How To Make Pupusas

in Dinner, How-To

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 with Curtido

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.

Pupusas with Curtido

How To Make Pupusas

Print this recipe!

Curtido:
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

Pupusas:
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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Note: The edges might crack and become scraggily, not a big deal. To fix the edges, I found it easiest to place the pupusas onto a lightly oiled cutting board and smooth out the edges by pinching them together and rubbing any cracks with a teeny bit of water.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Yields 8 pupusas

Pupusas with Curtido

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Jade March 20, 2013 at 1:02 am

Oooooh. I had never even heard of these before this post. What a wonderful idea. Looks and sounds absolutely delicious .

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Grace March 20, 2013 at 3:45 am

I have never heard of pupusas before! We just recently (like this month) discovered arepas, but the restaurant that makes them is an hour and a half away. I’m definitely going to try these at home!!

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Abby March 20, 2013 at 3:48 am

As a pupusa lover that now lives in Israel where no one has ever heard of a pupusa, I am ecstatic that you posted this recipe! It seems far simpler than I thought it would be, though the Salvadoran grandmother probably has a few tricks up her sleeve. Anyway, I can’t wait to try this!!!
Do you have any idea if there is a decent replacement for queso fresco given that I doubt the Middle Easterners have a clue what that is either?

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Adrianna March 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

Yes! I would just go all mozzarella. It won’t be that big of a difference. They’ll still taste awesome.

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Abby March 22, 2013 at 12:59 am

Thanks! Will let you know how it goes :)

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Izzy March 28, 2014 at 9:35 am

Queso fresco is same as feta cheese it has same texture and saltiness

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Adrianna Adarme March 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

It’s actually not exactly the same. But you’re welcome to use it as a substitute.

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Abby @The Frosted Vegan March 20, 2013 at 3:57 am

I hadn’t heard of them either, but I’m in!

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Marie @ Little Kitchie March 20, 2013 at 3:59 am

I am dying over that gorgeous pink color! Definitely going to put this on my project list – they look incredible!

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cindy March 20, 2013 at 4:46 am

most of my coworkers at the bakery I used to work at were central/south american and our holiday parties were the business! Barbacoa, tamales, AND pupusas (among other goodness)! I think pupusas were my fave…I mean, I can’t turn away melty cheese, ever!

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Ashley March 20, 2013 at 5:15 am

Thank you!!! Finally a wonderful recipe for Pupusas! I’ve had them at a mexican restaurant here in Dallas and they are fabulous! I’ve been wanting to figure out how to make them. Thanks so much! I can’t wait to try these. Yum!

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Marie @ Little Kitchie March 20, 2013 at 5:38 am

P.S. LOVE your nail polish – what color?!

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Adrianna March 20, 2013 at 9:42 am

Navigate Her by Essie!

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Tieghan March 20, 2013 at 6:16 am

I hade no idea what pupusas was, but I know want to make it! Those llok and sound delicious!

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Laura March 20, 2013 at 8:12 am

I loooooove pupusas. So so good!

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Kelly March 20, 2013 at 8:18 am

These might be the prettiest pupusas I’ve ever seen! I would totally make these for a girls night!

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heidi March 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

what a great idea! i hadn’t heard of these either but i’m excited to try them, thanks to your great tutorial! :)

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Katie @ Blonde Ambition March 20, 2013 at 9:18 am

These look and sound delicious. But really, who could say no to anything that has cheese IN the dough and is STUFFED with cheese? I certainly couldn’t :)

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Karla @ Foodologie March 20, 2013 at 9:41 am

I love pupusas! Won’t lie though, the red sauce you pour on top is usually my favorite part :D

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Adrianna March 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

I love that sauce! I thought of making that sauce too but the tomatoes at the market looked SO sad. Maybe in the summer I’ll do it!

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Aimee St.Germain (Cooking the Strip) March 20, 2013 at 9:45 am

Ooo, these look great. I always enjoy seeing new recipes from different countries! Thanks for sharing – I’ll be sure to try these soon. :)

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Megan @ girl by the lake March 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

OOOH! I have to say, I had some of these at a restaurant not too long ago, and all I could think about was: could I make these at home? Now I know that I can! Thanks for sharing.

