What goes into the healing power of the “Encanto” arepa? Colombian chef reveals his magic 2022-04-27 02:49:44


(CNN) – “I cured my hand with an arriba con queso,” Mirabell Madrigal told her mother Julieta in “Encanto,” while holding a cheesy arepa — a round corn cake.

Julieta replied, “You healed your hand with love.”

Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, “Encanto” follows a magical Madrigal family who all, except for Mirabel, have superpowers. While the themes of the film are based on family and love, the foundations of the film are rooted in Colombian culture, which includes highlighting arepa as an essential part of its cuisine.

Carmen Angel, chef and co-owner of Carmen . Restaurants In Cartagena and Medellin, Colombia.
Arepas is what Colombians consider their bread, according to Alejandro Osorio, co-owner of a New York City restaurant. Ariba Lady, which has locations in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. Traditional cakes are eaten at meals throughout the day, and although they can be prepared in different ways, arepa is cornmeal at its core.

The corn has undergone a process of nixtamalization, which is the stripping of the hard outer corn husk using lime water. After the corn is tender, it is ground with a little salt into a dough and shaped into a thin pancake that is grilled over coals, Engel says.

The type of aisaba you eat depends on the type of corn used, what is put into the mixture and the Colombian region from which the recipe originated.

A sweeter arepa, called arepa de choclo, is made from fresh sweet corn. Osorio said that at a restaurant like the Arepa Lady, these arepas can then be served with butter and cheese, or the meat can be folded inside upon request. The restaurant also serves arepas de queso, like what mirabelle ate in “incanto,” made with mozzarella cheese inside a batter.

Osorio said that on the Colombian coast, locals fry a stew with an egg inside. In Medellin, Osorio’s birthplace, the dish is often sold as street food, served with condensed milk as a topping.

Arepa’s ingenuity speaks volumes about how accessible she is to all kinds of Colombians, according to Angel. She added that many of the differences also show how dishes rooted in the Aboriginal diet have continued to thrive among modern adaptations of food.

“I feel like aribas is kind of like one of the foods that every Colombian still eats every day, regardless of their (social and economic) status, no matter where they live, no matter their religion,” Angel said.

healing power

In addition to the cultural association, arepas are also a source of nutritional benefits, since they contain vitamins C and A. These two essential nutrients help with immunity and eye health, according to Andy Lee Gonzalez, a registered dietitian in Palmview, Texas. She added that vitamin C provides antioxidants and builds an immune pathway, while vitamin A supports retinal health and eye vision.

A serving of arepa contains about 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, so Gonzalez suggests adding vegetables, a low-fat diary or a low-protein source to make the arepa a balanced meal.

While the arepas might not heal a wound on someone’s hand as in “Encanto,” Gonzalez said the movie’s message about the dish is that “the staple foods of our culture are part of our lives.”

The Joint, an arepa with pulled beef, beans, sweet bananas, and cheese, is the specialty at Ceci's Arepa Joint in East Meadow, New York.

The Joint, an arepa with pulled beef, beans, sweet bananas, and cheese, is the specialty at Ceci’s Arepa Joint in East Meadow, New York.

Rachel Brightman/Newsday RM/Getty Images

“When I watched this part of the movie, it really highlights how in our Hispanic and Latino society, we really use food to heal the soul,” Gonzalez said.

Arepas de Queso

(Colombian Arepas Cheese)

You can make your own cheese arepas by following Chef Carmen Angel’s recipe. Angel uses Colombian queso paipa, but mozzarella is a good alternative. Try the arepas as a snack, with scrambled eggs for breakfast, or stacked with toppings of your choice (like avocado, chorizo, grilled chicken and tomato) for a Colombian-inspired lunch.

Makes 6 arepas

Preparation and cooking time: 25 minutes


• 1 cup cornmeal

• Half a teaspoon of salt

• 1/3 cup warm water

• 1/3 cup milk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, plus more in skillet

• 1 cup shredded mozzarella (or another soluble semi-hard cheese such as Gruyère or Fontina)

• More cheese to melt inside the arepa (optional)


1. In a medium bowl, mix cornmeal with salt and warm water and, using your hands, mix to form a masa or dough.

2. Add milk and continue mixing.

3. Knead 3 tablespoons of butter, mix well then add 1 cup cheese and mix until combined.

4. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat.

5. Divide the masa into 6 “patties,” or discs, using both hands to make sure the discs are uniform and no more than an inch thick.

6. Add a piece of butter to the pan and stir to coat the bottom of the pan.

7. Cook the aribas for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until nicely browned. Remove from heat.

8. If desired, using a knife, carefully open the arepas while they are still warm and fill with more cheese of your choice. To melt the extra cheese, place the stuffed aribas in the toaster oven or return to the skillet over low heat.

Recipe courtesy of Carmen Angel of Carmen Restaurant Group in Colombia.

Top Caption: A chef prepares an Aribas in the kitchen of the Ariba Lady restaurant in Queens, New York City on January 27, 2022.