Learn how to make Venezuelan arepas! With only a few key ingredients, they are surprisingly easy to make and are crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. In this recipe, I stuff them with beans, avocado, and a clementine-habanero sauce, but you can customize it however you like!
What are arepas?
Arepas are corn patties that are cross between a corn tortilla and an English muffin, made from precooked white cornmeal, water, and salt. They can be pan-fried, grilled, or baked and then stuffed with fillings. They are an essential food in Venezuelan cuisine and variations are seen throughout South America.
What’s the difference between precooked cornmeal, masa harina, and American cornmeal?
All three corn-based doughs sound similar, but are not all created equal!
In order to make arepas, you will need to buy precooked cornmeal, also known as masarepa. It comes in both white and yellow, the only difference being the color of the flour. Look for harina de maiz blanco precocida (refined, pre-cooked white corn flour) near the bottom of the package. The most common brand is P.A.N. and it comes in a yellow bag with a blue label.
Masarepa is different from American cornmeal, which is dried and ground raw corn kernels. You absolutely cannot make arepas from cornmeal because it will not absorb the liquid and you will be left with a soupy mess.
Mexican masa harina or “maseca” means dough flour, and is made from corn kernels soaked in lime water which removes the hull. Masa harina is used to make tortillas and tamales. It is not pre-cooked and has different starch content, which gives it a different texture and flavor. You can in fact make arepas from masa harina, however, you’ll need to use more of the masa harina to help absorb the liquid. It can be done, however, it won’t have the texture of an authentic arepa. I recommend trying to find the traditional precooked cornmeal.
How to make arepas Venezolanas
How to make the dough
Making the arepa dough is an easy process.
You just combine the pre-cooked cornmeal with 2 ½ cups of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt. You are looking for the dough to be smooth and moldable, and it doesn’t stick to your hands.
Divide the arepa dough into 8 pieces. Start forming the dough into tennis ball or baseball shape and flatten it with your palm so it’s about ½ inch thick. Use your fingers to smooth out the outer edges.
How to make the sauce
Make the sauce by mixing together the sour cream, clementine juice, and finely-diced habaneros.
Because the habanero is mixed with sour cream, you will barely taste the heat because the capsaicin is absorbed by the fat from the sour cream. If you take away the heat of a habanero pepper, they have a very fruity taste, which melds nicely with the clementine juice and sour cream.
I used a medium-sized habanero, removed the seeds, and cut it into very tiny strips. If you think it will be too much heat, start by mixing small amounts of the pepper and adjust it to taste. Remember to ALWAYS wash your hands after cutting a habanero and don’t touch your face at all! Years ago I made this mistake and ended up drinking milk for an hour and spreading peanut butter all over my face to help it go away!!
Cooking the arepas
The perfect texture of an arepa should be crispy on the outside and the inside should be soft and fluffy!
You can achieve this by pan-frying them on medium heat in a cast-iron pan for 7-8 minutes per side to get that nice outer crust. You’ll know when to flip the arepa when it moves freely on the pan. They should look crispy and golden brown with a few black marks on both sides when they are fully cooked.
Let the arepas rest for 10 minutes after they are cooked so the inside continues to cook from the residual heat. Then cut almost all the way in half if you are stuffing them, or all the way if you prefer it to be more of a sandwich.
Arepa fillings ideas
Other ingredients you can add to arepas
- Shredded pork
- For the Arepas
- 2 ¼ cups lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
- 2 cups pre-cooked white cornmeal such as P.A.N.®
- 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil divided
- For the Sauce
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 clementine juiced
- ½ to 1 habanero finely minced
- For Serving
- 16 ounce can black beans rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- A few sprigs of cilantro
- 1 avocado sliced
- Add the pre-cooked white cornmeal, salt, and 2 ½ cups of warm water to a bowl and mix with your hands until the dough is smooth, moldable and doesn't stick to your hands. Cover with a towel for 10 minutes.
- While the arepa dough is resting, combine the sour cream, clementine juice, and habanero in a bowl. Set aside.
- Divide the arepa dough into 8 pieces. Start forming the dough into tennis ball or baseball shape andflatten it with your palm so it's about ½ inch thick. Use your fingers to smooth out the outer edges.
- Heat up a cast iron pan to medium, then add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add half your arepas to the pan and fry for 7-8 minutes on each side until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining arepas, adding the remaining oil. Let the arepas rest for 10 minutes after they are cooked.
- While the arepas are cooling, add rinsed and drained black beans to a small saucepan with garlic powder and cumin and heat over medium heat until they are warmed through. Cut your avocado into thin slices.
- Slice the arepas almost in half and assemble by stuffing spiced black beans, avocado slices, and clementine habanero sauce inside.
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