Features

Pupusas

The best Salvadoran snack you may not know - but should.

Pupusa topped with tomato sauce, with a serving of curtido alongside. Photo credit: Barbara Hansen
Barbara Hansen

Barbara Hansen

Barbara travels widely and write about food, Mexican food, wine and travel. When she cooks, it is almost always ethnic.

The stages of making chicharron. First, raw pork with fat, then seasoned fried pork, then blended fine for the pupusa filling. Photo credit: Barbara Hansen

Chicharrón Pupusas

Alicia Maher

Alicia Maher

Stock photo

Pupusas originated centuries ago with the Pipil people of El Salvador and were officially named the national dish in 2005. The name comes from the indigenous language Nahuat and can mean “stuffed” or “puffy.” In early days, pupusas were filled with beans, vegetables, blossoms and seafood, which are abundant in El Salvador. The conquering Spaniards contributed pork and cheese, making possible the pupusas we enjoy today.

Preparation

1. Rinse the pork in water. In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the pork, 473 ml (2 cups) cold water, garlic, and salt. Bring everything to a boil, and reduce heat to medium. Cook uncovered, stirring once in a while, until all the water has evaporated, about 30-45 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves from the saucepan and discard.

2. At this point, the pork pieces will begin to render their own fat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook the pork until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove chicharrones from the saucepan, set aside.

3. Over low heat, in the same saucepan and drippings, add the onion, stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the tomato, green bell pepper, black pepper, and the fried pork; combine well and correct the salt. Cover and cook everything for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

4. Place this mixture in a food processor and grind until very fine, almost like a paste. Put on a plate, cover and use right away. It is important that the filling is at room temperature. If too cold, it will not spread evenly.

5. Place the corn masa flour in a shallow bowl. Mix in 473 ml (2 cups) of water, 237 ml (1 cup) at a time. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes until the masa is moist and fluffy. If needed, add more water, 30 ml (1 tablespoon) at a time.

6. Over medium to high heat, start heating a non-stick griddle or large heavy skillet. Have 237 ml (1 cup) of water ready to moisten your hands.

7. Divide the masa into 8 equal small balls. Hold one masa ball in the palm of your hand, push the center with your thumb and fingers to make a hole and fill it with about 30 ml (1 tablespoon) of chicharrón. Close the top by bringing the edges together.

8. Wet your hands, then gently press and pat the pupusa between your palms, keeping the edges thin. Flatten into a round about 8 cm (3 inches) in diameter and about .6 cm (¼ inch) thick. Do not worry if a bit of the filling comes out. Gently place the pupusas on the hot griddle, or skillet, and cook for about 6 minutes on each side. Turn over often to ensure even cooking. The pupusas are ready when they puff up and turn slightly golden. Serve with Curtido (pickled cabbage, onions, and carrots) and House Tomato Sauce.

Salsa Casera (House Tomato Sauce)

Alicia Maher

Alicia Maher

Salsa Casera (House Tomato Sauce) Photo credit: Barbara Hansen

This versatile tomato sauce is served with many dishes, including traditional favorites like pupusas, Salvadoran empanadas and fried yuca. It also makes a delicious dipping sauce.

 

Preparation

  1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine 237 ml (1 cup) water, tomatoes, chicken bouillon, garlic cloves, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, annatto, salt, and pepper. Bring  to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove from the stove and let cool.

2. Pour the cooled tomato mixture into a blender or food processor and blend on high for 2 minutes or until smooth. Return the blended sauce to the stove over medium to high heat. Stirring continuously, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and cook for 10 minutes. Correct the salt, and let cool. Sprinkle the dried oregano on top before serving. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Curtido (Pickled Cabbage, Onions, and Carrots)

Alicia Maher

Alicia Maher

Curtido, a relish served alongside pupusas. Photo credit: Barbara Hansen

Curtido is a must when serving pupusas, crispy fried yuca and pork, or empanadas. The sour-pickled flavor of the cabbage, onions, and carrots is a perfect complement to savory foods.

Preparation

1. In a large ceramic bowl or glass jar with a lid, combine the cabbage, carrots, onion, vinegar, oregano, salt, peppercorn,s and chili flakes, if using.  Stir to combine.

2. Cover tightly with lid or plastic wrap. Marinate overnight before serving. Curtido can be stored in the refrigerator up to 5 days.