Monday, January 18, 2010

Turning fantasies into realities or How I Taught Myself to Make Pupusas

Last summer on a visit to NYC (why do so many of my food memories originate there?) I was strolling the flea market in DUMBO when I smelled something delicious. Up ahead was a food booth with a long, long line. Wondering what people were waiting for in the hot summer sun, I ventured forth and saw it was a pupusa stand. What are pupusas, I thought to myself? They looked like some kind of corn pancake and appeared to be stuffed. Not wasting any more time I made a quick decision that that was where we were getting our lunch and I joined the line like a good little sheep.

And boy was I glad I did. We all tried various fillings, I believe there was pork and beans and cheese and we ate them standing on the street using a ledge to balance our drinks. I almost got back on line for seconds but we had a busy, food filled itinerary and there was still Almondine and Jacques Torres to be visited.

With all the wonderful things we saw and ate on that trip the one that stood out and the one we all thought of as our best or one of our best was those pupusas. At home I researched them on the internet and saw that they were a Salvadoran staple. At the end of that same summer we decided to take a spur of the moment trip to Old Orchard Beach Maine and imagine my delight when researching restaurants on the morning of the trip I kept reading about this little Salvadoran hole in the wall in Portland (a foodie wonderland if ever there was one.)

We managed to have a lunch there and of course we ordered pupusas. Unfortunately, they weren't as good as the ones we ate in Brooklyn and they left me longing for those we ate that hot summer day standing in the street.

For some reason it never occurred to me to make pupusas myself. I thought about them. I even found a recipe in the Rancho Gordo cookbook. But then for Christmas I was given an electric griddle and in thinking of what I could make on it besides pancakes, pupusas came to mind. The first time I made them I used the Rancho Gordo recipe as a template and made refried beans to stuff the pupusas with and curtido which is kind of a mayonnaise free cole slaw that's traditionally served atop the pupusas. They were good but not the bursting with filling goodness that I had eaten in Brooklyn. And they were kind of hard to form. Heading to the internet I found this and I started to see where I went wrong. There are tons of videos on how to make pupusas. I watched them and got a better idea of how to make pupusas like those I ate in Brooklyn. It was all in the technique and my second batch was a winner.

Pupusa Dough

2 cups Masa Harina
generous pinch of salt
1 to 1 1/2 cup water.

Mix together masa harina and salt and drizzle the water over the top.
Stir or mix with your hands (my choice as it's easier to get a feel for the right consistency) basically, you want a dough that will hold up to being flattened out and stuffed. Not too moist and not too dry.


Refried Beans and Monterey Jack

Curtido (my adaption)

Half a head of cabbage, thinly sliced
3 Carrots grated by hand or in a food processor
One onion, thinly sliced (I left it out as I don't do raw onion)
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
tsp oregano
generous pinch or two of salt
TBS grainy mustard

Toss together the cabbage, carrots and onion.
Mix the vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and mustard.
Toss with the vegetables and refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the flavors to meld.

I didn't do that step because I happen to like cole slaw when it's freshly prepared before the veggies start to get limp. I did have this the next day though and it was still good with minimal limpness.

Pinch off a handful of dough (golf ball size) and flatten it out in the palm of your hand and kind of curl the edges up into a little cup. (this is where I found the videos really helpful) Stuff a generous amount of filling into the well and top with a large pinch of cheese. Bring the edges up and close over the filling. As best as you can flatten the ball out into a thick pancake while keeping the filling covered. The best advice I read was that it's okay if there are some cracks because those are going to be delicious crispy oozy spots when they are fried up on the griddle.

Heat your griddle or frying pan as you would for pancakes. I coated my griddle in canola spray and set the temperature to 300. Fry each side for 3-4 minutes. Top each pupusa with a spoonful of curtido and then you can spoon on some sour cream (thinned with milk to replicate crema) or salsa. We had ours both ways, one night with curtido and sour cream and one night with curtido and salsa. I preferred the salsa and curtido on mine.

These were really fun to make and after watching the videos I found I had a better grasp of how they should be formed. I think I'm going to be playing with this recipe some more. I'm thinking they will be fabulous stuffed with shredded pork and caramelized onions...


  1. Greetings... Just found your site, and I enjoy it a lot. Like you, I am a former NYCer (upper East), Like you I left for the love of a good person. Unlike you, it is very unusual for me to get back, as I was banished to Kansas. Like you, I am making the best of it all by learning to cook and creat thise wonderful things you could find on street corners in my own kitchen...

    It's not all doom and gloom, the suburbs can be fun, and I am indeed learning to cook some pretty amazing things... Will be following, and welcome to the blog world!

  2. I've never heard of pupusas, but they look really good! Thank you for visiting my blog!

  3. Pupusas = awesomeness! It's like a tortilla on steriods or something - take delicious tortilla, then fill it with tasty things and pan fry it. Pure genius. Totally loving the filling and curtido.

  4. YUM! This looks sooo good!

    To answer your question: the hemp milk tasted pretty much like skim milk, just a little creamier!

  5. @A Year on the Grill- I actually left the city for myself. I needed to get out and I am glad I did. It's complicated, but that's the condensed version.
    And I didn't settle into the suburbs- it was full on sticks for me! I'm way out in the country, nothing but cows and deer (probably bears too but I don't like to think about that!)

  6. i've often had a craving for something and never had it occur to me to make it myself. i blame my lazy nature. :)
    good for you for taking it upon yourself to recreate your tasty food experience! i love the idea of pupusas even though i've never actually had one myself. to say that i really want one now would be an understatement. :)