Last summer, I spent a week in the Hendersonville and Flat Rock areas of North Carolina. While there, I had the chance to try K’s NY Pizza & SoFlo Food, which offers a delicious and unique combination of NY style pizza as well as Southern Florida and Cuban eats. (Thus, the SoFlo.) Without a doubt, their pizza was great, but it was the arepas that truly stole my heart. The warm, comforting cornmeal cake filled with chicken and cheese was literally life-changing, and I’ve been looking for somewhere else to get them ever since.
Arepas are not super common in our immediate area. (Although I did spot an arepa restaurant soon to open in Charlotte recently!) Over the past year, I have learned that they’re originally from Colombia and Venezuela, thus why most Mexican restaurants don’t seem to have them. Finally, after some looking, I decided I should just find as many recipes as I could and experiment on my own. After some trial and error (and some incredibly watery dough the first time!), I have tweaked several recipes I found (both from the internet and from the back of the masarepa bag!) to come up with this hopefully simple and easy-to-make recipe. It’s done us very well so far, and we are incredibly happy with the comforting, crispy-crunch-on-the-outside, soft-cornmeal-texture-on-the-inside, stretchy cheesy cake that results. Try them for yourself and let us know what you think!
What You Need:
2 cups of masarepa (this is different from regular corn masa; we found it easily at Walmart)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar (if desired; some recipes do not use it)
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 8 oz. block of cheese (mozzarella or colby jack are our favorites)
1/4 cup milk
2 cups of warm water
Oil to grease your skillet
What You Do:
1. In a bowl, shred the entire block of cheese with a cheese shredder.
2. In another bowl, whisk together the masarepa, salt and sugar with a fork.
3. Pour in the butter and stir.
4. Add 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese and stir.
5. Pour in the 1/4 cup of milk, stir, then slowly start adding a little water at a time, stirring between each pour. The dough will start to come together. (You can use your hands for this, but I found that a fork will continue to work just fine. You can also use a silicone spatula.)
6. Let the dough sit uncovered for 5 minutes. While it’s sitting, preheat your skillet on medium-high heat and add a little oil. I like to spread the oil around evenly with a paper towel. (You can also use cooking spray, but I prefer oil. I feel like it crisps up the arepas’ outer layer more perfectly.)
7. Put a sheet of parchment paper (or wax paper) on a tray or on your counter. Using your hands, turn out the dough onto the paper and separate it into 8 pieces. (I split it, then split it two more times.) Shape each piece into a circle, then use your thumbs to press an indentation in the center. This is where you’ll put the extra cheese!
8. Add a tablespoon or so of the remaining cheese into each arepa’s center. Then, squeeze the sides up to meet in the middle and seal them together. Finally, smash it back into a circle. The dough should be pliable enough that you can cover any cheese that is trying to get out!
9. Place a few arepas in the skillet (I do three at a time), and cook for about 2 1/2 minutes. If you smell burning, you’ve cooked them too long! Flip over and cook for another 2 or so minutes.
10. Serve with your favorite side, such as refried beans, black beans, rice, etc.
Leftovers: You can save any leftovers for later in the refrigerator. Just reheat them in a skillet the same way you cooked them originally and they will crisp right up!
Variations: You can leave out the extra cheese in the middle and instead slice them after cooking, in order to stuff them with chicken, pork, or another mixture of your liking. This will make them more like a sandwich. Another cooking option is to deep-fry them. We tried this, but we prefer the skillet option because deep-frying definitely makes a much greasier arepa.