I would say if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from almost three years of running this weird site it wouldn’t be one cooking skill specifically. It would be the ability to not be scared to try something very new. What’s the worst that happens? I fail? It wouldn’t be the first time. In fact, I haven’t made a dish in a while that would rank in my top ten fails of all time.
So I’m feeling pretty confident which, at the end of the day, is what this site is all about I guess.
But I will admit that there was a tinge of doubt in the back of my mind when I saw that pupusas won last week’s poll.
The two reasons for my doubt were 1) I happen to be married to a pupusa connoisseur. Betsy loves them and knows a good one from a bad one. 2) I’ve never really worked with a masa (corn) dough before. I was pretty skeptical that I’d get it right the first try.
Turns out that I was a tiny bit right. The dough did take some getting used to, but it turned out to be fine and the resulting pupusas were pretty darn tasty!
1) For the salad, blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain it and rinse it with cold water. Add to a bowl with other veggies, spices, and liquids. Stir together well and chill for at least an hour before servings.
2) For filling, chop pepper and add to a pan with butter and beans. Cook for five minutes until veggies start to soften. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and process until smooth. If you don't have a food processor you can just mash the ingredients together. Stir in grated cheese.
3) To make the pupusa dough, stir water into masa until a dough forms. Knead for a minute or two. If the dough is dry and cracking, add more water. If it's sticky, add more masa.
4) Take a small ball of dough slightly larger than a golf ball and roll it out to a six inch round. Add about two tablespoons of filling to the center. Fold pupusa dough up around filling to enclose it in dough. Gently form a ball with the dough again, being careful to keep the filling enclosed.
5) Carefully flatten the pupusa out a second time. Try to get it about 6 inches across. If the pupusa cracks a lot, that means your dough is too dry.
6) Cook pupusas in a dry skillet or on a dry griddle for about 4-5 minutes on medium high heat.
Serve with avocado and curtido salad.
Pupusas on their own don’t exactly make a meal to me. Luckily they don’t make a meal to South Americans either so they are almost always served with a cabbage-based salad called “curtido.” If you’ve never had it before it’s kind of a South American kimchee. If you’ve never had kimchee then go buy some freakin’ kimchee.
Anyway, so it’s basically a spicy cabbage salad and definitely one of my favorite things.
For the salad, slice up a whole head of cabbage. No need to slice it really thinly. Just kind of roughly shred it.
Dunk all these shreds in boiling water for about 30 seconds. You just want to lightly blanch them. They should be plenty crunchy still though. Then drain the cabbage and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking.
Also, get your spices ready. This is a great spice mix. It has some spice to it and a good amount of sweetness and saltiness.
Once your cabbage is blanched, just mix it in a bowl with the other veggies and stir in all your spices. Add your oil, vinegar, and water and stir it together really well.
Let this chill in the fridge for at least an hour, but you could make it a day in advance without a problem. I’m still eating on mine 4 days after making the pupusas and it’s great. Even better than on day one actually.
You could used canned refried beans for this filling, but I wanted to make my own because I find that it comes out a bit more flavorful. All I did was chop up a green pepper and add it to a pan with some butter and a can of rinsed kidney beans. I cooked this for about 5 minutes until the veggies were starting to soften.
Next, add a pinch of salt and pepper and add these to a food processor. Pulse the bean mixture until it’s smooth.
Then stir in your grated cheese and your filling is done!
If you don’t have a food processor or you’re just too lazy to bust it out, there’s no reason why this recipe needs completely processed beans. You could just roughly mash them together with the cheese and call it good. If you do that though be sure to dice your green peppers a lot smaller than I did in the above pic.
Making the Pupusas
Ok. The moment of truth. Can I master this dough? The recipe for the dough is about as easy as it gets. Masa and water. Easy enough.
The thing that takes experience (as with all doughs) is knowing the consistency that you want out of the dough. Too dry and the dough will crack a lot and not seal up well around the filling. Too wet and it’ll just turn to mush.
I would start the dough with about 2 parts masa to 1 part water and adjust from there. Stir the water into the masa and once it forms a ball, knead it for a minute or two. Remember that corn masa doesn’t have gluten in it, so you’re not trying to develop flexibility in the dough, you’re just trying to evenly distribute the water and masa.
Once you get an even dough ball, rip off a small ball of dough (a bit larger than a golf ball) and try to flatten it out. If it cracks a lot around the edges, then your dough needs more water. If it’s soggy and sticky, you need more masa.
Once you get a good consistency, flatten the dough out into about a six inch round. Then add about two tablespoons of bean filling right in the center.
Once your filling is in the center, close the edges up around the filling so it forms a ball again. This time, however, the filling is in the direct center of the ball. Once that’s done, carefully flatten out the ball again and you’ll end up with a flat disk that has a bean filling right in the middle!
NOTE: If you’ve never worked with masa before, this will take you a few tries to get right. You’re not gonna nail it on the first try. If you look at my above one which was my first pupusa ever, there are all kinds of cracks around the edges. That means my dough was too dry. They will still cook up okay, but it gives you clues on how to adjust the dough for the next one.
I cooked this pupusa as a tester (and because I was hungry). It turned out okay, but I knew right away that my dough was too dry. There were cracks in it and the dough was kind of thick in spots because I wasn’t able to flatten it out enough.
Still, not shabby though. Completely edible.
What I found helped for the dough was to keep a bowl of water by my work station. As I worked with each small ball of dough, I would rub some water over it which would loosen it up a bit. That helped a lot.
Cooking the Pupusas
Once you get the dough right, you can really start banging these out. Luckily cooking these guys is the easy part. Just throw them on a griddle or in a pan with no oil or anything. The corn is really resilient and won’t burn or anything. You want to cook these over a medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side.
Once you get the hang of it, you can have some cooking while you’re making others. It’s a little pupusa assembly line of sorts.
Serve these guys with some of the curtido and sliced avocado.
I think to really nail these guys, I need to watch an old El Salvadorian grandmother make them. But Betsy gave mine a satisfactory rating which isn’t so bad for my first try.
Anyone made pupusas before? Leave a comment with tips!