FRONT BURNER: Salvadoran-style Cheese Pupusas

Roasted Poblano and Cheese Pupusas (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Roasted Poblano and Cheese Pupusas (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

"What's for supper," my husband asks as he walks into the kitchen to find me covered with cornflour dust.



"A Salvadoran dish made with cheese and corn masa," I say, as he eyes a mixing bowl filled with moist masa dough.

"So cheesy tamales?"

"Not exactly. They look like really thick corn tortillas, and they're pan-cooked, not steamed."

"Sounds good."

I don't remember the first time I ate a pupusa.

It might have been as a teenager when my mom's friend Alma made them for us. Alma, a young woman from El Salvador, lived with us while she attended grad school at UALR back in the days when everybody called it "Yuler."

Or maybe it was when my mom made them for her Spanish class. (Mom is a retired high school teacher.)

But I do know it was love at first bite.

Recently, I learned it's easy to make pupusas at home, thanks to My First Cookbook: Fun Recipes to Cook Together by America's Test Kitchen.

Cheese Pupusas

2 cups masa harina such as Maseca

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon chile powder, optional

½ teaspoon ground cumin, optional

1 ½ cups warm water

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

½ pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Curtido, for serving (recipe follows)

Salsa, sour cream, other toppings, as desired

In a mixing bowl, stir together the masa harina, salt, chile powder and cumin (if using), the warm water and vegetable oil. Stir until no dry masa remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Cover balls with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel.

Divide the cheese into 1-ounce portions and press and roll each into a tight ball.

Working with one dough ball at a time, pat or roll dough into a 4-inch circle, place a ball of cheese in the center and fold dough around the cheese, pinching and squeezing it sealed. Reshape into a ball. Cover with plastic or a damp tea towel and repeat with the remaining dough and cheese.

Lay a plastic sandwich bag with the side seams cut open or a (12-by-16-inch) sheet of parchment paper open on a flat work surface. If using a plastic bag, lightly coat it with vegetable oil. Place ball of cheese-filled dough on one side of the bag or paper, fold the other half over the dough. Using a pie plate or other flat-bottomed dish, press dough into a 4- to 5-inch circle. Place the pressed pupusa on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Repeat with the remaining cheese-filled dough balls.

Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add as many pupusas as will comfortably fit and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned and cheese is melted. Some may seep out. This is OK.

Serve pupusas with Curtido or other toppings as desired.

Makes 8 (4-inch) pupusas.


Roasted Poblano and Cheese, roast and dice 1 poblano chile and mix it with the shredded cheese.

Green Onion and Cheese, add ½ cup diced green onion tops to the cheese.

Bean and Cheese, reduce cheese to 6 ounces and add about ½ cup mashed or refried beans to the cheese.

Curtido is traditionally made with green cabbage. I already had some red cabbage, so I used it instead. It is not traditional, but it looks nice and tastes good.


2 cups shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix (see note)

¼ cup cilantro leaves

Juice of 1 lime

¼ teaspoon salt

Combine the cabbage, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Toss well to mix. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

Recipes adapted from My First Cookbook: Fun Recipes to Cook Together from the editors at America's Test Kitchen.

Food on 03/18/2020

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