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Sue/the view from great island March 20, 2013 at 10:07 am

I am also Savadorian Grandmother-less, so I’m going to follow your lead! I love masa harina, and the texture of these thick papusas is killing me, I can’t even look at the photos without getting itchy to make them right now.

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Gini March 20, 2013 at 10:07 am

YAY! My husband and I had pupusas in Belize and have waxed poetic ever since. These seem WAY easier than I thought they’d be. I think we’ll give em a whirl this weekend! Thanks for clearing the way!

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sandra March 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

this looks so much like spring. i love the colors. and I love the simplicity. I may try this out with some fake cheeze I have waiting to be used.

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Chelsea@Chelsea Is Dishing Up March 20, 2013 at 10:13 am

OMgeeeeeeeee, these were one of my favorite treats when I lived in Oakland. I have never found quite the right recipe to make them on my own. I’m so excited to try yours!

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Eileen March 20, 2013 at 10:39 am

I’ve been meaning to try making pupusas for so long! But there’s a Salvadorean restaurant with excellent pupusas just around the corner…so we end up going there. Still! This looks amazing, and I must try it. I do make curtido at home, but ours looks pretty different–mostly because I use green cabbage, but we like using pureed serrano peppers too :)

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Suzanne Perazzini March 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

This is a great gluten-free dish and I will be trying it with rice flour. Hopefully that works just as well.

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Kristi March 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Oh yum!! My grandmother makes the best pupusas, and the key for her was to use a little bit of lard. I also love when she makes salpicon.

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Adrianna March 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Oooo. That sounds awesome.

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Jayne March 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm

This is another dish that I’ve never heard of before. But that makes me excited because now I’ve learnt yet another new thing from foodblogs. Who said spending hours on the internet is a bad thing ;-). And loving that ooey gooey cheese in the centre. So awesome.

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Christina @ The Beautiful Balance March 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

This look amazing and so simple to make! Love the cabbage mixture on top, it has to make this such a dynamite combo.

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Kiran @ KiranTarun.com March 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm

The pickled cabbage definitely adds a vibrancy to the dish!!

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Eu March 20, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Hi!

I’m from El Salvador and I nearly had an excitement induced heart attack when I read that you had done a post about pupusas! SO great and SO glad you liked them! Like another commenter said, they use lard here on the skillet to make them extra crispy and yummy! I’m curious about your wrist action when flattening them, it’s a staple around here. I’ve actually tried several times to make them myself, but they came out shapeless. It’s all in the wrist…

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Megan March 21, 2013 at 8:33 am

Oh man. These look SO good! And this is, by far, the prettiest dinner ever!

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Sophie March 21, 2013 at 10:28 am

My mother laughed at me recently when I mentioned that a local Salvadoran restaurant serves really good pupusas. “Native American infants?!” I knew I wasn’t mistaken on the name!

I’m so excited to read about the process of making these, they look super doable! I recently learned how to make a good homemade hot sauce, so I think a night of pupusas, pickles and hot-sauce is in order FOR SURE! Yummmm girl. You’re a genius.

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June March 21, 2013 at 11:10 am

Thanks for posting this recipe. I have never heard of this dish and will certainly try it

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Dana March 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Pupusas are so good! These remind me of my trip to El Salvador, though we never ate them with the slaw. I should make some of these!

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Bernadette @ Now Stir It Up March 22, 2013 at 11:26 am

I have never had Pupusas or even heard of them. I can’t believe it, because they sound AMAZING. I like making tamales and the masa is a feel/touch/eyeballed thing too. I get how annoying that can be when someone tries to explain it, but your step by step is fab.

BTW… Love the nail polish.

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jeri March 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I love arepas and papusas, but all the recipes I found said to use boiling water. I tried that exactly once. As much as we all loved them, I wasn’t about to go through that pain again. Clearly, yours turned out great using warm water, so I can’t wait to give it another try. And if anyone can’t find Maseca, your store may carry something called PAN.

