Pupusas & Curtido
If you’re following along with our adventures, you know that we recently developed a terrific recipe for refried beans. It’s a rich, creamy mash infused with subtle spice — and meaty smoke, thanks to a generous amount of bacon fat. It also makes a ton of beans, which got us thinking, “What to do with the leftovers?” Make pupusas, of course.
Pupusas are one of our favorite Salvadoran street foods. They’re wildly comforting and really fun to make with kids. Basically, you roll up little balls of masa dough, flatten them out, wrap them around a filling — in our version, refried beans and Jack cheese — and then flatten them again. It’s a very satisfying project.
We do have one note from the test kitchen: Your masa dough might crack when you press it around the filling. That’s okay, in fact it’s kind of wonderful. In the skillet, the pupusas fry up golden brown and puffy. And we love it when some of the melty cheese bubbles out of the cracks and sizzles and crisps, like cheese will do on a hot skillet. It only makes them better.
Traditionally, pupusas are served with curtido, a fermented cabbage slaw. We made our version without the familiar vinegar for a little less tangy, a little more savory profile. But, like many recipes, it does have cabbage, carrots, jalapeño, and loads of fresh oregano. Don’t skip it! It’s super crunchy, a little spicy, and just exactly the veggie note the pupusas need. What a bite: the light sweetness of the corn, the deep savoriness of the beans, the melty, toasty cheese, and the fresh, summer brightness of the slaw. We could eat a million of them.
Our tips: The curtido needs to ferment for 48 hours, so make it ahead of time. If you’re in a pinch, you could sub in a quicker slaw, like our crunchy, mildly spicy Cilantro Slaw. If you don’t have leftover refried beans, a can of beans will work too.
Spray oil, for surfaces
3 cups Bob’s Red Mill masa harina
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 ½ cups hot water
1 ½ cups refried beans
3 oz shredded Gelson’s Monterey Jack cheese
2 tsp grapeseed oil, for brushing the skillet
Curtido, for serving (recipe below)
Salsa roja, for serving
Lightly spray a sheet pan with oil and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the masa harina and salt. Stir in the hot water until all of the flour is evenly hydrated, about 1 minute. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together the beans and cheese. Set aside.
After 10 minutes, the dough will be sticky, but workable. Spray some oil onto a work surface and on your hands to prevent sticking. Turn the dough onto the counter and gently knead it into a ball.
Form the dough into a disk and cut it into 12 equal pieces using a bench scraper or knife. Roll each piece into a ball, place the balls on one side of the sheet pan, and cover them with a towel.
Spray your hands with oil again and gently flatten one ball of dough into a disk about ¼” thick. Place 2 tablespoons of the bean mixture in the center of the dough and wrap the dough around the filling, pressing the sides together to seal.
Gently press and roll the pupusa into a ball. Flatten it between your palms to create a 4” disk. It’s okay if the dough cracks or breaks a bit. Place the pupusa on the sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Lightly brush a large skillet with the grapeseed oil and heat to medium-high. When the pan is hot, add 3 or 4 pupusas, placing them 1” to 2” apart. Cook for 4 minutes on one side, flip, and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pupusas are slightly puffy.
Transfer the cooked pupusas to a platter, then repeat with the remaining pupusas.
Serve warm with curtido and salsa roja. Note: Pupusas can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat, cooking for 3 minutes on each side.
½ head green cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
Special equipment: 1-quart mason jar
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, onions, and salt. Using your hands, squeeze and press the vegetables to break them down and release their juices, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the jalapeños and oregano.
Transfer the vegetables and all of their juices to a sterilized, 1-quart mason jar. Pack the vegetables down so they are fully submerged in the liquid. Note: if needed, top the veggies with 1 to 2 tablespoons of filtered water and/or a small glass dish filled with water to keep them submerged.
Screw on the lid of the jar and store it in a cool, dark place for 24 to 48 hours. You will need to “burp,” or open the jar, every 24 hours or so. This will release some of the air that builds up so the jar doesn’t burst.
Transfer the jar to the refrigerator for an additional 24 hours. Note: You can leave the slaw in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It will continue to ferment and gain flavor with time.