First things first – what is a pupusa? It is a traditional dish from El Salvador, and by far the country’s most famous. It is a maiz (corn) tortilla stuffed with chicharrón (a pork filling) refried beans and cheese (they’re vegetarian friendly if you omit the pork). They are grilled on a griddle so that the outside is slightly crispy and on the inside all ingredients melt and combine together. Pupusas are served warm with a side of a homemade sauce and curtido, which is similar to coleslaw but neither sweet nor bitter.
My closest group of friends also happen to be Salvadorian. We’ve watched our mothers make pupusas from scratch for years but had never tried to make them on our own. It’s a time consuming process because each ingredient requires preparation, for example prepping the chicharrón means letting it cook for hours in the oven, then it gets a spin in the food processor with spices and other ingredients before you can begin to start making the pupusas. There were five of us, so we each took a ingredient on, got together and made a night of making our pupusas together.
Tatiana did an incredible job with the chicharrón. She also took her job very seriously and spent some time researching the art of pupusa making on youtube. I can explain the process, but the woman in this video can show you in about 20 seconds.
My sister Marlene is a great tortilla maker. I used to tell my mom my hands were allergic to the masa (dough) to get out of having to make them when we were little, so the task usually fell on my sister. It’s a move I regret as the years my sister has spent making them has made her a masa and tortilla expert. You add a little water and a little canola oil to the maseca (flour) but getting it just right so it doesn’t dry out is no easy feat. Those of you who are bakers will understand.
Cielo prepared the cheese mixture. My mom always used to combine feta and mozzarella and a few secret ingredients I seem to forget. I can’t recall what combination of cheese Cielo used but she added some shredded zucchini, a trick we all recall from our mothers. It was so good, I was happy to “taste test” it on its own a few times.
Nidia brought a north american element to the refried beans. She made them in her slow cooker, a method none of our mothers probably ever used for pupusas, but turned out just as well as their beans used to.
I was in charge of the salsa and curtido. Sounds easy, and it may be the easiest in prep, but as with any sauce the consistency of the sauce has to be just right for pupusas so they don’t soak the pupusa too much and make everything soggy. Flavour is important too, we still relajo, a spice mixture straight from El Salvador.
Our pupusas turned out delicious, if I do say so myself. Of course we had our fiancees and husbands and kids there to see if we passed the test. The fact that every single pupusa was eaten, tells me we passed with flying colours. One slight improvement we know we can make is in combining all three ingredients equally and evenly into each pupusa. It’s amazing how much our memory retains. We did not have recipes or measurements, but we have memories of watching our mothers in the kitchen and we were able to recreate the dish from memory.
It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday night with lifelong friends. We even came to a realization that we are the last generation of our families to be Salvadorian born. We’ve all married/will marry Canadians and our kids are/will be Canadian too. It’s a beautiful peace of mind knowing we can carry our mother land’s traditional dish on to our Canadian families.
I leave you with this: a video of my favourite homemaker Martha Stewart learning to make pupusas.