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Adrianna March 27, 2013 at 2:52 pm

If you follow these ratios and use PAN, you’ll end up with Arepas and not Pupusas. They’re definitely different in texture, though I love LOVE arepas.

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Corrine Engelgau March 24, 2013 at 5:00 am

Hey there! This recipe sounds absolutely delicious. I’ve been reading a lot about soaking grains lately and just wanted to let you know that if you soak the corn flour in lime water before you use it, it will release the B3 vitamins stored in corn as well as the niacin. It’s much easier to digest and to use the nutrients in soaked corn flour. Check out this website: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-making-limewater-for-soaking-corn/ Always be cooking!

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John Hatchell February 4, 2014 at 12:50 am

The type of corn flour used in Latin American cuisine (masa harina) is already treated with lime. If you use ordinary corn flour the recipe wont work right anyway, never mind the nutrition.

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Iris Dongo March 24, 2013 at 7:25 am

I have been searching for a recipe like this, I can’t wait to try it!

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Migdalia March 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

The first paragraphs of the post cracked me up! My dad’s friends are from El Salvador and made this dish for us once and I was in love! Great post, I can’t wait to try!

xoxo,
Dalia

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Sophie March 27, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Made these last night. Ohhh so good! My husband is obsessed. So am I. Your instructions were perfect, I didnt change a thing. The dough was really easy to work with! I’ve never tried such a dough before and it was rewarding. We are several each, then for dessert, we drizzled honey on a couple. OH MAN nommm. Thanks so much :)

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Adrianna March 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

AWESOME. This made my day.

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Morajah April 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this, I am new in your cozy kitchen :) and I am loving so many of the recipes you’ve posted. I will try this I am cooking them today! The curtido looks too delish.

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Hanan May 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Oh my gosh I’m in love with puposa ,I’m going to make it ,now I know how .

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Maggie July 13, 2013 at 6:01 am

Hi, my husband is from El Salvador heritage and i want to make these myself. I have eaten them many times but want to try to do it myself. I can’t find the Maseca in the supermarkets here (Australia) i have brought Corn Flour will that work instead!!!
Please Help :)

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Adrianna Adarme July 13, 2013 at 9:45 am

Corn flour is finer than masa so I’d recommend starting with about half as less water and then going from there until a dough forms. They’ll be closer to an arepa than a pupusa but they’ll still taste great. ;)

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Maggie July 17, 2013 at 6:12 am

Thanks Adrianna i will try that, Fingers crossed :)

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J.M. September 1, 2013 at 8:45 pm

A few buddies and I are planning a Salvadorian potluck. My friend chose pupusas but I think I’ll show up with a few of my own, using this recipe! Thanks for sharing.. Also , nice touch with the red cabbage!

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Adrianna Adarme September 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Oh yay! I hope it worked out!

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jacky November 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

this is not a pupusa i know what a pupusa is. I am Salvadoran that is just something eles

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Jan November 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

Hi Im from the Uk and not an El Salvadorian relative in sight but I tried my own take on pupusa using just plain white flour and a filling of cheese,shredded onion and jalapeno peppers.Delicious! I served them with home made tomato chutney.I decided to try out a sweet version.I used plain flour again and this time put in a mixture of banana,ricotta cheese and maple syrup.I fried these in butter.They are equally as delicious as the savoury pupusa.Cheap and very tasty

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Adrianna Adarme November 15, 2013 at 9:23 am

Oh! Interesting. I’m guessing what you had was more like a flour pupusa. Those do exist! Love the sweet rendition–sounds delicious!

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Las Vegas Pupusas November 30, 2013 at 11:49 am

Wow what a great tutorial great for my team thanks for the share

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Momo December 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

My actual El Salvadorian grandmother has unfortunately moved back home, leaving me pupusa-less for far too long, so I’ll have to try these out! My favorites are the ones loaded with little beans as well as cheese, but I definitely don’t trust myself to season correctly!

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