Masa harina is a great staple to keep in your pantry. Made from corn treated with lime, it is the basis of countless Central and South American dishes. Just add water and it immediately turns into a pliable, easy-to-work-with dough, ready to be rolled into corn tortillas, tucked into tamales, or shaped into whatever strikes your fancy.
Today, I went one step further than basic tortillas, using my masa dough to make some El Salvadoran pupusas. They are essentially a quesadilla with the cheese sealed inside — to assemble one, you simply roll out two disks of dough, place your filling on top of one of them, then lay the other disk of dough on top. Press the edges to seal, roll it out a bit further, and you have a ready-to-cook pocket filled with whatever you please — in a California twist, I used some pepper jack cheese, but queso fresco is more traditional. Cooked without any added oil in a nonstick skillet, pupusas take about 10 minutes from start to finish and are far less greasy than your typical quesadilla.
The quintessential accompaniment for pupusas is a vinegar-y, oregano-infused cabbage slaw called curtido. In addition to the curtido, I whipped up a batch of fresh tomato salsa, a.k.a. pico de gallo — while nontraditional, it complements the pupusas equally well. Each recipe takes about 10 minutes to make, and the fresh, crunchy vegetables provide wonderful contrast to the warm masa dough and gooey melted cheese.
makes about 5 cups
½ medium-sized green cabbage, sliced as finely as possible
1 large carrot, julienned or shredded
¾ C. white vinegar
½ C. water (room temperature)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1. Boil one quart of water in a kettle or saucepan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage and carrot. Pour the boiling water over them and let sit for five minutes.
3. Drain the cabbage and carrots thoroughly in a colander, then return them to the bowl.
4. Add the white vinegar, water, green onions, and Mexican oregano. Use tongs or a spoon to toss the ingredients together. Let sit for at least 20 minutes before serving — it gets better the longer it sits.
Pico de Gallo
makes about 2 cups
2 medium-sized tomatoes (about 100g. each), seeded and diced
½ medium red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 green onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
3 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Serve.
makes 2 pupusas
1 C. masa harina
½ C plus 1-2 Tbsp. water
two 1-ounce slices pepper jack cheese (or ½ C. grated cheese)
1. In a small bowl, combine the masa harina and ½ C. of the water. Use your fingers to mix until a dough forms — if it is dry and cracked, add more water until it becomes pliable, about the texture of Play-Do.
2. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll each out into a 4” circle. Place the cheese in the middle of two of the circles of dough, top them with the remaining dough, then roll out until the circles are 6” in diameter. Pinch the edges to make sure the cheese is fully sealed inside.
3. Heat a large (12”) nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Place the pupusas in the skillet, cover and let cook for 4 minutes. Flip, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes.
4. Serve the pupusas immediately, while still piping hot. Top with curtido and pico de gallo.