cheese pupusas with pickled slaw

We were in the car on our way to go surfing last weekend when Jordan turned to me and said, “Let’s make pupusas”. “Sure, let’s do it,” I replied without blinking an eye. It was decided, pupusas for dinner. What about the winding drive up Highway 1 made him think of pupusas, I have no idea. What I do know is that when you’ve been cooking and writing about it long enough, you tend to dive headfirst into this type of thing. We stopped questioning each other’s food whims long ago. Semi-obscure regional dish, why not. Grind our own meat for a three pound loaf of country pate, seems reasonable. Wedding cake in one hundred square feet of kitchen, it’ll be fun. Unlike most other areas of my life, the kitchen seems to be the place where I have the guts to just go for it. No questions, no fear, no regrets. Behold, PUPUSAS!


Now isn’t that pretty. Maybe I should get ‘no fear, no regrets’ and a sexy papusa tattooed on my arm as a reminder to be more adventurous in the rest of my life …

Pupusas are traditional dish from El Salvador. They’re basically a corn dough that is filled with a mixture of cheese, beans or braised meat, flattened into a half inch thick disc and then pan fried or cooked on a grill.  Although I do indeed have an adorable Salvadoran grandma, I haven’t yet had the chance to learn how to make pupusas autenticas. It’s on my list, but in the meantime, I’m working off of this recipe. It’s a fusion of a several recipes found on the internet, and despite it’s lack of pedigree it turned out pretty dang delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with cheesy corn bread topped with tangy spicy slaw, wouldn’t you agree?

Pupusas de Queso con Curtido 
For the pupusas
2 cups masa harina (Maseca is a common brand, Bob’s Red Mill also makes one)
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated mozzarella, monterey jack or quesillo cheese
butter or oil for cooking them

First, grate the cheese. Then make the masa. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, salt and warm water. Using your hands, mix the dough until a soft and just slightly sticky dough forms. You’ll just need to knead it for a minute or two. If it is too crumbly, add some more water. If it is too wet, add a few tablespoons of masa harina. Let the dough sit for 10 – 15 minutes to let the masa harina fully hydrate.


Shape the dough into eight 2″ balls. Press your thumb into the center of the ball and pinch it into a bowl shape using your thumb and fingers. Fill the hole with about a tablespoon of cheese (or other filling like refried beans or braised pork). Pinch the edges of the bowl closed to cover the cheese. Then flatten the ball into a disc using your hands. Flatten a until the disc is about 1/3″ thick. Repeat with the rest of the balls of masa. Refrigerate until you’re ready to fry up the pupusas.

pupusa collage

We made this little video of how to shape the pupusas if my explanation above confuses more than it helps. Cinematography is not a strength here at the Answer is Always Pork, but this will get the job done.

For the curtido
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thinly
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes


In a large bowl, combine the sliced cabbage, carrot and onion. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, oregano and chili flake. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the cabbage mixture. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt some butter or heat some oil. Cook the pupusas, about 5 minutes per side, until golden brown all over and deep brown in spots. You’ll see the cheese start to ooze out of them. Serve topped with the curtido, plus some guacamole, crema and salsa if you’re a Californian and bastardizing traditional foodstuffs is right up your alley. Buen provecho!