What is a pupusare?
A pupusa is a small, thick pancake made of maize or rice dough (pishtón) stuffed with one or more mixed ingredients.
What is the origin of pupusa?
Anthropological studies date the origin of the pupusas before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors on American lands. According to Nahuatl language specialist, Manuel Bonilla, the origin of the word pupusa could come from two interpretations:
– Púpu which means “turned over” and tsa which means “filled”.
– Putsúua which means “stuffing”.
Nahuatl was the language of the Pipils, who inhabited the pre-Columbian site of the central and western part of El Salvador known today as the department of Cuscatlán.
What is the difference between masa and masa harina?
Traditional Mexican and Central American cuisines would not exist without masa. Technically, the word translates as “dough”, but it also means “food”. Without masa, there would be no tortillas, tamales, gorditas, sopes, or other traditional Latin American recipes.
Masa harina is a nixtamalized maize flour that is used to make masa.
What does masa mean?
In its simplest form, masa is a mixture of masa harina (nixtamalized maize flour) and water.
In that part of the world, you will often see nixtamalized maize flour with the mention “instant”, which refers to the amount of time it takes you to make a masa.
What is nixtamalized maize flour (masa harina)?
Nixtamalized maize flour is a very soft flour, finely ground from dried corn kernels that have been cooked and soaked in lime water (a solution of calcium hydroxide). This alkaline solution is what gives corn tortillas and tamales their pleasantly sour taste.
Nixtamalized maize flour is like any other flour, and it is best to keep it sealed at room temperature.
Because corn has been processed, you will rarely be able to substitute non-nixtamalized corn flour for recipes that require nixtamalized maize flour.
Nixtamalized maize flour comes in different types depending on the recipe. The most common is white corn flour, which is made from dry white corn. But there is also yellow nixtamalized maize flour, made from yellow corn.
The differences are minimal. There is a slight difference in flavor, with white corn being a little sweeter, but the difference in color is important.
There is also nixtamasa, a contraction of nixtamalized maize flour and masa. Nixtamasa is mainly used to make corn tortillas, as well as pupusas, and the nixtamalized maize flour, that is a little more coarsely ground, should be used to prepare tamales.
Other ingredients may sometimes be added in some nixtamalized maize flour. Yeast, fat (usually lard), sometimes even chili pepper, sugar, and cinnamon can be added to obtain a flavored dough.
Corn was at the center of Mayan and Aztec civilizations and cuisines. Unlike wheat, it does not contain gluten and it is therefore more difficult to knead.
It is not exactly known when nixtamalization was invented, but there are archaeological traces between 1200 and 1500 BC in Guatemala, proving that lime was used to process maize.
Traditionally, ripe corn kernels are boiled in an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide. The doses and the time vary a lot according to the tradition, between 8 to 24 hours. After boiling, the thin outer skin attached to the grain, the pericarp, comes out. Water and calcium penetrate inside the grain and inflate it. Then, the liquid is discarded and the grains are washed several times to remove excess calcium. The rest of the skin is removed by hand. At this point, corn is called nixtamal. Then you have to grind it to produce flour. Obviously, nowadays, many of these steps are done using machines.
From the beginning to the middle of the 20th century, as a result of the invention of the engine, small nixtamalization plants were opened in Mexico and southwestern United States. Today, nixtamalized maize flour has become widespread. Although the traditional practice of preparing fresh nixtamal with native corn was passed down over the years, it is now a lost and misunderstood art outside the Native American and Hispanic communities. What used to be a daily ritual for the preparation of fresh nixtamal and masa, used as a base for many dishes, has been largely replaced by the convenience of industrially produced nixtamal.
How to make pupusas
To prepare pupusas, it is first necessary to create a dough which, in El Salvador, is generally composed of maize but some also use ground rice.
What are the various pupusa recipes?
Pupusas are prepared with many ingredients that give them a unique taste. Depending on the type of pupusa recipe and the region, you will find:
– Pupusa revuelta: cheese, refried beans, and chopped chicharrón.
– Pupusa de frijol con queso: cheese and refried beans.
– Pupusa de ayote: ayote rayado (a variety of squash) and chiclado cheese.
– Pupusa de pollo: chicken and chiclado cheese.
– Pupusa de chicharrón: blanched pork rinds and cheese.
– Pupusa de loroco: loroco flower and cheese.
– Pupusa rellena de queso y chicharrón: chopped cheese and pork rind.
– Pupusa de queso: cheese, the pupusa recipe that I am featuring today.
– And finally there is also pupusa loca (crazy pupusa) which is composed of all the ingredients mentioned above.
Pupusa is therefore the ultimate traditional dish of El Salvador. Legislative Decree 655, published on April 1, 2005, states that “pupusa is the national dish of El Salvador”.
This is why pupusa has its own day. It was decreed that the second Sunday of November would be El Día Nacional de la Pupusa, the national day of the pupusa.
A pupusa is a Salvadorian maize flour pancake filled with cheese, refried beans (frijoles refritos) or pork (chicharrón).
- 4 cups maize flour (masa harina)
- A pinch of salt
- 3 cups water (warm)
- 2 cups grated cheese (ideally quesillo or mozzarella)
- Vegetable oil
Combine maize flour, salt and 2½ cups (600ml) water in a mixing bowl.
- Knead to form a smooth wet paste with the consistency of playdough.
- If the mixture is too dry, add the remaining water, a tablespoon at a time. If the mixture is too sticky, add a little more flour, a tablespoon at a time.
- Cover the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.
- With lightly oiled hands, form the dough into 8 to 10 balls.
- Form small patties. Place a tablespoon of cheese and wrap the dough around the filling to seal.
Ensure that the filling does not leak, pat the dough between your hands to form a disk about ¼-inch (5mm) thick. Repeat with the remaining patties.
- Heat a lightly oiled frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook pupusas for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown.