The day I met the Pupusa was one of the happiest days of my life! I became a traitor that day – falling in love with something I could not have – giving my allegiance to another country’s cuisine. I was a Peace Corp Volunteer on vacation in Guatemala from Honduras where food is more practical than delicious. After a year of vainly searching for something satisfying and vegetarian, I had finally found a Central American foodstuff I could love. I found the Pupusa!
It was December 1994 and Jeff and I were strolling through the Plaza Central in Antigua, Guatemala when we saw a woman making these fat stuffed tortillas. Central America is famous for making a thicker pancake-like tortilla than the paper-thin Mexican version, but these were downright chubby. We watched mesmerized as she took a ball of masa (corn flour dough), patted it out into a little cup formed in the palm of her hand, stuffed it with cheese and other savories, then sealed it all up. Then she skillfully smack, smack, smacked it back and forth in her hands forming it into a fat tortilla and tossed it on the comal, a griddle in Latin America. When they were perfectly crisp and piping hot, she served them up on a piece of brown paper along with some spicy pickled cabbage and hot sauce. This was the pocket sandwich of my dreams!
It turns out the Pupusa is the national street food of El Salvador, and despite a trip to that country, we never ate Pupusas again in Central America. Many times, since our return to the States, have I tried to recreate the Pupusa. But not until today, have I been successful! And there is a trick – a secret Pupusa trick – oil! The Pupusa maker needs a little bit of oil on the finger tips when forming the final Pupusa tortilla, and had it not been for YouTube, I think I very well could have lived out the rest of my life attempting, unsuccessfully to make the Pupusa.
These little delicacies are worth every minute of preparation, but I recommend a little YouTube viewing before you begin. Here are some links to check out:
La Masa – Corn Flour Dough
Smashed Black Beans
One Pupusa to go
La Masa – The Dough
Note: If you live in an area with Latino markets, you can buy fresh masa which is better than Maseca. Mercado Central in Minneapolis sells masa in bags at the Tortilleria.
4 cups Maseca tortilla flour
About 5 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
canola oil in a bowl for finger dipping
Directions: Mix the dough in a bowl adding the water until the dough is soft and doesn’t break apart when you test-run a tortilla. The edges will crack open a little, but you want enough water so the tortillas don’t totally break apart.
I think it is safe to say you could put nearly anything in a Pupusa as long as it is not too wet. Today I used mashed black beans and fresh mozzarella that I ran through the food processor.
If you are not well practiced with the smack, smack smacking of tortilla formation, I recommend you use two pieces of plastic wrap and a flat round plastic lid to form them. Once you fill the Pupusa and close the dough around the filling, form it into a flattened disk by placing it between the plastic sheets and gently pressing on it with the plastic lid. Remove the top sheet of plastic, and with your finger, close all the cracked edges of the Pupusa. Again, there are lots of demonstrations on YouTube to help you through the process. Enjoy!