Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Community Table: El Salvadorian Pupusas!

I have been meaning to do more posts under the title Community Table.   I am a pretty good cook but only because I am so inspired by other great cooks I come in contact with.

This past weekend I had the honor of bringing the most delicious home-made pupusas to a party.  Some guests  already had heard of or tried them before but most had not.  Either way, once I uncovered them they barely made it to the table.  I thought I would cut them up and serve them as appetizers.  They were snatched up too fast.  One by one guests were first biting into these warm, stuffed, tortilla-like patties then asking "Wow, what is this?" (instead of the other way around).

I must admit, if you hand me anything stuffed with melted cheese I am yours.  My husband could have proposed on the second date with a jalapeno popper.  I like to tell people I fell in love with Rome because of the grand history of architecture that make up the city but it may very well have been the suppli`.  I might even swoon over a really good grilled cheese sandwich.  Let's add pupusas to this list.  Although melted cheese is not their only charm.  The typical pupusa you will find in this country is usually filled with queso, frijoles and chicharon or in other words cheese, beans and pork. But as Maria told me in El Salvador you may find more of a variety of fillings such as shrimp, small fish or zucchini.

Maria is the lovely lady in the picture above who showed me how she makes her pupusas.  She has been generous enough to show me how these wonderful snacks are made.

The dough of the pupusa is made with corn masa, which is like a cornmeal.  It is mixed with water to make a dough-like consistency.  The cup is filled with corn oil that you will add on the surface of the pupusa just before it goes on the griddle. 
Maria shows me how to pat the dough, turning it in a circle so the form is even on all sides.  We dip our hands in a bowl of water to keep the dough from sticking to our fingers.
We are filling the pupusas with cheese first. Maria uses a shredded mozzarella but I think most mild cheeses that melt well will work.  Then there are black beans that have been pureed to a paste.  The third mixture is pork.  The ground pork is cooked first and then pureed with raw onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. These three ingredients will melt together perfectly on the griddle.
Then Maria showed me how to carefully close the masa dough around the filling and then use the same circular patting motion to reshape it into a disc.  Maria does this expertly but to be honest I need a little practice.  The masa is very soft and it takes a skilled and gentle hand.
These are cooked on a cast iron griddle that goes right over the stovetop.  You don't want to forget to smear a little bit of corn oil on the surface of the papusa before you put it on the grill.  It isn't too different than cooking pancakes.  It takes a couple of minutes for each side to set and get some good toasty color.
There are two condiments that go with papusas and, please, do not forego them.  It is a mistake.  They are simple but they add a subtle complexity to the dish.  On the left is like a slaw that is made with cabbage that has been steamed in boiling water, then tossed with carrots, onions and a dash of white vinegar and oregano. On the right is a simple, salted tomato puree.

So if you are in Brooklyn, think about bringing some papusas to your next party!



  1. mmmmmm....i ate them in honduras too.
    ps- i agree with the melted cheese thing stephanie!

  2. I heart pupusas! Watching them made is like a work of art.
    (this is Emily Cannon, btw. Won't let me log into my google acct.)