Pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz, a cornmeal dough used in Mesoamerican cuisine) that is usually filled with a blend of the following:
cheese (queso) (usually a soft cheese called Quesillo found throughout Central America)
cooked and seasoned pork meat ground to a paste consistency (called chicharrón, not to be confused with fried pork rind, which is also known as chicharrón in some other countries) refried beans (frijoles refritos), or queso con loroco (loroco is a vine flower bud from Central America).
Pupusas are typically served with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar).
Pupusas are similar to the South American arepa. The main differences are that pupusas are filled prior to cooking (while arepas, afterwards), and that pupusas are made from nixtamal, whereas arepas are made from ordinary corn dough.
Nixtamal is basically the same corn dough, but it has undergone a preparation process involving an alkaline solution before cooking, which contributes to the peeling of the grains, making valuable nutrients available. This process was developed in Mesoamerica around 1500–1200 BCE. Early Mesoamericans used quicklime or slaked lime and ashes as the alkaline solution. Dried nixtamal is now commercially available.
Pupusas were first created centuries ago by the Pipil tribes who inhabited the territory now known as El Salvador. Cooking implements for their preparation have been excavated in Joya de Cerén, “El Salvador’s Pompeii”, site of a native village that was buried by ashes from a volcano explosion, and where foodstuffs were preserved as they were being cooked almost 2000 years ago. The instruments for their preparation have also been found in other archaeological sites in El Salvador.
The pre-Columbian pupusa were vegetarian and half-moon shaped. They were filled with squash flowers and buds, herbs such chipilin and mora, fungi and salt. By 1570 meat had been incorporated into the filling, as noted by Franciscan monk Bernardino De Sahagun.
In the late 1940s, pupusas were still not widespread across El Salvador, and were mostly localized in the central towns, such as Quezaltepeque, and cities of the country. As the population began migrating to other areas in the 1960s, pupusa stands proliferated across the country and in neighboring areas of Honduras and Guatemala, sometimes with variations in shape, size or filling.
In the 1980s, the Salvadoran civil war forced a Salvadoran migration to other countries, mainly the United States. Therefore, pupusas became available outside the country wherever a Salvadoran community was found. Immigrants have brought the dish to most areas of the United States.
On April 1, 2005, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly declared pupusas as the national dish of El Salvador and every second Sunday of November would be National Pupusas Day. On September 25, 2011 the pupusas were named that year’s Best Street Food in New York.
Both at home and abroad, pupusas are traditionally served with curtido and tomato sauce, and are traditionally eaten by hand.
My version of this wonderful street food combines several elements of other recipes into the ultimate pupusa! Yes, the refried beans are Mexican – deal with it, they’re the best I’ve ever tasted! This is not a simple recipe due to its many steps – that said, please do give it a try Citizens! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
½ pound dried pinto beans
2 sprigs fresh epazote or oregano
1 medium white onion, ½ minced (about ½ cup), ½ left whole
2 medium cloves garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground cumin
6 tablespoons lard (strongly preferred), bacon drippings (preferred) or corn oil (adequate)
4 roma tomatoes
¼ small white onion
1 small garlic clove
4 serrano chilies
4 cups water
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 lbs mozzarella cheese (shredded)
½ red bell pepper (diced)
½ cup diced jalapeños
4 cups masa corn flour
2 cups warm water
½ head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 carrot, grated
1 quart boiling water
3 green onions, minced
1 cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup water
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salsa for Pupusas:
Place the first 5 ingredients in the blender and blend on high.
Heat the canola oil on medium high heat and pour the salsa into the pan.
Bring to a boil stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar and the chicken bouillon powder and continue boiling for 10 minutes until the salsa is reduced by half.
Allow the salsa to come down to room temperature and serve.
Combine the cabbage and carrot in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over the mixture. Allow the mixture to steep for 5 minutes; drain well. Return the cabbage and carrots to the bowl. Mix in the green onion, vinegar, ½ cup of water, and oregano. Toss until all ingredients are combined.
Place a clean plate on top of the vegetables, and weigh it down to fully submerge them under the brine.
Chill at minimum for 20 minutes before serving – overnight is better and 3 days is best, if you can wait that long. The flavor will deepen and mellow over time.
When it’s to your liking, transfer to clean jars, making sure brine covers the vegetables, and store in the refrigerator. Can keep for weeks.
In a large pot, cover the beans with cold water by at least 2 inches. Add herb sprigs, the whole onion half, and garlic cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are very tender, about 1 to 2 hours.
Season with salt. Drain beans, reserving bean-cooking liquid. You should have about 3 cups of cooked beans; if you have more, measure out 3 cups of beans and reserve the rest for another use. Discard herb sprigs, onion, and garlic.
In a large skillet, heat lard, bacon drippings, or oil until shimmering, or butter until foaming, over medium-high heat. Add minced onion and cumin and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in beans and cook for 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup of reserved bean-cooking liquid. Using bean masher, potato masher, or back of a wooden spoon, smash the beans to form a chunky purée; alternatively, use a stick blender to make a smoother purée.
Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until desired consistency is reached; if refried beans are too dry, add more bean-cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. Season with salt and serve.
Place the shredded mozzarella, jalapeños and bell pepper in a food processor and process until the bell pepper and jalapeños are chopped into tiny pieces and fully incorporated into the cheese.
Next, place the cheese mixture into a plastic bowl and warm the mix in the microwave for no more than 20 seconds.
Next, squeeze the cheese mixture with your hands until it achieves a soft putty-like consistency. Set the cheese aside.
Place the masa mix and water in a bowl and stir until fully mixed. The masa should be very sticky but should form an easy ball when rolled. If not, add water until it is sticky but easy to work with.
Next, Place an egg-sized ball of masa in your hand (it helps to place a tiny bit of oil on your hands before doing this) and press the masa out in one hand to represent a small plate the size of your palm. Place about a tablespoon of cheese down onto the masa, then a teaspoon of beans. Pull the sides of the masa up around the beans and cheese and roll it into a ball. Next, flatten it a tiny bit with your palms to form a thick disc.
Pat the disc turning it between your hands about 6 times to flatten it more but to keep it in a round shape. The pupusa should be a little less than ½ inch thick.
Place the pupusa on a large oiled non-stick surface and cook on medium-high until each side is golden brown, around 3 minutes on each side.
Serve with salsa and curtido and enjoy!