An arepa con queso is a savory, cheese filled corn cake cooked on a griddle. This South American (from Colombian or El Salvadorian) treat is delicious with any meal!
Arepas con queso are crispy on the outside, tender and cheesy on the inside, sooo satisfying to eat and so easy to make! Your family is going to love making – and eating – these arepas!
This tasty thick patty has long been a favorite of mine, but have recently hit a new level of stardom after being the healing cake in Disney’s movie Encanto and the Madrigal family, specifically Julieta Madrigal. They make a great snack, accompaniment to a meal, appetizer and are perfect any time of day.
What are arepas?
Arepas (arepas de queso) are soft cornmeal cakes that originated hundreds of years ago in the areas that now make up Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Panama. They are eaten as a daily food staple, with any meal. They are like a mix of a thick corn tortilla with a grilled cheese sandwich. Colombian arepas con queso seem to be the most popular in the states.
Just like any food that spans multiple areas, there are different versions of arepas. Venezuelan arepas tend to be smaller and thicker and are more likely to be stuffed with meats and beans. Colombian arepas are sweeter, thinner, can be stuffed with cheese, and piled with toppings. Arepas can be cooked on a griddle, deep fried, or even boiled.
You do need some specific ingredients for this recipe. Please note – specific ingredients that might be new to you doesn’t necessarily mean scary and crazy and hard to find. It just means new.
- Precooked White Cornmeal. This is different from just regular corn meal, it needs to be precooked cornmeal that is dehydrated. It is often called “masarepa”, “harina precocida” or “masa al instante”. Seeing words on the packaging that include precooked or instant are clues that you have the right thing. Don’t confuse it with masa harina or harina de maiz which is a different type of cornmeal (corn flour) you use to make tamales. They are different types of cornmeal that are made with different processes and have different textures and tastes. Make sure you get the right kind, you can’t substitute here! Popular brands in the grocery stores are Goya or P.A.N.. Some even specifically say Arepa Flour.
- Soft Melting Cheese – You will use shredded cheese both in the dough of the arepa but also to stuff in the middle. You can use mozzarella cheese or a “mexican blend” of melting cheeses that are sold pre-shredded in the grocery store. I’m not usually a fan of pre-shredded cheese, but if you need to grab it, I understand.
- Cotija cheese – This is an aged, crumbly cheese that is sold in a white wheel. It has a salty and milky flavor that kind of resembles a cross between feta and parmesan cheese. Find this in the speciality cheese section of your local grocers. You can also substitute queso fresco.
- Butter – You will use melted butter in the recipe to make the dough, but you also need a little bit of butter to grease the skillet with for cooking. Unsalted butter works best here.
- Warm water – Warm tap water will help you make the dough.
- Salt – use regular table salt or kosher sea salt.
How to Make Arepas
These arepas are so easy to make, which means you can easily make them any time!
- Make the dough. Whisk together the cornmeal, salt and both cheeses in a medium bowl. Stir in the water and butter until a soft dough forms. If the dough cracks and feels dry when you work it, add a little more water.
- Let sit. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow it to sit for ten minutes.
- Knead and divide. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and soft. Then divide the dough into 16 equal balls. Pat each ball of dough into a circle using the palm of your hand.
- Fill with cheese. Place a few tablespoons of shredded cheese in the middle of the patty. Fold and wrap the dough around the cheese, ensuring all the cheese is well sealed inside.
- Cook. In a hot skillet (nonstick skillet preferred), place a small pad of butter on the skillet and spread it around to coat the surface. Place the arepas on the skillet and cook for 5 minutes on the first side and then for 5 minutes on the second side. Aim for medium heat because the butter will burn past 350°F.
- Cool and enjoy. Transfer the arepas to a wire rack to cool while you continue cooking the rest (or a to a medium-low heat oven to keep warm if you are making a lot). This prevents steam from building up and making them soggy. Then enjoy!
The first time making arepas is always a little challenging. But like most things, each time gets a little simpler and sooner or later, you’ll be a pro.
How to Stuff an Arepa
To stuff an arepa with fillings, simply use a thin serrated knife to slice ⅓ of the way through the corn cake. Use the knife tip to then cut downwards in the center to form a pocket. These cheesy snacks can be a little tricky, but you can also make them without cheese for making into sandwiches.
Make sure you wipe down your knife in between each cut.
Ideas for fillings:
- Use your favorite meat like ground beef, slow cooker pork carnitas, shredded beef, spiced chicken, jackfruit, you name it!
- Add all the fillings like guacamole, seasoned black beans, fried plantains, grilled sweet potatoes, pickled red onions, crumbled cheese, all the things.
Air Fryer Arepas
Arepas can be made in the Air Fryer. Simply preheat it to 350°F. Grease the basket and then cook for 5 minutes. You might have to flip them and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes on the opposite side for even browning.
Exact cooking times may vary depending on your Air Fryer and also the size of the arepa. These work best using a smaller ball of dough and only a tablespoon of cheese. These instructions are also included in the notes section of the recipe card.
Serving & Storage
If you end up with leftovers, no worries! Leftover fried arepas can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days.
To reheat leftover arepas, you can put them in a 350F oven or toaster oven for about 10 minutes. You can also reheat them in the microwave, but you lose a little of the crispy and tender texture this way.
Arepas are so versatile and work well in a variety of ways. They are great as a snack, or part of any meal. These arepas are amazing on their own, served beside a meal or stuffed with all kinds of awesome fillings.
More easy side dishes:
Arepas con Queso Recipe
- In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, slat, cotija cheese and 2 cups of the shredded cheese.
- Stir in the water and melted butter to form a soft dough. It should be the consistency of homemade playdough.
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.
- Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and soft. It should hold its shape, but be easily worked.
- Divide the dough into 16 equal balls.
- Pat each ball of dough into a 5 inch circle that is about ¼” thick.
- Place a few tablespoons of the remaining shredded cheese in the middle of the patty.
- Sandwich another piece of dough over it and seal the edges by pinching. Seal well.
- Pat the dough into a patty that is about 3 inches wide and a ½” thick.
- Repeat with remaining balls of dough. Set aside.
- Heat a 12” cast iron skillet over medium high heat or an electric griddle at 325°F.
- When the skillet is hot, place a small pad of butter on the skillet and spread it around to coat the surface.
- Place the arepas on the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, until crispy and golden.
- Flip and cook on the second side for 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool while you continue cooking the rest. Keep in a warm oven.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.