Let me start by saying that if your grandmother makes pupusas, she probably makes them better than me. And if your grandmother taught you how to make her pupusas, then you probably make them better than me.
But if you, like me, don’t have a Salvadorian grandmother and have never made them/heard of them, then I feel like you’re my target audience today.
Since I’m Salvadorian-grandmother-less, this recipe on how to make pupusas started with me taking a trip to South Los Angeles to eat one of the best pupusas in this city at Los Churros. They were cheesy (oh so cheesy!), filling, hearty and so flavorful.
Pupusas are made from masa harina (cormeal flour) or rice flour. They are usually stuffed with delicious things like beans, shredded pork or cheese. And since they tend to be so rich and cheesy, they are topped with a pickled cabbage situation that adds a refreshing, light and tangy element that really balances the whole thing out.
When I made them for the first time, I realized how similar they were to arepas. When my mom taught me how to make arepas (she was taught by my father’s Colombian great aunt), she taught me with no measurements, just touch and feel and how the dough looked. For someone like me who sort of thinks in ratios, it was SUPER annoying.
But I get it, a lot of this is just touch and feel. SO, since that’s the case, I figured I’d do a little how-to.
And here we go! (A GAZILLION PICTURES TO FOLLOW.)
Pupusas begin with making the curtido (the cabbage/carrot mixture above). It’s pretty simple: cabbage, carrots and radishes mixed together. The vinegar/sugar/salt mixture is brought to a boil.
Once it’s hot, the liquid is poured over the vegetables and it sits until it’s pickled. It’s definitely a quick-pickle, but it’d ideally sit in the fridge overnight, but if you let it sit for three hours you should be ok.
To make the pupusas themselves, you start with whisking the masa harina and salt together. Masa harina is cornmeal flour. The most popular brand and the one I’m used to using is Maseca.
It’s super inexpensive (I’d say $3 for a big bag). I’d recommend finding the Latin grocery store nearest you and taking a visit. It’ll be the cheapest there and they’ll have the cheese you’ll need, too.
About 3/4 of the warm water is poured in and there’s a bit of mix action using your hand.
A bit more water. And more mixing.
Once you’ve mixed the water in, you’ll start to knead the dough. The dough will start with feeling a little crumbly but the more you knead the softer and less sticky it’ll get. This is the water distributing throughout.
If the dough is too dry and crumbly, you can add a bit more water, one tablespoon at a time.
If the dough is too sticky, add a few pinches more of masa.
Knead the dough a bit more until the water feels evenly distributed.
Add the shredded queso fresco and mix it into the dough.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This will help distribute the moisture and ultimately make the dough easier to handle.
When the dough is done resting, take a ball of dough and press it gently using the palm of your hand.
Add a few tablespoons of cheese to the center and wrap the dough around it, pinching it so it seals.
Flatten the pupusa and shape it into a disc that’s about 1/4-inch thick. The pupusa on the bottom left is the one with the cheese in the center.
Repeat the process until you’ve made all of the pupusas.
Cook ‘em in a hot cast iron skillet or skillet until little sun spots appear on the surface and cheese starts to ooze out of the sides. YES.
Top each of ‘em with the pickled cabbage and a few splashes of hot sauce.
I usually grab a pupusa and eat it while walking around the farmer’s market on Saturday morning.
But now we can make ‘em at home! I’m excited.
- 1/4 head purple cabbage (about 2 cups), shredded
- 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
- 2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 cups masa harina
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 cup finely shredded queso fresco
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups finely shredded mozzarella
- Fresh or dried Mexican oregano
- To a medium bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrots and radishes. In a small saucepan, stir together the vinegar, salt and sugar. Heat the liquid until it reaches a boil; then remove it from the heat and pour it over the cabbage/carrot mixture. Allow it to come to room temperature and then cover it with plastic wrap and transfer it to the fridge for at least 4 hours and preferably a day before serving.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the masa harina and salt. Pour in 1 3/4 cup of the water, and using your hands, mix the dough until a soft dough forms. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. And if dough is too sticky, add a bit more masa harina. Ultimately, the dough should be soft and not super sticky. Add the shredded queso fresco and mix into the dough until evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Coat your hands with vegetable oil and form the dough into 7 to 8 balls that are approximately 2 inches in diameter. Flatten the balls gently until they're about 1/2-inch thick discs. Place a tablespoon or two of mozzarella cheese into the center and wrap the dough around the filling, pinching it to seal completely. Pat the dough gently, flattening it and alternating hands until it reaches about 1/4-inch thick and about 4-inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
- Lightly oil a skillet or cast iron skillet and place it over medium heat. Cook the pupusas for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly golden brown. It's a good sign when cheese starts to ooze out of the sides and brown "sun spots" appear on the pupusas' surface.
- Serve each person one to two pupusas, top each one with a few spoonfuls of curtido and sprinkle with a few sprigs of Mexican oregano. Make sure hot sauce is on the table, too.