El Salvador

Tonight we were given a gift. My mom offered to keep our one year old, Micah, for the evening and bring him home at bedtime. After a very successful meal from Azerbaijan we were eager to get to the kitchen and make our Salvadoran food. I can’t remember the last time that we’ve had four hours to cook without the constant distraction of a little boy running around and it was a treat, a pure and simple treat.

 
We poured margaritas, because they probably drink margaritas in El Salvador, right? And a night without a busy one year old definitely calls for an adult beverage. My husband makes a perfect classic margarita with tequila, fresh lime juice, agave, and homemade orange liqueur. Check out the recipe below for the ratios to make one at home. If you don’t have a partner in your household who is always concocting liqueurs, you can substitute Triple Sec for the homemade stuff. It is not uncommon in our house to have peels of oranges or grapefruits drying on plates around the kitchen, foraged roots soaking to make bitters, or a bundle of herbs tied up with a string and hanging in my sunroom to dry. Colin is consistently curious about how things are made and tries to bring them down to their simplest form. I’m consistently curious why my house never feels clean and tidy.  

This week we are in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. If you are a lover of all things taco, burrito, enchilada, and tostada, I can tell you with confidence that the pupusa is a meal that has been missing from your life. Whether you make the recipe below or find a restaurant in your area to order one, I encourage you to give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Pupusas were at the top of most searches for cuisine from El Salvador and everything about them sounded incredible. From what I read and tasted, a pupusa is a bit like a quesadilla that is surrounded on all sides by the tortilla. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had. Something magical happens when you cook the tortilla like dough around flavorful and delicious fillings. 

For the pork filling we used a recipe from How to Feed a Loon.  It’s not specifically a recipe for pupusa filling, but we knew it was a good one. We’ve made their tamales before and it just feels authentic as you rip dried Guajillo peppers and smush them into a paste. You can sense how flavorful it will be before you take a bite. This pork recipe takes a long time. If you are looking for a faster weeknight meal it would be wise to prepare the filling ahead of time. In any case, make sure you start cooking this meal long before you are hungry. 

Once the pork was in and simmering we whipped up the dough. It’s a bit like making corn tortillas but a slightly different texture. The texture we were going for was a Play-Doh consistency. I’ve made a lot of doughs, some successful and some wildly unsuccessful. I would say this is on the easier side of the dough spectrum but it still takes a bit of adjusting.  If it feels too wet it probably is,  if it feels too dry it probably is.  Trust your gut and add Masa Harina or water until you get a sandy Play-Doh consistency. We rolled the dough into balls and then pressed our thumbs in to make an indentation for the filling.

Pupusa with filling before flattening

Each indent was stuffed with either pork, chicken or beans and cheese. For our chicken we just put a few breasts in the crock-pot, covered them with salsa and let them cook for several hours.  It was much easier than the pork, but I’d say it was also less flavorful than the pork. We wrapped the dough around the filling and rolled the ball to regain a spherical shape. We used our tortilla press to flatten them out to roughly 1/4in thick and prepared to pan fry them in a bit of oil. If you don’t own a tortilla press you can just flatten them by putting a plate on top and pressing down or patting them in your hands until they reach the right thickness.

Fresh out of the pan the crispy gooey little cakes were incredible. They were full of flavor and were the perfect combination of a crispy exterior and soft and delicious interior. If you are leery of trying foods from around the world because you have kids who are picky eaters, I recommend giving this one a try. Who doesn’t love melty cheese wrapped in dough and fried in oil?

A day or two before this meal, Colin and I had vowed to be healthy for a few weeks as a sort of reset to our systems…Let’s just say I don’t think these constitute as a health food but sometimes life is made for living and adding to my ‘winter warming layer.’  We’ll be healthy next time.

I’ve never had an authentic pupusa so if this is your jam and after seeing our finished product you think I’m way off base please leave me a comment with a recipe or invite me over for dinner and show me how they are really made! 

Pupusa Recipe

Yields6 Servings

 2 cups masa harina
 Pinch of salt
 1.50 cups warm water
 1 cup grated cheese: quesillo, queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella

1

Combine the masa harina, salt, and water in a mixing bowl. Knead to form a smooth, moist dough with a playdough-like consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time. If the mixture is too sticky, add more masa harina, one teaspoon at a time. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 10 minutes.

