Most homemade arepa recipes involve a back-and-forth combination of skillet and oven. With this recipe, you don’t need an oven!
A dear friend from Caracas, who is always on a time crunch, let me in on this 20-minute arepa recipe.
Arepas, a staple food in Colombia and Venezuela, have long had a reputation for being tedious to prepare. The old-fashioned way used to require a lot of patience and upper body strength to crush the maize kernels with a large wooden mortar (pilón), requiring at least two hours just to make the dough.
Luckily, in the 1960s pre-cooked maize flour was introduced and the prep time was shaved to less than five minutes, and the cooking time came down to a little under an hour. But in today’s world, one hour is still too long!
The key to make this quick recipe is to shape the arepas as thinly as possible, and first place them on a lightly greased skillet over high heat, cooking both sides until they’re charred, then reducing the heat to medium-low and cooking over a slow simmer for the remainder of the time.
Add the warm water to a medium bowl. Dissolve the salt in the water. Add the cornmeal little by little to the water, and slowly mix with your hands. Knead with your hands until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and forms a very soft ball. Continue kneading for another 10 minutes, if you can spare the time. Sprinkle additional cornmeal into the mix if the dough doesn't firm up at all.
Once the dough forms a nice, moist ball, break off a small piece and work it in your hands, rolling it into a smaller ball (about 1-2 inches) and then gently flattening it so it is about 3 inches across and ¼-inch thick. Repeat until you have used up all the dough. Reserve each arepa on a plate. Note: If the dough cracks on the edges when you flatten it, it is too dry. Wet your hands and try again.
Smear the butter on the skillet and preheat on medium-high heat. Cook the flattened arepas for 3 minutes on each side until they’re slightly charred. Adjust the heat to medium, cook for another 10 minutes, alternating sides. They should be golden brown, and toasted on both sides. It's okay if they have some dark brown spots.
Reserve in a basket lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Stuff generously with your favorite savory filling and serve immediately!