Thursday, April 15, 2010


Salvadorians confuse me. With a national dish this good, I find it baffling that anybody from El Salvador would immigrate to America. Without pupusas a few times a week, I fail to see how this country could offer a "better life." In fact, someday I might become one of the first Americans to illegally migrate into Latin America. Mainly just so I could eat pupusas.

So what the hell is a pupusa? It's basically just a stuffed tortillia. Pupusas can be stuffed with anything from cow tongue to fiddlehead fern leaves. Here, I go with beans—a much easier ingredient to come by!

Pupusas are served with curtido, a type of coleslaw/relish and a simple red salsa (salsa rojo). (You can click through for those recipes.)

This recipe makes about 10 pupusas. Generally speaking, two of them—along with salsa rojo and curtido—make a pretty satisfying meal. If you don’t want that many at once, you can store fully-formed, uncooked pupusas in the refrigerator for several days. Store them in an airtight container and separate them with wax paper. Then cook as directed below.

Masa is a type of corn flour. It’s what tamales are made with. It can be found in any Mexican grocery or in the Mexican section of just about any supermarket. Don’t try to use cornmeal or regular flour in place of masa. They are totally different.

Traditionally pupusas are made with a special farmers cheese that can be a bit tough to find in the states. The closest alternative I've found is a combination of Jack and whipped cream cheese.

Prep time (for Pupusas, curtido, and salsa rojo combined) is 3-4 cocktails

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4 ounces whipped cream cheese (don’t use nonfat!)
3 scallions, chopped finely
3 cups masa
1 tsp salt
¼ cup canola or corn oil
2 1/4 cups water
3/4 Cup prepared “Muy Tasty Burrito Beans” (click here for recipe)
Several additional TBSP oil for cooking

Stir cheeses and scallions together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Combine masa, salt, oil, and water in another mixing bowl. Mix well with an electric mixer or by hand.

Creating each pupusa is more an art than a science. I’ll describe as best I can, but it’s really a trial-and-error sort of thing. Eventually you’ll find a system that works best for you. Here’s what I do:

Roll masa dough into balls halfway between the size of a golf ball and baseball—about 2 inches in diameter. With your thumbs, slowly push in to create a recessed divot in the center of the ball. Keep going until you have a bowl-shaped masa “container” with 1/2-inch thick walls.

Add about two parts cheese mixture with one part beans. Fill each masa cup almost to full. Seal the top shut like a calzone. Now gently press the whole thing between your palms until it flattens out, about 3/4 of an inch thick and perhaps 4-5” in diameter. The walls of the pupusa should be as thin as possible without actually having any holes.

You can also use a tortilla press or rolling pin for this task (using waxed paper as a non-stick buffer can help if you use these items).

Just be gentile. DON’T create any rips or tears in the dough.

Once you've formed your pupusas, warm a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of oil over medium to medium-high heat. Fry each pupusa until it begins to brown a bit on the bottom. About 2-3 minutes per side.

Flip and repeat. Add more oil as needed.

After removing from heat, let the pupusas cool for just a minute on a paper towel or clean kitchen rag to let the excess oil drain off.

Serve hot with the salsa rojo and curdito mentioned above.

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