Tuesday, January 12, 2010

El Salvador - Needs More Filling

When thinking of El Salvador most will evoke images of volcanoes, coffee plantations and civil war, but for my family and I we will always think of pupusas. These thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, refried beans and pork is a very popular dish. Though they pre-date the arrival of the Spaniards, they did not become popular nation-wide until the 1960s.

I’m not sure I liked my version of the pupusas. I made the tortillas out of masa harina and warm water and used a mixture of mozzarella and an Italian cheese called Tuleggio, much like quesco fresco, according to the cheese lady at Whole Foods. I also heated up refried beans and decided not to go through the trouble of adding pork.

The direction called for one to roll a portion of the dough into a ball, press an indentation into it and then add the filling. You are then supposed to fold the dough mixture over the filling and press the ball into the form of a disc without letting the filling spill out. But how in the world does one flatten something and not allow the filling to come out?

Kevin finally took over since this whole process was proving too frustrating for me. He did it his own way and made a “bowl” out of the ball shaped dough, filled the “bowl” with the filling and then made a “lid” for it. It seemed to work, though I’m not sure that was the correct way of making the pupusas.

We ate our pupusas with salsa, which helped because I didn’t think there was enough beans and cheese, even with Kevin’s “bowl” technique.

Perhaps that’s the way pupusas are supposed to taste, more tortilla than cheese and bean. If that’s the case, I think they need to start making pupusas with more filling. It’s sort of like El Salvador itself. It has all the makings of a great vacation spot – forests, active volcanoes, beaches, museums and a vibrant nightlife – but there’s been too much violence, crime, hurricanes, flooding, mudslides and earthquakes.

What they need more of is the filling – the good stuff.


2 cups Masa Harina
1 cup warm water
1 cup filling

Refried beans
Cheese such as quesillo, quesco fresco, farmer’s cheese or mozzarella
Green chili, minced

In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina and water and knead well. Knead in more water, 1 TBSP at a time, if necessary. You want dough moist, yet firm. Cover and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Roll out dough into a log and cut into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Press an indentation in each ball with thumb. Put 1 TBSP of filling into each indentation and fold dough over to enclose it. Press the ball out with your palms to form a disc, but don’t let the filling come out.

Fry it in a pan with a little oil until brown on all sides.

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