Pupusas: Stuffed Corn Tortillas

Papusa recipe

​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  • Total: 45 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: About 6 pupusas

Originating in El Salvador, pupusas are a traditional dish made of corn tortillas that can be stuffed with a few different ingredients. When they are stuffed with cheese they are called pupusas de queso; they can also be filled with beans and/or Salvadoran-style chicharrón (shredded pork). A pupusa revuelta has all three fillings. Pupusas are usually eaten with your bare hands, but be careful, as the filling inside the corn tortillas is very hot when served immediately. 

If you are having a hard time finding traditional quesillo cheese, a Salvadoran cheese, don't fret. You can substitute with other types of cheeses, such as queso fresco, mozzarella, or farmer's cheese, or even Monterey Jack.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups masa harina (corn flour for making tortillas)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Optional: 1/2 cup refried beans
  • Optional: 1 cup chicharrón
  • 1 cup grated quesillo
  • Vegetable oil (for oiling hands and skillet)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for papusas
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  2. In a large bowl, mix the masa harina with the water and salt, stirring well. Add more water if necessary to obtain a soft dough that does not crack around the edges when flattened.

    Mix masa harina with water
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  3. Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes.

    Let dough rest
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  4. If using the refried beans and/or the pork, place in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. The consistency should be like a paste.

    Place in blender
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  5. Divide the dough into about 6 pieces.

    Divide the dough
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  6. Lightly oil your hands to keep the dough from sticking to them (just a small amount of vegetable oil will do). Form each piece of dough into a ball, then make an indentation in the ball.

    Lightly oil your hands
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  7. Place the cheese, beans, pork, or a combination of fillings in the indentation, and carefully wrap dough around the filling to seal.

    Place bean, cheese, pork in center
    ​The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  8. Flatten the ball into a disk, about 1/4-inch thick, being careful to keep the filling from leaking out of the edges. This can take a little practice.

    Flatten a ball into a disk
    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  9. Wipe a very small amount of oil onto the surface of a heavy skillet (cast iron works well). Heat the skillet over medium heat, and place the pupusas in the skillet.

    Wipe oil
    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  10. Once the bottom of the pupusa is browned, flip over and cook the other side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

    Flip papusa
    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  11. Remove from heat and serve warm with a side of pickled cabbage slaw (curtido) and tomato sauce (salsa roja).

    Papusas on plate
    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
  12. Enjoy!

    Enjoy
    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Pupusas vs. Arepas

Although pupusas resemble arepas, the two South American specialties are different from one another. Pupusas are from El Salvador while arepas are a signature dish in Venezuela and Columbia. They are both griddle-cooked corn cakes, but the dough for pupusas is made with nixtamalized (alkaline-treated) corn, which gives them the same distinctive nutty corn flavor as tortillas and tamales. Arepas are made with masarepa, a special cornmeal, making this hand-held treat creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

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