More than a decade after experiencing my first pupusa, I still remember my joy as I bit into the thick, stuffed tortilla.
Why had I never eaten one before, and how soon could I have another?
As I learned, the best part about El Salvador’s national dish isn’t just the warm, savory masa filled with melty cheese (or meat or beans), but its brilliant accompaniment called curtido. Like sauerkraut or kimchi, this zippy cabbage relish balances the heaviness of the pupusa and makes it a simple yet satisfying meal for any time of day.
Pupusas are incredibly simple and inexpensive to make, requiring little more than masa harina (a form of corn flour) and a stuffing like cheese or refried beans. Curtido, the accompanying slaw, is a combination of cabbage, carrots and onions in a vinegary, spicy brine. Traditional curtido is fermented, but the recipe here is simpler, requiring just a couple of hours to lightly pickle (although the longer you let it sit, the better it will be).
After mixing the masa harina with water to form a dough, roll it into balls, make an indentation with your thumb, and fill with cheese or other ingredients. If you can’t find traditional quesillo cheese, you can use queso fresco, Monterey Jack or even mozzarella. All taste fantastic.
Seal the ball, and then pat it into a round disk. Fry it until browned on both sides and serve warm with curtido. It’s as easy as that.