Even though pupusas have their very own national day in El Salvador—the second Sunday of November—they are eaten year-round. They are versatile, easy to make, and above all delicious. Make them for a family dinner or to serve visiting guests.
As with many other Latin American dishes, the base of the dish is corn. Pupusas are similar to Colombian and Venezuelan arepas as well as Mexican gorditas while being entirely their own thing.
A good pupusa should be smooth, not crackly, and should hold the filling neatly. However, if a little bit of the cheese leaks out and touches the griddle, then count yourself lucky. That’s the best bite of them all.
When to Serve Pupusas
Pupusas are both a popular street fair food and homemade comfort food. They are meant to be eaten handheld with little to no regard for the cheesy juiciness that will slip down your hands—a fork and knife won’t do.
In fact, pupusas are best enjoyed as a vessel for curtido, a pickled and slightly fermented cabbage slaw that’s usually served alongside, adding a tangy and zingy touch to the dish.
What Kind of Masa to Use for Pupusas
Pupusas are traditionally made with masa, a moist dough made from freshly ground nixtamalized corn. Most households today use convenient masa harina or masa flour, a shelf-stable ingredient that can be mixed with water to create masa.
It is important to know that masa harina is different from the precooked corn flour known as masarepa that is used for arepas. Masa harina is the same type of flour that is used for making tortillas.
Nixtamalization is the key element differentiating these different types of corn flours found at the market. Nixtamalization is an ancient technique that is still used today, and it is the process responsible for the nutty, deep flavor that tortillas and pupusas have that can’t be achieved with fresh corn.
Some common brands of masa harina are Maseca and Bob’s Red Mill, which are readily available at most supermarkets or online.
Pupusas can be filled with pretty much anything you like, but normally they are filled with salty, melty cheese and refried beans. Shredded pork or pork crackling are excellent choices, too.
If using ingredients other than shredded cheese and refried beans (such as pork), pulse a couple of times in the food processor to make for a softer and more cohesive filling. This helps ensure your pupusas won’t crack.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Homemade Pupusas
- Hydrate your dough with hot water. Cold water will not absorb evenly and the starches will start to form clumps.
- Use a soft filling. Your filling should be just as soft as your dough—if you use a brittle filling your pupusas will crack.
- Wet your hands with a mixture of cold water and vegetable oil. This will allow you to easily manipulate the soft dough.
- Try a shortcut. While you can easily shape pupusas by hand, you can also use a plastic bag and a glass to make them more even. Simply place the filled ball inside a bag and press down evenly with the bottom of your glass.
- Keep them thin. Your pupusas shouldn’t be too thick, otherwise they will burn before the cheese inside melts.
- Use a grill plate or griddle if you have one. It’s the best way to cook your pupusas since you’ll be able to cook several of them at a time. Make sure it has plenty of oil.
- Don’t move the pupusas on the griddle until a crust has formed. This will help keep them from sticking.
Storing and Freezing Pupusas
Uncooked pupusa dough does not store well since the corn can easily ferment. Store cooked pupusas in a covered container in the fridge for a day, reheating them in a pan.
Pupusas can also be made ahead of time and frozen for up to a month. Shape your pupusas and par-cook them just until a crust forms on each side, then wrap them individually in plastic and freeze. Cook from frozen, adding a couple of extra minutes to the cooking time.