By Carl Hanson

Here's a terrific alternative to bread sandwiches. Arepas! They're a South American sensation -- kind of like sandwich buns or English muffins, but made with corn flour, so they're completely gluten-free.

Pan-fry these super-simple corn-flour cakes to a beautiful golden brown. Split them open like an English muffin, and stuff with pulled pork, black beans and beef, fried plantains and cheese, chicken salad, eggs and bacon, whatever you want. Or treat them like a tostada and go all open-face on 'em.

Photo by Meredith

So texturally satisfying, the outsides are crispy and crunchy, while the insides stay moist, soft, and a bit chewy.

Arepas are also easy to make. Their secret ingredient is pre-cooked very-fine ground white cornmeal -- also called P.A.N. flour. You can find it in Latin-American markets everywhere and in some larger grocery stores.

To make arepas, you simple mix the the corn flour in warm water with a little salt. Because the corn flour is pre-cooked, the soft mixture forms into patties easily and cooks quickly. Here's Chef John in action:

Homemade Arepas

For more on how to make arepas, check out Chef John's recipe for Homemade Arepas.

Some Tips for Making Homemade Arepas

1) Use enough water to create a soft dough. You don't want the cakes to be too dry or they'll crack when you fry them.

2) Fry them in just a hint of vegetable oil. You're not deep-frying them. If you watch the video above, Chef John uses too much oil. He cops to his mistake in this follow-up blog post. And on a subsequent arepas-making mission, he doesn't fry them, "but cooks them on a dry (well, very super-lightly oiled) griddle. It had a better crust and texture."

3) You can also bake or grill arepas. Grilling them adds a smoky quality to the crispy-chewy texture.

Cream Cheese Arepas

Arepas aren't just for lunch or dinner. A little milk and cream cheese mixed into the batter makes these more of a breakfast food. Cook them until golden brown, split them open and enjoy with butter and honey. By the way, Chef John uses an arepas maker here. It's a cool waffle iron-like contraption. But it's certainly not necessary for making amazing arepas.

Get the recipe for Cream Cheese Arepas.

Ready to stuff your arepas? Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Like arepas? Take a peek at pupusas.


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