Originally, pupusas were stuffed with herbs and vegetables, but today’s most well-known version includes meat.
On every second Sunday in November—the 12th in 2017—the hungry people of El Salvador celebrate National Pupusa Day. They honor their beloved national dish with hearty competitions, such as pupusa eating contests and attempts to shatter the Guinness world record for the largest pupusa ever made (14 feet, 9 inches in diameter as of 2015). But the true cause for celebration is the pupusa’s cultural and culinary significance to El Salvador—nearly 2,000 years in the making.
The indigenous Pipil tribe is credited with the invention of the stuffed corn tortilla, thanks to cooking implements found at archaeological sites. The Mayan ruins of Joya de Ceren have also revealed evidence of the dish, remarkably preserved under layers of volcanic ash. As with many classic Salvadoran dishes, the pupusa showcases corn as a staple of the local diet.
In pre-Columbian times, the dish was vegetarian, filled with squash and herbs. Eventually, meat made its way into the filling, where it happily remains today, though vegetarian versions are still widely available. Our recipe, courtesy of Epicurious, features the popular addition of fried pork rinds—but a simple bean-and-cheese pupusa is plenty delicious if you prefer to omit them. To round out the dish in true local fashion, serve alongside cabbage slaw and a spicy tomato sauce.
You can see the experts prepare a deep-fried version of this dish in a film following the recipe, and download an easy-to-print PDF.
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
- 1 cup cooked small red beans or kidney beans, rinsed and drained if canned
- 1 cup finely chopped chicharrón (fried pork rind)
- 4 cups corn tortilla flour (masa harina)
- 3 cups water at room temperature
- Toss together cheese, beans, pork rind, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl with your hands, then press mixture firmly into 16 (1 1/2-inch) balls (for filling).
- Combine tortilla flour, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and knead with your hands until a uniform dough forms, about 1 minute. (Dough should be moist but not sticky. If necessary, knead a little more tortilla flour or water into dough.) Flatten 1/4 cup dough between moistened palms into a 4-inch disk. Wrap disk around a ball of filling, enclosing it, and form into a smooth ball. Re-flatten between your palms into a 4-inch disk (1/2 inch thick; filling should remain hidden). Put on a tray lined with plastic wrap and cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Make 15 more pupusas.
- Heat a comal or large (2-burner) griddle over medium-low heat until hot, at least 2 minutes. Brush lightly with oil, then cook pupusas in batches, turning and pressing lightly with a metal spatula every 2 to 3 minutes, until crusty and browned in spots (some cheese may ooze out), 10 to 12 minutes total per batch. Serve immediately.
Pupusas can be formed (but not cooked) 2 hours ahead and chilled, covered with plastic wrap. Pupusas are best eaten right away but can be kept warm in a 250°F oven while cooking remaining batches. Recrisp on comal 1 minute per side before serving.
While the pupusas are pan-fried in the recipe above, they can also be deep fried—as shown in this film from Epicurious.
Sample authentic pupusas and other Salvadoran specialties when you join O.A.T. for Route of the Maya.