How to make Honduran pupusas
Words by Nathalie Maxey
Ever wondered why so many comfort foods are warm and have ooey-gooey cheese? From mac 'n' cheese to grilled cheese, there’s just something special about these meals. Maybe it’s the warmth that makes us feel cozy, the nostalgic element reminding us of our childhood, or maybe it’s just the delicious and abundant amount of cheese—whatever it is, these foods tend to be fan favorites!
Even though I love both of these cheesy comfort foods now as an adult, I rarely ate either of them as a kid. Growing up in Honduras means I ate alternate comfort foods—delicious nonetheless! One of my ultimate favorites is “pupusas.” They're so beloved that both Honduras and El Salvador have claimed them as one of their traditional meals. My mom swears that they originated in Honduras, but some online sources disagree!
Pupusas are cheese-stuffed corn griddle cakes, made with the same “masa” (dough) as corn tortillas. They are filled with “quesillo” (a local white melting cheese) but can also have savory fillings such as refried beans, fried pork belly, meat, or vegetables. Pupusas are typically served with “encurtidos” (pickled slaw and pickled onions), and some like to add a tomato-based sauce or hot sauce for an extra kick. The crunchy outside and gooey filling reminds me of a grilled cheese!
I’ve lived in the South for half of my life, which means that I haven’t enjoyed authentic Honduran pupusas in a long time. Whenever my mom comes to visit, though, she makes sure to prepare several classic meals for me—including pupusas! For many years, that was my only “fix” for homey food. Having my own kids, however, stirred in me a desire to rekindle my cultural heritage. So, in recent years I decided that it was time for me to learn how to cook Honduran food! I started making corn tortillas a couple of years ago, and now I’ve learned how to make yummy pupusas too!
Sadly, I don’t have access to quesillo where I live. Thankfully, after a few trial and error attempts, I found a good substitute by mixing Monterey Jack cheese and Mexican quesadilla cheese. Both cheeses are available at most grocery stores. Quesillo is traditionally salty, so I add an extra touch of salt!
The best part of learning a new recipe is getting to taste the end result, isn't it? Eating pupusas has been not only a tasty treat, but also a chance to share my heritage with my kids through food. Plus, they like them and even request them for dinner sometimes! It’s been truly fulfilling to see my kids enjoy a Honduran dish that has such a special place in my heart!
1 cup Monterey Jack shredded cheese
1 cup quesadilla melting cheese
1 tsp salt
* Optional fillings: refried beans, meat, pork rinds
2 cups “Masa Harina” (corn flour for tortillas)
1.5 cups water (*may need up to 2 additional cups of water*)
1 tsp salt
Optional: Tortilla press
Makes 16 pupusas
In a small bowl, mix the shredded cheeses and the salt. Set aside while you make the tortilla “masa” (dough).
In a large bowl, mix the Masa Harina, salt, and water with your hands until it is well mixed into a clay-like dough. If needed, add additional water in small increments. If the mixture is too wet and sticky, add corn flour in small increments.
Once the masa is ready, fill a small bowl halfway with water. You’ll use the water to wet your hands as you make the pupusas so they don’t dry up or stick to your hands.
Heat the griddle pan to medium heat.
Make a small ball of masa in your hands, about 2 inches in diameter. Push down on the masa ball to create a hole in the middle. You want to make the masa look like a small bowl. Stuff the cheese (and additional fillings) inside the hole of the masa ball. Then close it again, using masa on the edges to cover the filling. Roll the masa in your hands to make a ball again.
Gently flatten the ball using your hands or a tortilla press until it is about 1/2 inch tall. It should be thicker than a tortilla, like a griddle cake or fluffy pancake.
Drizzle oil on the griddle pan and spread it. Add the flattened pupusa to the griddle. Cook for 2-4 minutes until the bottom side is golden brown. Flip and cook for an additional 2-4 minutes until the other side is golden brown and the cheese is melting. Remove from heat, and repeat the steps with the rest of the dough.
Slightly wet your hands in the bowl with water in between making pupusas, to keep the masa from drying up. At any point, if the masa gets too dry, drizzle water and mix to keep it at a clay-like consistency.
Serve while the pupusas are hot and top them with pickled slaw and pickled onions. Enjoy!
1/2 bag shredded cabbage with carrots (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
3/4 tsp cumin
2/3 cup white vinegar
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. To store any leftovers, place the slaw in a jar or reusable container and refrigerate.
Pickled Red Onions
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
2-4 dried bay leaves
2/3 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp salt
Optional: diced pickled jalapeno peppers
Chop red onion in thin slices.
In a medium saucepan, mix all the ingredients together. Cook at medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaves and garlic cloves, and let it cool. To store leftovers, place in a jar or reusable container and refrigerate.