Seeing a towering stack of these cheese oozing discs, you might think they were difficult to make at home. Not so! With this simple recipe for pupusas (and step by step how-to video), you'll be serving them in minutes!
What is a Pupusa?
Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador, where they were created centuries ago, for good reason - they are delicious, cheese filled masa cakes (also stuffed with meat and/or beans) that are grilled and typically served with a vinegary, spicy slaw called Curtido.
Ingredients You Need to Make Pupusas
Olive Oil: for pan frying
Masa Harina: Note that this is not the same as cornmeal. (Further explanation of this ingredient below.)
Mozzarella Cheese: ideally whole milk mozzarella
Warm Water: ideally filtered
What is Masa Harina?
Masa Harina (meaning "dough flour" in Spanish) is made from corn that is treated in an alkaline solution (soaked and cooked), then washed and hulled, then dried and ground. This process called Nixtamalization, a process that reduces toxins produced by common molds in corn and makes the naturally occurring niacin more easily absorbed by the body.
I clipped a recipe for Pupusas from Saveur magazine years ago, intrigued by the idea of cheese stuffed corn-masa cakes. They reminded me of these vegetarian tamales, one of my favorite foods, but looked easier to make. And this recipe from The New York Times looked interesting too. The problem was that I'd never actually eaten a pupusa, so if I made them at home, how could I know that my pupusas tasted how pupusas should taste?
Fortunately, we had a couple of good resources for authentic pupusas in our little town of Bend, Oregon: here and here. So we set out to eat pupusas, in the name of research you understand. The delicate crunch of the grilled masa cake, the molten cheese spilling out - I was smitten from my first bite!
How to Make Pupusas
Make pupusa dough with a simple mixture of masa harina (corn flour), kosher salt and warm water. Dip your hands in a mixture of warm water and a little oil then scoop out a portion of dough a little larger than a golf ball.
Shape the masa dough into a ball, then into a disc that is 3 to 4-inches wide.
Add a generous pinch of cheese to the center of the masa disc and gently fold the edges up all the way around until the cheese is sealed inside. (Note that you can also stuff them with beans, meat, vegetables or a combination of ingredients.)
Gently pat the cheese filled masa dough ball back into a disc. Repeat with remaining dough.
Cook pupusas on a hot non-stick skillet or griddle until masa cakes are cooked through and lightly brown on both sides. You can do this in a dry pan or with a little oil (my preference).
- 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 2 cups masa harina 232g
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups warm water up to 1 ¾ cups, until you have a moist pliable dough
- 5 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese shredded
Optional Pupusa Toppings
- sour cream or crema
- hot sauce
- Combine 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 cup warm water in a small bowl. (You'll dip your hands in this mixture to keep the pupusa dough from sticking to your hands as you form the cakes.)
- Line a medium tray with parchment paper.
- Whisk together masa harina and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Slowly add warm water, stirring constantly, until all of the water is incorporated and dough is moist and pliable. (Start with 1 ½ cups warm water and add more as needed to reach your desired consistency.)
- Dip your hands in oil and warm water mixture to moisten your fingers and palms. Scoop out about ⅛ of the dough, a little larger than a golf ball. With your hands, roll into a ball then gently press back and forth between your palms, shaping the dough into a disc, 3 to 4-inches wide. Add a large pinch of shredded cheese to the center of the disc and gently press the sides up all the way around to seal. Use your palms to press the ball back into a disc about ½-inch thick and place on prepared tray. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Heat remaining oil in a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Cook pupusas until cooked through and lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Serve hot with Curtido and desired toppings.
- Note that nutrition information does not include toppings.