I’m on the road a great deal and am always fascinated by the importance food has to a culture. It’s one of the main things which sustains us. But, more important, people come together over food. In El Salvador that food is Pupusas. A Sunday tradition for this Central American country, families and communities clamor for them, and so did I on a recent trip.
Pupusas are traditionally made from a simple dough of nearly equal parts masa and warm water with a little salt for good measure. Add the water gradually until the dough is somewhat like Playdough® but slightly looser. In the same method used to make Chinese dumplings, they are stuffed with either refried beans and cheese, or a fried pork mixture resembling a paste made of fried pork, onions, peppers and cheese. They are then patted out to form a thick tortilla that’s then fried over high heat.
Almost as important is the cortido that’s served alongside the pupusas. Cortido is very much like coleslaw made with vinegar or fermented like kraut to cut the pupusa’s richness for a perfectly balanced dish.
Suchitoto is the cultural capital of El Salvador and home to Casa 1800. This hotel/restaurant is also a go-to for pupusa-making classes. The hideaway shared their secrets with me. The main thing to remember is that like people, pupusas may have their flaws, but are beautiful in their own right. Don’t get sideways if you don’t master them on the first try. I sure haven’t.
Here are Casa 1800’s tips for making pupusas:
Dough: Initially, you need to decide the dough base. You can choose among rice and corn. Typical and authentic is corn. Firstly you boil the corn mixed with lime ( we call this process “Nixtamalización”, and was originated in Mesoamerica) and once the corn is soft, you need to wash it and then it is ready for the grinder. In El Salvador, we use public grinders where women go with “Huacales” (bowls) with the corn. There you obtain the dough. Or, simply you can buy the flour and mix it with water and be ready.
Stuffing: Typical Pupusas are stuffed with three main ingredients: Smashed beans (you can obtain them in the grinder too), Chicharron (smashed pork meat) and Cheese (Special cheese called “Quesillo” with a similar texture than Mozarella Cheese, you can choose among one ingredient or mix them (Pupusas Revueltas). Modern versions of pupusa allow you to add smashed chicken, green pumpkin, shrimp, garlic, spinach, mushrooms (normally mixed with quesillo), cheese and Loroco (local plant). You can get this ingredients easily in the local markets or supermarkets.
Preparation: You will need definetely so much dough and less of the stuffing, so you can decide by your own the proportions:
- The griddle is where you will put the pupusas. Or, an old-fashioned way is with “Comal”– a handicraft griddle made of mud. Make sure it’s clean and put moderate oil or animal fat over the griddle just for avoiding sticking.
- Take the dough in your hands and knead it forming a thick, circular tortilla.
- Put the stuffing ingredients in the centre of the tortilla.
- The most difficult part comes next. You need to close the dough getting all the ingredients inside, Take the borders of the tortillas and try to form a ball. Take the ball carefully and knead it as a circle again , avoiding the stuffing to come out the sides. Do not forget that practice makes perfect.
- Put the pupusa over the griddle and let it cook approximately 05 minutes per side. Pupusas are ready when the color white changes to gold/beige. Do not burn them.
- Pupusas are ready to eat hot! Use your hands…MANDATORY:)
Note: Pupusas are not complete if you don’t have the garnish: Tomato Sauce and Curtido. Curtido is finely-cut cabbage with vinegar, spices and other vegetables. Some people like hot peppers. The acid flavor makes a contrast with the other flavors on the plate.