Pupusas

Known as the national dish of El Salvador, pupusas are stuffed corn cakes filled with a variety of beans, cheeses, or meat. While you can certainly use whatever fillings you like, we love this combination of spicy black beans, crunchy pickled jalapeños, and melted cheese. Pupusas are typically served with curtido, a type of cabbage slaw; crunchy slaw paired with the soft corn cakes, melting cheese, and crispy chilis is absolutely delicious.

Prep
1 hr 55 mins
Bake
8 to 12 mins
Total
4 hrs 29 mins
Yield
14 medium (4 1/2”) pupusas
Pupusas

Instructions

  1. To make the curtido: In a large bowl, stir together the cabbage, onion, and carrot.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, oregano, salt, and pepper. Pour over the vegetable mixture, tossing to combine.

  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) before using.

  4. To make the pickled jalapeños: Place the sliced jalapeños and garlic in a 12-ounce or 1-pint mason jar.

  5. In a saucepan set over medium heat, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, cooking until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil.

  6. Pour the liquid into the mason jar to completely submerge the jalapeños. Cover with the lid, and let cool to room temperature.

  7. After an hour, transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) before using.

  8. To make the refried black beans: Heat the oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

  9. Add the beans, water, and spices and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the mixture until it’s thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.

  10. Briefly blend the bean mixture (using a blender, food processor, or hand blender); you should have a somewhat lumpy paste, soft but still able to hold its shape; think canned refried beans. If the beans are too thin, return the mixture to the pot to cook longer; if too thick or dry, add more water. Adjust seasonings to taste, then set the beans aside until you’re ready to assemble the pupusas.

  11. To make the dough: Weigh your masa harina; or measure it by gently spooning into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. In a large, shallow bowl, stir together the masa harina and salt.

  12. Gradually add the warm water, stirring with your hands, a spatula, or a spoon to make a cohesive dough.

  13. Continue to mix the dough until it’s smooth and somewhat firm, about 5 minutes. If the dough is sticking to your hands and feels wet, incorporate more masa harina a teaspoon at a time. Roll a piece of the dough into a small ball and press it between your fingers; if it cracks, add more water.

  14. Divide the dough into 14 pieces (about 85g each) and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls on a clean work surface and cover them with plastic or a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist.

  15. To assemble: In a small bowl, whisk together the water and oil.

  16. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

  17. Remove the pickled jalapeños from the refrigerator and dice them.

  18. Dip your hands in the water/oil mixture. Working with one ball of dough at a time, use your thumb to make a well in the center.

  19. Expand the well to create a small bowl of dough. Fill the bowl with about 2 teaspoons refried beans, 1 heaping teaspoon diced pickled jalapeños, and 1 to 2 tablespoons shredded cheese.

  20. Bring the sides of the bowl into the center and lightly press together to seal.

  21. Gently pat the dough between your hands to transform the sealed bowl into a flat round about 4” to 4 1/2” in diameter. If the pupusa tears or cracks, gently pinch the dough together over the opening to prevent too much filling from being exposed. Wet your hands as needed throughout assembly.

  22. Place the filled pupusas on a baking sheet and cover them while you assemble the rest of the pupusas. Repeat steps 18 through 21 with the remaining dough and filling.

  23. To cook: Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat or preheat an electric griddle to 350°F.

  24. Transfer the pupusas to the hot pan and dry fry them (without oil) until browned and speckled, about 4 to 6 minutes per side.

  25. Serve the hot pupusas with curtido on the side.

  26. Storage information: Store any leftover pupusas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days; reheat before serving.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Does this recipe look daunting? Don't worry, it’s easy to break it into simple steps. The curtido and fillings can be made ahead of time; once that's done, making the dough and assembling the pupusas takes less than an hour.

  • Masa harina (translation: dough flour) is flour made from corn that’s been soaked in a solution of slaked lime (nixtamalized) to loosen its hull and soften it, which improves its texture and helps release its nutrients. The soaked corn is ground into a paste (masa), dried, and then ground again, this time into a fine flour. Due to the corn’s special treatment, neither cornmeal nor corn flour are good substitutes for masa harina.

  • You'll have enough pickled jalapeños and refried black beans for a double batch of pupusas. Store the remainder in the refrigerator for your next batch, or serve as additional side dishes.

  • Curtido is similar to German sauerkraut and Korean kimchee in that it can be fermented just briefly or for quite a long time. Our adaptation of this dish is a simple, quick slaw not meant for long-term storage, though it should stay good in the refrigerator for up to a week.