El Salvadorian Pupusas

The first time I ever had a pupusa, I thought I was going to die.

No, not faint from the delectable combination of gooey melted cheese and warm corn tortilla in my mouth.  Actually die.

Flashback to High School, when I had just gotten my first car and a girlfriend of mine told me she wanted to take me to a special grub spot downtown, so we got into my car, Lola was her name, and we drove.  And drove and drove and drove.  Almost an hour later I was so f***ing hangry I could have ripped off pieces of the steering wheel and funneled them down my esophagus.  FINALLY, we pulled up to a crumbling ramshackle restaurant with dirty windows, three large men with thick black mustaches out front, and a flickering neon sign that read “Pupuseria.”  Poo poo what? I thought to myself, this is it Cory.  This is the end. I traveled 45 minutes outside of town to be stuffed into a trunk and have my eyelids sold for $3.75 a pop.

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Ahhhh, little did I know that once we got inside, I was going to bite into something incredible…something so undeniably fresh and fluffy and exquisite that I actually would have endeared the steering wheel appetizer if it meant I could eat a handmade pupusa everyday for the rest of my gringa life.

You may be wondering what a pupusa is exactly (pronounced Poopoo-saw…heh, poo).  It’s a traditional El Salvadorian food, basically meat and cheese stuffed in between a corn tortilla pocket, much like a quesadilla.  Usually it is eaten with curtido, a zippy cabbage relish that counters the richness (and also godliness) that is a pupusa.  Since moving to Los Angeles and seeing Pupuserias all over town, it has been my dream to make them from scratch. I must admit I have a newfound respect for the ladies (and gents) that slang these poopies, I mean puppies, on the daily- like most things in life it probably gets easier the more you do it, but my first one was struggs city.  Nevertheless, the subsequent ones got better and better.  Here is how to make homemade, healthier pupusas sans the meat and grease that even a slightly-frightening-thick-black-mustached muchacho would highly approve of. He may even nod, tip his hat, and whisper, “Si.”

El Salvadorian Pupusas

Makes about 6 pupusas

For the corn tortillas:

  • 2 cups masa harina, an instant corn flour.  Can we white/yellow/blue.  Most grocery stores carry this in the “ethnic” food section
  • at least 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 1.5 cup black beans
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 serrano (leave seeds in if you’re a BAMF)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 lime
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2-3/4 cup shredded cheese (I use Daiya vegan mozzarella cheese)
  1. The first thing you want to do is mix up the dough.  You can do this easily by hand or if you’re a wimp (just kiddin) use an electric mixer…I did.  I admit it.  Add in the flour and salt and then pour the water over and mix.  You may have to add in more water to get the dough the right consistency.  Add it in slowly, in 2 tablespoon increments until a soft, pliable dough forms that is neither too sticky nor too crumbly.  Think cookie dough status. I ended up placing a small bowl of water on my work station so I could dip my fingers into it and add more water to each one as I formed the pupusa paddies.  Shape the dough into one large ball and set aside. Work on the filling rather quickly so the dough doesn’t dry out.
  2. To make the filling, mince up the garlic and onion as finely as you can.
  3. Heat up a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.  Toss in the garlic and then the onion and saute until fragrant (3-4 minutes).  When done, transfer to a bowl.
  4. Chop the serrano pepper up, and add it into the bowl along with the black beans, cilantro, and garlic/onion mixture.  Take a fork and smash the pupu out of it (heh..that was the last one) until a chunky paste forms.  I stopped mashing once the texture became kind of like guacamole.  Taste it and decide how much salt and pepper to throw in, adding them in  1/4 tsp increments.  Set bowl aside, next to a small bowl with the shredded cheese.
  5. Now take the giant dough ball and gently roll it into 6 or 7 smaller sized balls, between the size of a golf ball and baseball.

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6.  Next, you want to indent the ball of dough until a little hole forms.  Move your fingers carefully so that you get a little dough UFO. Cute, right.

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7.  Take a spoonful of the filling and a pinch of cheese, and load it into the dough disc.

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This was my first attempt, and by the end I was making the dough balls as big as I could and stuffing them as much filling as humanely possible.  You’ll find your rhythm.

8.  Once you feel like there is enough filling to satisfy but not too much so that the pupusa won’t shut, start to fold the dough over the filling to enclose it.

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9.  Work that little mass of dough until you shape it back into a disc that is as flat as possible, without allowing any of the filling to leach out.  Which it inevitably will. But I promise, the more you make, the better you get.

10. Heat up a griddle or a really flat skillet to medium heat.  Once hot, chuck a pupusa onto the surface (NO oil required :)) and fry for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown.  Then flip the pupusa and fry the other side until it looks similar.  Repeat for remaining filling-stuffed dough balls. Yums, yes.

To enhance the authenticity, I also highly recommend you’ve got a margarita going and mexican music blasting.

How about you guys?  Do you have any crazy stories about traveling outside your comfort zone in order to get a good bite to eat?




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