During my time teaching cooking to high school students, I had a specific set of lessons to cover, as well as weekly meal preparation for luncheons and other catered functions. However, we still had the occasional free day to have a little fun. I figured that the kids would be more interested in an activity if we cooked something they actually like to eat, so I asked each period for the students to let me know what they’d like to learn how to cook. What kids don’t imagine telling a teacher what to do, right?
So, almost unanimously, students asked to learn how to make pupusas. I hadn’t heard of them before, and most of the students could only tell me that it was comfort food that they’d eaten all their lives. But they had no idea what was in them. Or how to make them. (The few who had experience making them opened up eventually. You know, after I’d successfully and thoroughly made an idiot of myself. 😉 )
Fortunately for me, I had Wikipedia! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupusa
Pupusas are stuffed cornmeal cakes made with Maseca–specially ground cornmeal that can be found in pretty much any grocery store–a pinch of salt, and water. It can be served alongside a slaw, but my students were partial to a salsa made from placing tomatoes, peppers, onions in a food processor to achieve a roughly chopped consistency, and cooking them with Sazón by Goya (those aforementioned students who had some knowledge on the subject were emphatic about that point, Goya brand is best for this recipe).
After six years of making pupusas with students, they have become one of my comfort foods. They are tasty, versatile, can be made in sizes ranging from appetizer to main course, and are fairly simple to make. In addition to topping with salsa, in one picture above you can also see I topped cooked pupusas with sauce and cheese to make a ‘stuffed pupusa pizza.’
Copyright 2010 Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)
~ 2 cups Maseca cornmeal
~ up to 2 cups water
~ pinch salt
~ 1/2 cup shredded soft cheese, such as mozzarella
~ oil for sautéing
~ Place the Maseca and salt in a bowl, lightly stir to distribute.
~ Using your hands, begin incorporating the water, starting with one cup and adding as you knead the dough. You want to have dough that has, essentially, the consistency of play-doh. You’ll be able to form smaller balls that are pliable and don’t crack.
~ Divide the dough into equal portions of the size you desire, and form them into balls. The pictured dough balls are from dividing the dough into 8 pieces.
~ Place a ball into a plastic bag and lay on a flat surface. Then, with a flat and solid plate, flatten the ball to a disc of 1/2 inch-thick consistency. Repeat with all dough balls until you have all discs completed.
~ Divide the cheese into the same amount of portions as the dough discs, and place some cheese on top of each disc, being careful not to use too much filling. For instance, for a disc that’s 3 inches wide, you want no more than 1 tablespoon of filling.
~ With lightly wet hands, gently fold up all of the edges of the dough disc and keep working until the dough encapsulates the filling entirely, smoothing any rough edges and reforming the disc shape. Repeat until all discs are stuffed.
~ Lightly coat a frying pan with oil, or lightly oil each disc, and cook the pupusas until they start to turn golden brown, flipping once.
Serve topped with salsa: in a food processor, place 1 green pepper, 1/2 a medium sweet onion, and 2 tomatoes, and pulse to get a roughly chopped consistency. Add this into a sauce pan along with one half of a packet of the Sazón and cook until bubbling. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.
~ Cheese, chicken, pork, and beans are all traditional fillings, but because the Maseca mixture results in a soft dough, your filling needs to be soft as well. Cheese should be a soft version like mozzarella, warmed slightly in a microwave, beans should be mashed, meat should be shredded fine, and so forth.
~ I’ve added spices to the dough as well, usually chili powder for color and kick.
~ Cooked pupusas do not store and re-heat well; exposing the Maseca to the cold temperatures of fridge and freezer effect the texture. Fresh is always best, but if you make more than you need, uncooked stuffed discs can be frozen for later use.