You can find this recipe and many more in our cookbook Gaby's Latin American Kitchen.
A note from Gaby Melian:
My first taste of an arepa was as a grown-up living in New York City, at a Venezuelan restaurant in the East Village. I went with friends, and we shared a lot of different kinds of arepas. My favorite on that day was a reina pepiada, a sandwich-like arepa stuffed with shredded chicken, mashed avocado, mayonnaise, and chopped cilantro. The warm arepa tasted slightly sweet from the corn and paired so well with the savory chicken. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to try as many arepas as possible—and let me tell you, there are many to try. At its most basic, an arepa is a blank canvas made of masarepa (a precooked corn flour), salt, and water. Different countries specialize in different types of arepas. In Venezuela, arepas are often filled like sandwiches. In Colombia, some varieties are griddled or toasted with cheese or eggs. At home, I make my arepas in the Colombian style and like to fill them with melty cheese.
In a medium bowl, combine the room-temperature water, melted butter, and salt. Slowly add the masarepa to the bowl while stirring with a wooden spoon (or go straight in there with your hands). Continue mixing until the dough comes together, no dry lumps remain, and the dough releases from the sides of the bowl.
Place 4 disks of dough in the skillet and cook until spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the arepas and continue to cook until spotty brown on the second side, about 5 more minutes. They should look dry, with some brown spots.
Split each arepa in half using a butter knife (ask a grown-up for help—the arepas will be HOT!). Fill each arepa with 2 tablespoons gouda and close them.
Corn flour is a very important ingredient in Latin American cuisine—but there is more than one kind. Masa harina is a type of corn flour made by drying and grinding masa dough, which is made from corn that has been nixtamalized, or soaked in an alkaline solution to change both its flavor and structure. Masa harina is used to make corn tortillas. Arepas, however, are made with a particular kind of corn flour called masarepa. To make masarepa, corn is precooked and then ground. Before 1960, when the first commercial version became available, cooks needed to go through a very laborious process of cleaning, grinding, cooking, and milling corn to make masarepa. Being able to buy ready-to-use masarepa makes cooking these arepas so much easier!