There is nothing more Salvadoran than pupusas.
Pupusas = El Salvador and El Salvador = Pupusas.
And that's it.
I don't think I have ever met anyone that doesn't like pupusas, whether you have Salvadoran blood in you or not. If you take a good look around your city, you are bound to find a few tiendas selling pupusas, no matter what city you live in. Pupusas are quickly becoming as popular as the now heavily commercialized churro which you see in all the fast food chains nowadays.
Let me start off this post by dispelling a few myths about pupusas that are floating around out there:
Firstly, "pupusa" is not a dirty word! This word comes from the native Pupil (Aztec Indian) language and is a combination of two pupil words: "Pupu", which means "scrambled", and "Tsa" which means "swelling". In Spanish, the word litterally translates to mean "swelling relleno" or "swelling stuffed". This meaning makes a lot of sense if you think about it because pupusas are literally tortillas that are stuffed and swelling with gooey and delicious hot filling.
The second myth out there is that pupusas are native only to El Salvador. While it is true that the pupusas that we know here in the United States did originate in El Salvador, many other Latin countries have a food that resemble the pupusa very closely with only minor differences. For example, Venezuela's version of the pupusa is the arepa, and Mexico's version of the pupusa is the gordita. If you get a chance to eat either of these two foods, you'll notice a striking similarity to the pupusa in both appearance and taste.
The last pupusa myth that I want to dispel here is that pupusas are a complicated food that only abuelita can make. Although pupusas can be time consuming to cook if you are cooking a bunch of them, there is not really anything "complicated" or hard about making them that restricts this food to the domain of your grandmother or mother.
In my opinion, the hardest thing about making pupusas is getting the fillings and the tortilla masa just right. If you know how to do these two things, making pupusas will be a breeze. One pupusas bought at a tienda will generally run you anywhere from $2-4 dollars. If you know how to make pupusas yourself however, you can make about forty of them with about $12 dolalrs worth of ingredients. I don't know about you, but I find option number two much more appealing. If your with me on this one, lets get down to learning how to make these tasty little things.
A complete Salvadoran pupusas has many components.
1 - Filling - Fillings will vary based on your taste but the two most popular fillings are pupusas de queso, pupusas made of cheese only, or pupusas revueltas, pupusas made of a few different fillings. The most common revueltas are made of beans and cheese or chicharron and cheese - see my post on making chicharrones to make this one. My personal favorite is pupusas de queso con loroco, which are pupusas filled with cheese and a type of edible green flower called loroco that is quite similar to asparagus in both look and taste.
2. Masa dough - This is the standard dough used to make corn tortillas - see my recipe for tortillas de maiz here.
3 - Curtido - A mix of fermented cabage with a little bit of onion, shaved carrot, and hot chile peppers mixed in. Curtido is either served on the side or put on top of the pupusa to be eaten together in same bite.
4 - Salsa Roja, or "Red Sauce", served on the side or poured over the curtido and pupusa to be eaten together in same bite.
Now for the secrets to making authentic Salvadoran pupusas! Are you ready? Sshhh! Don't tell anyone!!
- Make your own refried beans. Handmade refried beans carry much more flavor and are less greasy and watery than the canned refried beans you can buy at the store. To make your own refried beans, simply prepare small Central American red beans the way you would to make arroz curtido. When the beans are done cooking, blend some of them up in a blender and cook them in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of oil over low heat for about 30-40 minutes.
- Add butter or margarine to your Mozzarella cheese. When you pour out the amount of mozzarella you will use, add a few scoops of cold butter or margarine to it. The butter/margarine makes the flavor pop and will prevent you from needing to grease the pupusas with oil when you cook them. I personally use margarine because the extra oils in it create a better pupusa than butter will.
