We Made Arepas de Queso—in Honor of “Encanto” and Colombia!

Luna and Janeth arepas

Recipe by Janeth and Luna Barrera

Arepas de queso play a starring role in Encanto, which shines a light on Colombia the way Coco did for Mexico. This Disney película, with music by one of our favorite Boricuas Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of the familia Madrigal. They live in a small Colombian village, and everyone in their family has magical powers, except for ”normal” Maribel. Our heroine must discover what makes her special: what is her magical skill?

It’s certainly not her mother’s gift, Maribel sighs. Her mamá can heal everyone in their village with homemade arepas, the daily bread of Colombia made from corn meal.

Magical arepas that heal? We love that! (And so does the whole world.) So much so that we asked two of our favorite Colombian cooks, Janeth Palacio Barrera, and her daughter Luna, 7—who were the first in line the day Encanto opened in theaters—to show us how they make arepas, Colombian-style, of course.

Janeth and Luna arepas
Janeth shows Luna, 7, how to make Colombian arepas, just as Janeth’s own mother taught her to do when she was growing up in Medellín.

Janeth and Luna were up for the cooking challenge and went into their Chicago kitchen to make a batch of traditional cheese arepas. They used the same recipe and techniques Janeth learned from her mother when she was growing up in Medellín.

The tradición continues, and today Luna is the one learning to make the family arepa recipe.

”I like to make arepas because I love cooking,” says Luna. ”I love to eat arepas because they taste so good. I love arepas made with a lot of cheese.”

If you like their arepas, check out these crispy, traditional buñuelos —also from a family recipe—that Janeth and Luna also made, inspired by the delicious cheese treats Mirabel’s mother makes the Madrigal family.

Luna and Janeth make arepas just like the Madrigals in Encanto, using their Colombian family recipe.

Eating Arepas in the U.S. and Back Home in Colombia

Arepas are a daily comida back home in Colombia, says Janeth. This corn meal staple is sold just about everywhere in their country, off-the-griddle hot. (Not sure how arepas are different than pupusas or empanadas? Read this.)

”We eat a lot of arepas in Colombia. The arepa accompanies all the meals,” Janeth says. But in their home in the States? Different story. Yes, there’s a Colombian neighborhood in Chicago where she can find fresh arepas for sale, but it’s an hour from where Janeth’s family lives.

So Janeth buys precooked corn meal from her local Latino market to make this traditional treat several times a month. Thankfully, ”they are very easy to make,” says Janeth. ”Luna, my husband and my son just love them.”

One of the best things about arepas? In addition to being caliente, crunchy and deliciosas, “they are the perfect food any time of day,” says Janeth. “Whenever you are hungry, there is usually an arepa right there. You can eat them with everything. You can add tuna, sausage, ham or queso. Whatever you add, you’ll have a good dinner.”

Janeth and Luna arepas
Janeth and Luna try their arepas, inspired by the movie Encanto. Luna thinks her arepa needs more cheese.

Arepas are especially ideal for dinner back home, Janeth explains. ”In Colombia, we eat the main meal during the day, and then dinner at night is something very light, something fast. Whatever is left over from the earlier comida, we might eat that with an arepita. A lot of people eat arepas with ahogao sauce on top and you have a meal.”

This makes us wonder: How does the Madrigal family eat their arepas in Encanto? We know they like them with queso, but what else? Just one more reason, we can’t wait—like Janeth and Luna—to see Mirabel and her magical family’s movie in theaters when it opens this Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Janeth and Luna will be feasting on their Encanto-inspired batch of magical arepas. Viva Colombia!

For more of Janeth’s family recipes from Colombia, check out their patacones con hogao sauce (the country’s traditional, deeply loved tomato-garlic sauce) and her mother’s classic flan de queso and whole fried mojarra fish, which Janeth remembers eating often when they went to the seaside on childhood vacations.

If You Like These Colombian Arepas con Queso, Check out Their Buñuelos From Encanto!

We Made Arepas de Queso, in Honor of ”Encanto” and Colombia!

4 from 143 votes
Recipe by Janeth Palacio Barrera Cuisine: Colombian
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

25

minutes
Cooking time

10

minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups 2 precooked cornmeal, like P.A.N.

  • 1 Tbsp 1 butter or oil, for mixing into masa

  • 1 pinch 1 salt

  • 2 1/2 cups 2 1/2 warm water

  • 1 cup 1 melting cheese, like mozzarella

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 salty cheese like queso fresco, to give it extra flavor

  • 1 Tbsp 1 oil, for frying arepas

Directions

  • In a bowl, mix the salt, flour and butter.
  • Add the warm water, a little bit at a time, mixing it into the flour with a spoon first and then your hands when the dough starts to form.
  • Add the cheese and keep mixing the cornmeal masa with your hands.
  • Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  • When the masa is smooth and easy to work with, shape small chunks into little balls, about 2 inches wide each. Flatten the sides slightly with your hands and then, using your palms and fingers, pat each one into the classic arepa shape: about 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches across.
  • Pour the oil into a large frying pan (Janeth and Luna like to use their cast-iron skillet). Over medium-high heat, fry the arepas in batches, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes and then flip them. Fry the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  • When both sides are a beautiful golden-brown color, they are done!
  • You can eat the arepas de queso plain: nice and steaming hot, just like that. Or you can cut them in half and fill them with more cheese. Or your favorite meat filling (like this beef carne mechada) or this traditional Colombian tomato-garlic hogao sauce.
  • Viva Colombia!

Notes

  • When working with the arepa dough, you can slightly wet your hands so that the masa doesn’t stick to your hands.
  • Important: when buying the corn meal, be sure to buy precooked corn meal and not accidentally get corn flour, the nixtamalized masa harina used to make corn tortillas. The two ground corn products are very different in texture, process and taste results! Consider precooked corn meal products like P.A.N.
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