Pupusas is an ancient and traditional dish from El Salvador. They are essentially stuffed tortillas. While Italians have calzones and Chinese have dumplings, both use wheat flour. Pupusas on the other hand are made with cornmeal flour (also called Masa harina) and sometimes rice flour making them a great gluten-free alternative. There are other variations in the Americas, like ‘Gorditas’ in Mexico, ‘Arepas’ in Columbia, just to name a few. They were first made by the Pipil’s tribe who lived in El Salvador back 3000 years ago. In pre-Columbian times, they were filled with squash, vegetables and herbs. Pupusas are so popular in El Salvador that there are restaurants that only serve pupusas called (you guessed it!) pupuserias. And it even has its own special day, El Día nacional de la pupusa that falls on the second Sunday of November. That’s how serious Salvadorans are about their pupusas!
Pupusas make a great appetizer or lunch. They are usually served with a type of pickled coleslaw called “curtido” and some mild tomato sauce or red salsa. When it comes to fillings, you have many options that usually combine some protein, some cheese and spices. Black beans, cheese and chilis is a classic but don’t stop there!
Pupusas can be pan fried, cooked on a griddle but they can also be baked or air-fried for a crisper result.
There are 2 types of flour to make pupusas:
Cornmeal and rice flour.
Pupusas made with cornmeal flour are often yellow, they can be made in advance and reheated later on.
Pupusas made with rice flour are lighter, they brown more and are crunchier but they must be eaten immediately because rice dough hardens when it cools down.
You want a 2 to 1 ratio, 2 cups of flour for 1 cup of water for both types of flour.
Either way you can prepare the dough in advance as it will keep refrigerated for a week.
By the way if you can’t find rice flour, you can make your own. I went to 2 stores and couldn’t find it for some reason! Then I had a duh moment in the car on the way home! It only takes a minute as long as you have a good blender and you get the same nice powdery consistency. Make sure to put the lid on before you start blending because it shoots up in the blender! Plus you get to make just what you need!
The rice flour must be mixed with hot, boiling water. So use chopsticks or a wooden spoon to avoid burning your fingers. You will need to oil your fingers to handle the dough, flatten each ball with your palms. Place some filling in the middle and carefully close the edges making sure no filling comes out.
In both cases the dough won’t be as pliable as wheat flour because it doesn’t have any gluten. So you will have to handle the dough carefully. I have found that using plastic film to roll out and fold works great and even better than using oil. It is so much cleaner and faster. You may have to add a little more water and patch the pockets if cracks appear. But no worry, they will taste just as good.
When it comes to fillings, you have so many options. Here are some of my favorites:
– black bean or refried beans + vegan cheese + spices (cumin…)
– Seasoned tvp + onions + vegan cheese
– Hash browns, cheese and pepperoncinis
– Seasoned jackfruit + herbs
– Roasted leeks + cheese + mushrooms
– Ratatouille + cheese + rosemary
Seasoned cabbage and vegetables salad a.k.a ‘curtido’
Lightly pickled vegetables are the perfect addition to pupusas. The trick is to thinly cut the cabbage and carrots using a julienne tool or a very sharp knife. Cabbage relish is easy to make and can be used with sandwiches rice you name it! It is best to prepare the salad a few hours before the meal. You may want to double the recipe, store it in a mason jar and refrigerate. A little fresh crunchy vegetables with warm filling pockets. It doesn’t get better than that!
Seasoned cabbage salad
- 1/2 cabbage thinly shredded
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 medium red or yellow minced onion
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 cup white or cider vinegar
- 3 cups boiling water
Rice flour dough
- 2 cups rice flour
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 cups tvp
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 4 oz can of chopped green chilis
- 1 cup pickled pepperoncini drained
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion minced
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup vegan shredded cheese
- 1 cup fresh minced cilantro
Prepare the seasoned cabbage salad
- Shred the half cabbage and place in a large bowl.
- Peel and julienne the 2 carrots. Add to bowl.
- Finely shred the onion and add to bowl.
- Cover with 3-4 cups of boiling water and mix with tongues to tenderize the fiber. Set aside for 5-10 minutes
- Drain well.
- Mix the salt, sugar with the white vinegar and pour over the warm vegetables.
- Place in a covered container until needed.
Prepare the filling
- Soak 2 cups of dry tvp (textured vegetable protein) in warm water for 3-5 minutes.
- Drain well by pouring the soaked tvp into a sieve and pressing down with a bowl.
- Season the rehydrated tvp with 2 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix well
- Mince the onion and panfry with 1bsp of olive oil + 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar and pinch of salt until it becomes translucent.
- Add the can of chopped green chili, mix well and cook a few minutes.
- Add to the tvp, taste and season more if needed and set aside to cool down.
- Place 1 cup of shredded vegan cheese in a bowl.
Make the dough
- Mix 2 cups of rice flour with 1 cup of hot, boiling water.
- Mix the flour using chopsticks or a wooden spoon, to avoid burning your fingers.
- Once the water is fully incorporated, set aside to cool down for a few minutes.
- Dip your fingers in a small bowl of water with a little oil to prevent the dough from sticking when making balls (size of a golf ball) and flattening them.
- You can either make balls or roll the dough into a log, then cut equal pieces and make balls.
Assemble the pupusas
- Cover your working surface with plastic film large enough to fold over the pupusas.
- Press each ball. If they come apart (rice and cornmeal have no gluten) dip your fingers in water and squeeze again until it holds together.
- Oil your fingers and place a ball on the plastic film. Fold it over and gently flatten then roll until you have a circle.
- Place some tvp filling and cheese in the middle and carefully flip the other half using the plastic and close the edges thru the plastic making sure no filling comes out.
- Repeat with the remaining balls.
- Cook on medium heat on a large frying pan with some oil making sure there is space in between each pupusa.
- Press down a little and flip after 1-2 minutes when the bottom is crisp.
- Serve hot with seasoned cabbage salad and some salsa.