The Pupusa is a stuffed corn flatbread similar to a thick tortilla from El Salvador. They originated with the Pipil people of western El Salvador thousands of years ago, but didn’t start to become widespread until the increased migration and travel in the mid-1900s. The pupusa is now the national dish and there is even a National Pupusa Day on the second Sunday of November with celebrations.
The naturally gluten-free pupusas are created by mixing masa harina with warm water to create a slightly sticky dough. Large pieces are broken off, flattened, filled with desired ingredients, covered, and flattened again before pan-frying. Fillings vary with the most popular being queso (cheese), frijoles molidos (refried beans), chicharrón (pork ground into a paste- not the fried pork rinds), or a combination of two or three (known as Revueltas). Other additions such as the loroco (a green flower bud) and ayote (squash) may also be included. The pupusas are generally accompanied with Curtido (a lightly pickled cabbage mixture) and Salsa Roja (red tomato salsa).
There are three components to create this amazing dish, but the curtido and salsa can be made a day or two in advance. Allow the curtido to refrigerate at least 2 hours to overnight. The longer it sits, the better it will be. The pupusas themselves don’t take long at all to prepare.
If too many cracks are forming around the edges of your masa as you form them into circles, add a little more water to create a smooth dough. If it is too sticky to handle, mix in a little more masa harina. When filling the pupusas, leave enough room around the edges to form it over the filling.
I used shredded quesillo cheese (Oaxaca) for the filling. It can be found in the cheese/refrigerated section of grocery stores featuring Latin American ingredients. If you are unable to locate it, substitute with Monterey Jack or Mozzarella.
Masa Harina is a corn flour used to make pupusas, tortillas, and tamales. The corn is treated with a limewater (slaked lime/Calcium hydroxide) solution to soften the kernels and loosen the hulls (a process called nixtamalization). It is then ground and dried into a powder. I used a brand called Maseca. I was able to find it in the Latin American section of my local grocery store. It is also available online: Masa Harina is different from cornmeal and cornflour, which cannot be used as substitutes.
Check out Latinaish for videos on how to make the pupusas, curtido, and salsa.
Curtido (Pickled Cabbage):
1/2 green cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 medium poblano or green bell pepper, stem removed, seeded, and chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt to taste
Pupusas de Queso:
2 cups masa harina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups warm water
6 ounces shredded quesillo cheese
To make the curtido: Thinly shred the cabbage and place in a large bowl. Toss in the carrots and onion. Add the apple cider vinegar and water, then season with oregano, salt, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to overnight.
To make the salsa: In a blender, combine the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, worcestershire sauce, and salt. Blend until smooth. Adjust salt if needed and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the pupusas: In a large bowl, combine the masa harina and water with your hands to form a smooth, pliable dough. If too sticky to form, mix in a little more masa harina. If too dry and begins to crack when formed, add a little more water. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Form one piece into a flattened circle. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of the cheese to the center, leaving room around the edges. Form the edges together over the filling and gently roll in a ball to seal. Lightly press the ball, working around the center to form into a disc. Push between the hands and fingers, back and forth, to form a circular, filled pupusa about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough and cheese.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Once heated, lightly oil and add 1-2 pupusas, depending on the size of your pan. Cook until golden brown blisters form on the bottom. Flip and cook on the other side until the blisters form. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining pupusas.
Serve the pupusas hot with the prepared curtido and salsa roja.