- Only use Mozarella cheese for your cheese filling!! This is a very important secret. Some international stores sell what they call "queso para pupusas", or "pupusas cheese". This cheese is an imposter! A fake I tell you, run as fast as you can from it! This cheese looks like Mozarella cheese but tastes terrible and if you read the ingredients you will find that it doesn't even contain any milk at all. This cheese is made out of nothing but hydrogenated oils and trans fats. This cheese is cheaper than buying real Mozarella cheese but it destroys the taste and also destroys your health. I have also seen a lot of videos on the web that add all sorts of other dairy products to their mozarrella filling - crema, hard cheese, and panella cheese are just a few I have seen. While these videos say they are making authentic Salvadoran pupusas, I can assure you that this is not an authentic pupusa and will surely not taste like one either.
- Cook your pupusas over a gas stove or skillet, not on an electric one. The reason for this is that gas stoves and skillets can get much hotter than electric ones. When the heat is too low, you will get cracks on the outter tortilla skin of your pupusa. You want to cook each side of the pupusa for about 30 seconds, and flip on each side about three times. Once the pupusa starts to puff up and fillings begins to ooze out of, they are done cooking. Pupusa Revuelta Ingredients:
Now lets get cooking! This recipe makes about 30 pupusas revueltas.
Pupusas Revueltas Ingredients:
- 3-4 cups of instant corn masa flour mixed with about 5 cups of water - See my recipe for making tortilla dough
-Approximately 6 cups of refried red beans (handmade preferrable)
-Approximately 6 cups of Mozarella cheese (You want to have equal part of bean and cheese so if you add more bean you need to add more cheese)
-5-7 tbsp. of cold butter, depending on taste
-Red Sauce - See ingredients below
-Small bowl of tap water to dip your hands into between making each pupusa
Salsa Roja Ingredients:
-8 small, red tomoatoes
-1 can of peeled, whole tomatoes
-1/4 white onion
-1/4 green bell pepper
-Few sprigs of cilantro
-2 teaspoons of salt
-2-3 tablespoons of "Caldo de Pollo" seasoning (this is chicken buillon seasoning, can find it in most grocery stores)
-2 tablespoons of oil
Some people make their own ingredients but because the process of fermenting takes a while, I generally buy pre-made curtido at the store and then dilute it with a small head of cabbage, cut up into slithers, along with some shavings of purple onion and carrot.
-Prepare the re-fried beans the day before by boiling Central American small red beans until soft, (takes about three hours, see my post for Arroz Curtido for exact directions)
- Blend about half of the soft red beans in a blender and cook this puree in a skillet on low heat for 30-40 minutes.
-The day you make the pupusas, mix all ingredients for red sauce in blender and blend until pureed.
-Pour red sauce into a small skillet covered with a tablespoon of oil and heat on medium-high until boiling.
-Once sauce boils, turn off heat but leave pot on burner so sauce will be remain warm when you serve the pupusas.
-Prepare the tortilla dough in a bowl using directions found on my tortillas de maiz post.
-Place Mozzarella, butter, and refried beans into a bowl and mix with hands until well mixed.
-Turn your gas skillet to medium-high, (high if have to use an electric stove), and place a pancake skillet (we are pretending this is our comal) on top of the gas burners so it can start to get hot.
-Wet your hands in the small bowl of water you have near you and then grab a ball of tortilla dough in your hand
-Flatten the dough into a flat circle using your hands and then put about 2 small spoonfuls of the bean/cheese mix in the middle
-Once you have placed filling in center of dough, close the dough back up using your hands to form a ball again that surrounds and covers your filling.
-While reforming the ball, pinch off any extra dough at the top to prevent an over-sized pupusa. You want just enough dough to completely surround your filling and no more.
-Place ball of dough with filling inside between two plastic baggies, flatten with a plate or your hands, and then peel off flattened pupusa and place onto the hot skillet.
-Cook each side of the pupusa for about 30 seconds each, flipping total about six times so that each side gets the heat about three times.
-Once the pupusa begins to puff up or fillings begin to ooze out of it and burn on surface, remove the pupusa from the heat and place onto a big piece of aluminum foil.
-Repeat process until you have used up all your dough and filling. If you run out of either, just make more.
-Serve the pupusas with curtido and red sauce.
Below are a few pictures of the pupusa making process: