Arepas in Maine for Supper (or Lunch or Breakfast)

If you can imagine an unleavened English muffin made out of very fine cornmeal then you can imagine an arepa. They come from Columbia in South America where they are sometimes split and used as a sandwich, stuffed with cheese, meat, or beans or are sometimes topped with those ingredients. I read about them somewhere and thought they sounded good. I cobbled together recipes I found on the web and made some out of homegrown cornmeal, with frozen corn in them plus a little onion and chopped jalapeno and cooked them on top of the stove. They went over very big here.

Arepas remind me of the kind of jonnycake made in Rhode Island out of flint corn meal, mixed with salt and hot water, and thinned a little with milk, and dropped on a frying pan in fat, and baked as you would a pancake. I love jonnycakes served with salt codfish gravy or sausage gravy, or with butter and maple syrup. It just never occurred to me to add corn, cheese, or onions to the batter.

I made them for lunch but they turned out to be so hearty that when they were gone we felt like we had eaten dinner. Supper that night was pretty light fare. All hands agreed that I ought to make them again.

Apparently, there is a kind of corn meal ground for arepas which we will not find in our average Maine store. You don’t want to substitute masa harina, the cornmeal that has been treated with an alkali (lye) solution cornmeal, and used for corn tortillas. And you can’t use coarse cornmeal either like the sort you might use to make cornbread. Look for a very finely ground meal, not quite flour.

The dough is fairly soft, but you ought to be able shape it between your hands. Chilling it somewhat after mixing helps. If you make them fairly thick, then you can split them after cooking and put your filling of choice in between the halves. I ended up regarding them as fork food, but they are sturdy enough to pick up. Arepas would probably make good appetizers if you made them two or three inches in diameter, topped with refried or cooked beans, a little sour cream or soft cheese, some guacamole, or a dab of pulled pork.

I really liked them with some onion and home-grown frozen corn in them, but you can leave that out if you want. I also folded in some cheddar cheese. We had ours with refried beans, salsa, and sour cream.

  • 1 cup finely ground corn meal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ to ½ cup corn kernels, optional
  • 1 small onion or shallot, chopped, optional
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped finely, optional)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Mix cornmeal, salt, pepper, and cheese together in a medium bowl.
  2. Heat the water and milk until it is scalding.
  3. Pour the hot liquid into the cornmeal mixture gradually, stirring until it makes a stiff batter.
  4. Add the optional corn, onions, and jalapeno and let it stand until it thickens more, even chilling in the fridge if you wish.
  5. Pour enough vegetable oil into a fry pan to generously cover the bottom, and heat until it shimmers.
  6. Shape the dough into cakes about three to four inches in diameter and at least half an inch thick. Lay the cakes on the pan, and fry each side for five to six minutes over medium high temperature, or until quite golden brown and crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve with your choice of filling and garnish.
  8. Make about 8-10 cakes.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.