch (I rarely have them for dinner), I will add chicken or shredded beef. There are no rules here.
Options to fill it up with:
Usually any filling will include a generous amount of butter, but skip it if you are going for a healthier version.
Please know that you can split them all the way and eat both sides separately (like a tostada), or you can slice halfway through each arepa horizontally (like a pita pocket) and fill them. Either way is fine! Here are some popular fillings in Venezuela:
- Eggs and avocado
- Scrambled eggs and cheese
- Shredded chicken and avocado
- Shredded beef and plantains
- Black beans and avocado
- Scrambled eggs
- Cheese & butter
- Just cheese
- Ham and cheese
Honestly, I could go on forever… You can add anything you freaking want! It’s actually quite interesting to go to an arepa restaurant back home, also knowns as ‘Arepera’. We have a lot of interesting names for all the combinations, and you will be extremely overwhelmed with the amount of fillings available! From quail eggs, to sardines, to many different kinds of cheese and everything in between! You can put a lot of things inside an arepa.
Healthier arepa options
Arepas prepared the traditional way and cooked in a pan are very healthy. But you can make them even healthier, and honestly we prefer this version that uses sweet potato.
You can add a tablespoon on flax seeds or chia seeds too and use less flour. Again, the original version is healthy anyways but this way you add more fiber.
How to make a sweet potato arepa – Healthier arepa option
These are also super easy to prepare. A few years ago I saw Sascha Fitness preparing this traditional Venezuelan food in much healthier ways and if I’m being honest, this sweet potato version might be my favorite one out of all.
Here’s what you’ll need for the arepa:
- 125 grams cooked (and peeled) sweet potato. It’s better if you bake it instead of boiling it.
- 10 grams precooked maize flour (It’s usually on the ethnic aisle in the grocery store). You can also find it on Amazon as ‘Harina Pan’ (Here’s how it looks like)
- 7 grams ground flax seeds (about 1 tbs)
Now, bear with me if you already know how to make arepas because this step by step is for people who have never tried making one before. If you know how to, then you don’t need to read further ahead 😉
Here’s what you’ll need for the inside:
2 oz of turkey breast (check out my homemade and much healthier version here)
40 grams avocado
1 tbs Bolthouse Farms Avocado dressing
Step 1: Put all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
Step 2: Use your hands to mix everything together. The sweet potato makes this process super easy. Add water little by little. Start with 1 tbs and after mixing everything together, see if it needs another one.
Step 3: Make a small ball with your hands until it looks like this. Sorry I have no clue how else to explain this. If you are Venezuelan you must be laughing your ass off HAHAHA
Step 4: Make the dough flat with your hands and place it on a hot non stick pan. I always spray some coconut oil just in case. It takes around 10 minutes on each side. You can cook it all the way in the pan, or you can put it in the oven after. Up to you. I usually like my arepas super thin, so sometimes I don’t put them in the oven.
If you do put them in the oven, the temperature is 375 and they go in for 12-15 mins.
Step 5: With a knife, open the arepa around the edges so you can put in anything that your heart wants. In this case I added turkey breast, avocado and the yogurt sauce. This one has become one of my favorite arepas!!
Total calories – just the arepa: 209. Carbs: 43 grams – Protein: 4.9 grams – Fat: 3 grams
Total calories with turkey and avocado: 385. Carbs: 49.3 grams – Protein: 24.7 grams – Fat: 11 grams
There are so many ways to enjoy arepas! It’s really up to you and your taste.
Hope this post inspires you to try something new in the kitchen. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks so much for stopping by.