Try switching up your usual sweet breakfast items with a hearty Oaxaca-inspired antojito. Memelas are made from a thick corn base topped with things like refried black beans, spicy red and green salsas, onions, queso fresco, and more.
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Memelas are extremely fun to make because of how easy it is to customize them! Try making your own for a savoury breakfast, quick snack, or light dinner.
What are memelas?
They all similarly start off with a thick corn base made of masa harina, which is cooked on a cast-iron skillet or comal.
The main differences lie in the toppings, but also the region where they're made. Generally, memelas oaxaqueñas are cooked with lard or asiento, a layer of refried beans, and various salsas (like roja or verde).
Once built, memelas are crispy on the edges, tender in the middle, spicy, and hearty. This delicious snack can be enjoyed by the whole fam!
Are memelas vegan?
Typical memelas recipes contain a few ingredients that make them only vegetarian-friendly.
As mentioned above, the base is often topped with pork fat, which can be replaced with vegan butter, refined coconut oil, or vegetable shortening.
We know, we know — these options don't replicate lard, but they do the trick without any need for animal products. Seems like a fair trade-off to us.
Memelas are also usually served with queso fresco, which can be swapped out for a dairy-free queso fresco without any huge sacrifice in flavor.
With these simple substitutions, your memelas recipe will be 100% vegan and gluten-free.
It's always so interesting to learn about the origin stories of certain dishes as there are many overlaps between countries.
For example, memelas are said to have originated in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. But, they are also found in Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran cuisine.
Memelas have been served in Oaxacan restaurants and street vendors since at least the 1990s, but probably earlier.
Wherever and whenever this delicious antojito was originally created, there are now a plethora of new and creative flavors being added to it all the time.
Serve your memelas straight off the skillet while the base is hot and crispy, the beans and salsa are warm, and the cheese is melty.
We usually eat a few to make it a meal, but memelas also work as an appetizer, party snack, or afternoon pick-me-up.
We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
What it is: masa harina is a unique type of corn flour that makes up the base of memelas and many other recipes in Mexico (including corn tortillas). After harvest, the corn goes through a special process called nixtamalization. In short, this makes vitamins and minerals easier to digest for people.
Taste: once cooked, masa harina is slightly sweet, toasty, and corn-forward in flavor. It really cannot be duplicated by anything else!
Health: not only does masa harina contain calcium, zinc, and vitamin B, but it's also naturally gluten-free and doesn't require adding oil to keep its shape or texture for cooking. It's a great option for all dietary needs!
Where to buy: many grocery stores carry masa harina, especially the larger chains that have Mexican or international food aisles. But, if you have no luck there, you can try ordering your masa harina online.
Taste: creamy, slightly sweet, and earthy, refried black beans turn memelas into a well-balanced meal. If you don't have black beans, use whatever you have on hand! Some of our other favorites are pinto or bayo beans.
Health: we can't say enough good things about this underrated superfood. Black beans are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. There is nothing this plant-based food lacks!
Taste: it all comes down to personal preference whether you choose red or green salsa. To be honest, we usually have a few kinds on hand, so we love mixing and matching all the zesty, tangy, smoky, and garlicky flavors on each memela.
Health: salsas are usually full of onions, garlic, chiles, and tomatoes, so they are loaded with antioxidants. Did you know antioxidants are what destroy free radicals in our bodies? Those are the bad guys that lead to diseases like cancer.
When it comes to toppings, you've got options! Your recipe may become something different depending on the particular ingredients you choose, but just do what tastes best to you! Here are some more ideas:
- Queso fresco or cotija
- Vegan chorizo
- Jackfruit carnitas
- Pickled onions or jalapeños
- Mexican crema
If you have questions about this memelas recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: make your masa by combining the salt, masa harina, and warm water together until you have a dough ball that's similar in texture to play-dough. Add more flour or water as needed, then keep the dough covered with a tea towel.
Step 2: form balls about the size of a golf ball (or 50-55 grams). Press each one gently in a tortilla press until they are around 4-5 inches in diameter. Note: they should be slightly thicker than regular corn tortillas.
Step 3: cook the tortillas in a hot skillet for about 2 minutes on each side. While they're still warm, pinch around the edges to form a small ridge. Pinch the middle portion as well to form little “craters” (similar to an English muffin).
