These 3-Ingredient Venezuelan Arepas Are the Perfect Fiber- and Protein-Packed Breakfast

Photo: Getty Images/ Xsandra
Growing up in a Venezuelan household, breakfast rarely meant waffles, pancakes, and cinnamon rolls. Of course, every now and then, my mom would treat us to a sweet baked good—but for the most part, breakfast really symbolized a time for getting in touch with my Venezuelan roots. My mom hails from Caracas, Venezuela, the country's capital, where eating breakfast items like perico (a tomato scrambled egg dish) and cachapas (a sweet-savory cheese-filled corn cake) is the norm. However, my favorite among these commonly-consumed breakfast items was always the arepas that I would beg my mom to make on the reg.

Arepas are a bread-like dish derived from corn that look a lot like an English muffin. They're crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and are perfect for stuffing with just about anything, from avocado to scrambled eggs to ham and cheese. Nowadays, with the help of store-bought cornmeal, arepas can be whipped together in just a few minutes and require only a few ingredients like oil, salt, and water. Aside from being ridiculously easy to make, they're filled with tons of protein and gut-friendly fiber to make this dish the perfect way to start your day. Or, frankly, to munch on at lunch, dinner, dessert, snacktime.. you get the gist.

What makes arepas so good?

Although arepas can be found in other parts of the world like Colombia and areas of Central America, Venezuelan arepas are distinctly different due to their size, color, and cooking method. Unlike other iterations, Venezuelan arepas are slightly puffed in the center (not a completely flat disk) and are made with white cornmeal as opposed to yellow. They are also typically grilled or seared and then baked at high temperatures—depending on their thickness—until cooked through, rather than fried.

When making this dish at home, my go-to ingredient is Harina P.A.N., a pre-cooked white cornmeal flour that’s naturally gluten-free, vegan, high in fiber, and can be shipped right to your doorstep via Amazon. In each serving of the cornmeal—which is roughly one arepa—you can find almost six percent of your daily value of dietary fiber and about two grams of protein. Compared to regular white bread, arepas rank much higher in nutritional value and can be used to substitute it in almost any dish. Think of an arepa as your new sandwich-making BFF, with even more fiber, flavor, and crunch. Seriously, who doesn’t love a crispy texture?!

How to make Venezuelan arepas

When making arepas, the key is perfecting the dough, which really is no sweat when using pre-cooked cornmeal. First, you’ll want to ensure your dough is clump-free and homogenous. To do so, you’ll want to slowly combine your wet and dry ingredients while continuously mixing with your hands—yes, you’ll get your hands a little dirty, but the result is a smooth dough ready for forming into arepas. During this step, you’ll combine salted lukewarm water with the cornmeal until the liquid is completely absorbed after lightly kneading it together with your palms to form a large ball. From there, you’ll portion out the dough to form individual arepas about the size of a large mandarin orange.

Once your arepas are fully formed, you’ll gently pat them down to form a small disk that’s slightly higher in the center. The arepas are then grilled or seared on a skillet or a cast-iron budare (a traditional Venezuelan cooking plancha) to create the signature and hard-to-resist crunchy crust. To ensure the center is fully cooked, the arepas can be baked at high temperatures directly on the rack for a few minutes before serving hot.

Now comes the best part: the fillings. Just like a sandwich, the options are really endless. You can keep it simple and add your favorite vegan cheese and call it a day, or get creative and add baked sweet plantains, beans, and avocado slices for a nutrient-packed lunch. However, my favorite combination is reina pepiada, a protein-packed chicken, and avocado salad.

Venezuelan-style arepa recipe

Yields 8 servings


1 Tbsp kosher salt
2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups pre-cooked, white cornmeal
2 Tbsp neutral oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the salt and lukewarm water, and stir until dissolved.

2. Slowly add the cornmeal while continuously stirring with fingertips, making sure to break down any lumps. Lightly knead the dough with your palms until solid enough to form a large ball. The mixture should be soft but not stick to your fingers. Let it rest for a few minutes before shaping.

3. To form the arepas, portion the dough into mandarin-shaped balls. Then, apply pressure to flatten the ball and form a disk that’s slightly thicker in the center and tapers out towards the edges. It should be about three and a half inches in diameter and about one centimeter thick.

4. Grease a skillet with oil, and place over medium heat. Once hot, gently place the arepas in the pan, ensuring they do not touch one another. Avoid moving them in the pan, and cook each side for five to seven minutes or until a golden-brown crust forms.

5. Remove from the skillet and place the arepas directly on your oven racks and bake for four to five minutes or until the arepas are slightly puffed and cooked through. Give them a gentle tap with your fingertips to tell if they're ready—it should sound hollow and empty.

6. Once cool enough to handle, slice the arepas open with a knife and fill with your favorite toppings.

Chicken avocado salad recipe (reina pepiada)

Yields 4 servings


1 cooked chicken breast
2 medium avocados, cubed
1/2 cup yellow onion, small diced
5 Tbsp mayonnaise (or vegan mayonnaise)
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Shred the chicken and transfer it to a large bowl. Mix in all of the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.

2. Serve on their own or use as an arepa filling.

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