Colombian arepa con queso is a mouth-watering Colombian staple made from a dough of ground cornmeal, formed into a patty or disk, stuffed with cheese then grilled until it’s crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside.
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Arepas Colombianas are made from finely ground cornmeal, also known as masarepa. The masarepa is mixed with warm water, butter, and salt to form a dough. The dough is then shaped into flat disks and stuffed with queso blanco, queso costeño, or mozzarella, all mild and slightly salty cheeses.
In my home, after cooking the arepa, we slice it in half, slather butter and hogao – also known as the Colombian arepa sauce on the arepa, and eat it with a side of Colombian chorizo. And maybe the second serving is arepa con queso or melted cheese.
My grandmother made arepas from scratch. Starting with dry corn kernels and turning that into pre-cooked white cornmeal. It would require a bit of time and effort.
Now, there’s pre-cooked white cornmeal at the supermarket. Arepas are made from pre-cooked cornmeal, warm water, melted butter, and salt.
Colombian and Venezuelan arepas are similar – they’re both made with pre-cooked cornmeal.
The core ingredient is the same – corn. Colombian arepas are typically served with butter and cheese. In Venezuela, arepas are stuffed like sandwiches and filled with various ingredients.
Both. Arepas are consumed in both Colombia and Venezuela. In Venezuela, arepas are traditionally filled with different ingredients, like sandwiches.
Arepa is served with a side of huevos pericos, chorizo, or grilled steak. Or when we’re in the mood for a simple arepa con queso, we’ll add a touch of sweet and savory hogao sauce.
These are gluten-free arepas. The arepas are made of corn, and the butter and cheese are also gluten-free.
However, ensure the masarepa is prepared in a gluten-free facility.
The right amount of warm water in the recipe instead of room temperature will increase the masa’s (dough) flexibility. When the arepa dough isn’t pliable, forming the arepa will feel impossible.
Before forming the dough, dip your hands in warm water to make assembling the arepas easier. It creates a barrier between the dough and the hands.
When the dough is dry, it sticks and breaks apart.
Overhandling or moving the dough around in the pan will crack the arepa dough. Once you’ve placed the arepa on the hot pan, lift only when you’re ready to flip or check the arepa.
If you try to move the arepa too early and notice that it’s sticking to the pan, adjust the heat level.
The ideal temperature setting for cooking the perfect arepa is low to medium heat. You should adjust based on how the arepa is cooking. If it burns, reduce the heat. Every stovetop is different, especially if you have an electric vs. gas stove.
The pan needs to be hot enough to prevent the arepa from sticking to the pan but not too hot to burn the arepa without cooking the arepa throughout.
Melt the butter on the stovetop or microwave. Use a pot to melt the butter on the stovetop, or place it in a bowl and melt it in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute.
Place the pot of water on the stovetop or microwave and heat it until it’s lukewarm.
Add the cornmeal and water in a mixing bowl, half the water, and mix with your hands. Next, form the dough and slowly add warm water as you’re mixing the dough.
Mix the dough and form the shape of a ball, then flatten it and form it into a ball again. Do this 5-7 times.
The ideal dough texture is firm and can be formed into a ball without tearing or sticking.
If this is your first time making arepas start with smaller arepas. It’s like arepa training wheels. 🙂
Take small amounts of dough and form it into balls and flatten them. As you’re forming the discs, guide the thickness with your fingers.
Ensure the thickness is uniform throughout, including the arepas’ ends and middle.
Cooking the Arepas
Set the griddle or stovetop to low to medium heat. Every stovetop is different, so adjust as needed. I will typically test it with a small piece of arepa dough and adjust the heat.
Gently place the arepas on the pan and a few minutes later, lift a corner and turn when it’s a light golden color. The crust should be slightly crispy, then flip the arepa.
After a few minutes, check the second side and remove it once the second side is also a light golden brown color.
Arepa con Queso with Butter and Cheese
Open the arepas in half with a butter knife immediately after removing them from the pan or skillet. When the arepa is still warm, it’s easier to split the arepa with a butter knife.
When a cooked arepa gets cold, it gets stiff and difficult to eat.
Arepa con Queso Two Ways:
Store premade arepa dough after molding them into discs rather than pre-molded dough. Once the dough is stored in the refrigerator, the dough dries out a bit. It’s easier to store already assembled arepas.
My mom does it the best. First, she prepares a big batch of arepas and cooks them halfway. This is our favorite way to store arepas because they feel the closest to freshly formed ones when we reheat or thoroughly cook them.
Wrap the arepas in parchment paper and saran wrap for 2-3 days. After that, the arepas will get stale and too hard to eat.
Heat a skillet or griddle, and place the arepa on there to reheat. I recommend preparing the arepa and adding the cheese when you cook them, storing them in the refrigerator, and then reheating them.