Step 4: spread a little coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or vegan butter on each one followed by a layer of beans. Cook them for another few minutes, or until the bottoms are crispy.
Memelas come together in a flash and work great for leftovers. Follow these storage tips to make sure they last a loooong time.
The plain corn bases will last in your fridge for up to 2-3 days. We don't recommend storing them with toppings as they will become soggier.
The bases keep in freezer-safe bags for up to 8 months. Just thaw them overnight in the fridge when your next craving for memelas hits.
Reheat your memelas in a dry skillet for 1-2 minutes, or until warmed. Follow the rest of the instructions in this recipe for the toppings.
💭 Pro tips
We'd like to share some tips and tricks we learned while experimenting with this memelas recipe:
- Try different sauces. Try using other salsas like pico de gallo, salsa taquera, or a mix of salsa roja and salsa verde.
- Use a cast-iron pan. We've tried different types of pans, but cast-iron is by far the best in terms of adding more depth of flavor.
- Warm your salsa. Try adding your salsas while the memelas are cooking to take the edge off a bit.
- Prep ahead of time. For an even shorter cook time, make the sauces and bases ahead of time.
🍴 Tasting notes
We love making memelas whenever we're in the mood for a savoury breakfast or snack. They're:
If you try these vegan memelas, please rate them and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
- Mixing bowl
- Cast-iron griddle or comal
- Tortilla press
- 2 cups masa harina ($0.25)
- ½ teaspoon salt ($0.01)
- 1 ½ cups warm water ($0.01)
- 2-3 tablespoon refined coconut oil or vegan butter ($0.42)
- 1-2 cups refried black beans ($0.39)
- Add the masa harina and salt to a mixing bowl and combine. Then, pour in approximately 1 ½ cups of warm water to start and mix together using your hands.
- Knead the dough to form a ball that's sticky enough to stay together, but not coming off on your hands. Add more flour or water to achieve a texture similar to play-dough. Keep the dough covered with a tea towel.
- Break off pieces of masa to form small balls (about 55 grams each). Roll each piece of dough in between your palms until smooth.
- If you have a tortilla press, cut a zip lock bag into 2 pieces that will fit in the press. Open the press and place a ball of dough in the center on a piece of plastic. Place the other plastic piece on top and close the press down to form tortillas about 4-5 inches in diameter.
- If you don't have a tortilla press, place your ball of dough between the same 2 pieces of plastic on your counter. Press the dough down with the bottom of a baking dish or flat plate.
- Preheat a cast-iron skillet or comal up to medium. Gently add a tortilla to the hot pan and cook on the first side for 10-15 seconds. Flip and cook for another 60-90 seconds, then flip once more until the tortilla puffs up slightly.
- Remove from heat and keep warm in a towel or tortilla warmer while you continue cooking the rest.
- Pull a little dough from the inner portion of the cooked tortillas to form a small ridge around the outside. Pinch around the middle portion as well to form little “craters” (similar to an English muffin).
- Spread a little coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or vegan butter on each tortilla followed by a layer of refried black beans. Cook them in a dry skillet for another 2-4 minutes, or until the bottoms are crispy.
- Top each memela with any of the following: salsa roja, salsa verde, pico de gallo, salsa taquera, queso fresco, diced white onion, guacamole, etc. Happy eating!
- Calories are for 1 memela with ~½ teaspoon coconut oil and ~2 tablespoons of refried beans on top.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more crispy corn-based snacks, check out our:
- Sopes for a similar style of corn snack served with your favorite Mexican toppings like refried beans, crunchy veggies, and vegan queso fresco.
- Picaditas to try a Veracruz-style antojito topped with queso fresco, diced onions, and spicy green and red salsas.
- Garnachas for small corn discs topped with savoury pulled jackfruit and tangy cabbage slaw.
- Tostadas de tinga if you're on the hunt for a thinner, crispier base garnished with plant-based tinga, lettuce, crema, and queso cotija!
Since memelas are made with masa harina, they are gluten-free.
We love memelas for a quick, easy, and healthy snack. Not only can you make memelas oil-free, but you can customize the toppings to suite your dietary needs.