One fine evening in Costa Rica, Alex told me not to cook and that he’d be bringing something home for dinner. He brought home some frozen pupusas. He explained that they were a traditional Salvadorian food, made from masa harina (a type of corn flour). They are fried, doughy circles which might be filled with cheese, beans or meat. They are usually served with a kind of pickled cabbage salad called curtido. They are typical to El Salvador in the same way that arepas are typical to Venezuela.
Alex came home that night and served me my first pupusa. I was delighted. They were just delicious. The curtido on top contrasted really well with the savoury pupusa. That was the only pupusa I ate in Latin America as I ate it towards the end of my time there. We actually transited through El Salvador at one stage. If only I knew about pupusas then.
Upon returning to Australia, we discovered a local Latin restaurant called Los Latinos, run by salvadoreños and yes, pupusas are on the menu. We also regularly attend local Latin events and festivals throughout Melbourne, and always make an effort to seek out the Salvadorian food stores to enjoy a delicious lunch of cheese and bean pupusas with fried yuca (cassava). Yum! For this reason, pupusas for us are a special occasion food only.
A few months ago Alex attempted to make empanadas. We were unsure what the equivalent of masa harina was here, so we tried using cornflour. They tasted okay, but the cornflour didn’t have the same taste. I decided to head to the local Latin grocery store, Casa Iberica, and there I found a huge 2kg bag of masa. I believe the difference between this and cornflour is that masa harina is made from hominy corn. This flour is used for empanadas, tamales and arepas as well.
I had a day off work recently and decided I should start using this masa in order to finish it by its expiry date. For some reason I decided I wanted to make pupusas rather than empanadas. They looked easier. And they were. To be honest, the most painful part was the four hours it took to cook the beans.
And the taste? Well, Alex told me they taste just like the real ones. Very happy with the results, although I realise I needed to flatten them just a little more. Alex also made some curtido to complete the meal. It really is an imperative addition to the dish.
- 2 cups masa harina*
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tbsp cumin
- salt, to taste
- 4 tsp oil, for frying
- ½ cup cooked black beans, mashed
- 30g (1oz) grated cheese
- ½ head cabbage, chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- ½ red onion, chopped
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp brown sugar
- ⅛ cup vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Mix together, then refrigerate for 2 hours prior to serving.
- Sift the masa harina into a bowl. Add the cumin, salt and water. Mix ingredients together, then use hands to make an even ball of dough.
- Take ½ cup of dough to form a ball of about 8cm. Roll and flatten with your hands. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Add the filling to the centre of each pupusa.
- Take a pupusa and carefully wrap the edges up over the top of the filling, until the filling is neatly inside the pupusa. This is a bit fiddly but it can be done. Repeat with remaining pupusas. Flatten pupusas so they are about ½cm-1cm thick.
- Heat 2 tsp oil on a medium frypan. Cook three pupusas at a time, for about 3 minutes on each side. Repeat with remaining oil.
- Served topped with curtido.