2

Form the dough into 8 balls about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small cup. Fill the opening with beans, cheese, or pork or some combination of all three. Pinch the dough back together to cover the filling. Roll the dough into a ball and press with a tortilla press or a small plate. The Pupusa should be roughly 1/4in thick. Repeat with the remaining balls.

3

Heat a shallow oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pupusas for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

Ingredients

 2 cups masa harina
 Pinch of salt
 1.50 cups warm water
 1 cup grated cheese: quesillo, queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella

Directions

1

Combine the masa harina, salt, and water in a mixing bowl. Knead to form a smooth, moist dough with a playdough-like consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time. If the mixture is too sticky, add more masa harina, one teaspoon at a time. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 10 minutes.

2

Form the dough into 8 balls about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small cup. Fill the opening with beans, cheese, or pork or some combination of all three. Pinch the dough back together to cover the filling. Roll the dough into a ball and press with a tortilla press or a small plate. The Pupusa should be roughly 1/4in thick. Repeat with the remaining balls.

3

Heat a shallow oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pupusas for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

Pupusas

Pork Filling

Yields1 Serving

 16 medium dried guajillo and/or ancho chiles stemmed, seeded and torn into rough pieces
 4 Tomatillos
 4 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
 0.50 tsp Black Pepper
 0.25 tsp Cumin
 1.50 lbs lean boneless pork shoulder or butt works well, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
 Salt

1

Add the peppers and the tomatillos to a medium sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a smooth simmer for 20 minutes.

2

Working in batches, if necessary, add the peppers, tomatillos, garlic, black pepper, cumin into a blender and puree.

3

Strain the mixture a through a medium-mesh strainer into a medium saucepan.

4

Add the meat, 3 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

5

Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the pork is fork tender and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a thick sauce, about an hour and a half.

6

Use a fork to break the pork into small pieces.

7

Taste and season with additional salt, if necessary (taste first).

8

Let cool.

Ingredients

 16 medium dried guajillo and/or ancho chiles stemmed, seeded and torn into rough pieces
 4 Tomatillos
 4 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
 0.50 tsp Black Pepper
 0.25 tsp Cumin
 1.50 lbs lean boneless pork shoulder or butt works well, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
 Salt

Directions

1

Add the peppers and the tomatillos to a medium sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a smooth simmer for 20 minutes.

2

Working in batches, if necessary, add the peppers, tomatillos, garlic, black pepper, cumin into a blender and puree.

3

Strain the mixture a through a medium-mesh strainer into a medium saucepan.

4

Add the meat, 3 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

5

Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the pork is fork tender and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a thick sauce, about an hour and a half.

6

Use a fork to break the pork into small pieces.

7

Taste and season with additional salt, if necessary (taste first).

8

Let cool.

Pork Filling

Classic Margarita

Yields4 Servings

 4 fl oz Tequila
 2 fl oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
 0.50 fl oz Agave Syrup
 0.50 fl oz Orange Liqueur (Like Triple Sec)

1

Add all ingredients and shake over ice.

2

Salt the rim of the glasses (If you don't do this regularly I highly encourage it! You'll come to love it.)

3

Pour and enjoy!

Ingredients

 4 fl oz Tequila
 2 fl oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
 0.50 fl oz Agave Syrup
 0.50 fl oz Orange Liqueur (Like Triple Sec)

Directions

1

Add all ingredients and shake over ice.

2

Salt the rim of the glasses (If you don't do this regularly I highly encourage it! You'll come to love it.)

3

Pour and enjoy!

Classic Margarita

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Remember, I’m the mom that rarely cooked… 🙂 and I want to try these! (Probably with chicken filling . . haha. No surprises there!) Where does one find masa harina?

    1. In your daughters pantry 🤣 or at Meijer! I think you’d like them!

  2. They look amazing!

    1. Thanks! I was pleased with how they turned out! The first few we fried up weren’t quite as picturesque, but we got better as we made more!

  3. Those look exactly like the ones I have had from Salvadorian cooks! We should try them at Pilar’s Tamales the next time you and Colin are in Ann Arbor, though (maybe one of every kind?!), just to make sure there is no difference (you know…for research!). 🙂 Also, Colin makes the best (and strongest) margs I have ever had… I’m glad you two got to enjoy them without any babies underfoot! Sounds like a fun night!!

    1. I’m on my way to Ann Arbor! I’d love to do alllll the research and I’d love to see you!

  4. I tried these probably a decade ago at a restaurant outside Milwaukee! Maybe I’ll have to recreate that 🙂

    1. Let me know if you try them!

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