Bean and Cheese Pupusas

While driving home from Portland, down I-5 about a year and a half ago in torrential rain, we stopped in a little town called Wolf Creek (about an hour north of Ashland). Initially we stopped for gas. However, that’s not why we decide to stop there anymore.

Across from the gas station, we noticed a food truck labeled “Lety Pupusa – TACOS Burritos y Pupusas.” I had no idea what a pupusa was, but the thick disc of corn masa on my plate, filled with the creamiest refried beans and melted cheese, topped with a cabbage slaw heavy with the taste of oregano, and a mysteriously un-spicy red salsa was amazing. I decided then that I could eat bean and cheese pupusas every day. Happily.

Of course I came home wanting to learn more about this delicious concoction I’d just had and wanted more of. Pupusas are El Salvadorian and essentially a thick tortilla stuffed with beans, cheese, or meat of your choosing. They’re served with a cabbage-based slaw called curtido, and a red sauce, salsa roja that lacks spice, but is delicious nonetheless.

The mister and I recently discovered a Pupuseria in Oakland, CA. that was deliriously good. We will certainly be back… Plus, for less than $10 we both left completely filled and more than happy with our meal!

That said, I’ve made pupusas at home a couple times (as an hour drive north or 5½ hours south is a little too demanding just to get my pupusa-fill). While there are a few separate recipes here, the actual task of making these delicious treats isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Try it. You won’t be disappointed!

Bean and Cheese Pupusas

For the Curtido:

½ small head of cabbage, sliced thinly
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
¼ cup onion, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup water
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. red chili pepper flakes
2 quarts water

Bring the 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, combine the cabbage, carrot, and onion in a large bowl and toss to mix. Pour the boiling water over this mixture. Allow the vegetables to sit for 5-10 minutes in the hot water.

Drain the cabbage mixture, making sure to squeeze out as much access liquid as possible. Add the jalapeño, sugar, oregano, and chili flakes. Toss together.

Pour the vinegar and water over the mixture and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the curtido to sit for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator(the longer you wait, the better it’ll be!).

Bring the curtido back to room temperature before serving.

For the Salsa Roja: Red Sauce

2 cups diced, peeled tomatoes
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced
½ tsp. dried oregano
1½ tsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic, until onions are slightly translucent. Add in the tomatoes, jalapeño, oregano, and chili flakes. Allow the mixture to come to a low boil, for 1-2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a high-power blender or food processor fitted with the large chopping blade. Blend until the contents are completely smooth. You may need to add some water to thin out the salsa (it won’t thicken upon cooling, so only add as much liquid as you prefer, avoiding an overly watery sauce). Add your salt and pepper to your liking.

Refrigerate until needed.

For the Bean Filling:

1½ cups dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ an onion, cut into large chunks
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Place the beans, salt, pepper, cumin, onion, and garlic in a large pot. Fill the pot with water at least 3-4 inches above the beans. Bring to a low boil then cover and allow the beans to cook until they’re tender (1½ – 2 hours or so).

Strain the cooked beans, making sure to reserve at least a ½ cup of cooking liquid. Use a potato-masher to mash beans. Add in the butter and continue mashing, until you reach a paste-like consistency. Add cooking liquid one tablespoon at a time, until the beans reach a thick, smooth consistency.

For the Corn Dough:

3 cups masa harina
1 2/3 cups warm water
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vegetable shortening


In a medium-large bowl, mix the salt and masa together. Blend the shortening into the flour, using your hands. Add the water, a little at a time, until you create a semi-sticky ball of dough. (You may need to use more water; the dough should be somewhat sticky in consistency and not crack apart when rolled and flattened.

Other Ingredients:
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Assembling the Pupusas:

Heat a large griddle over high heat. While the griddle is heating, begin assembling your pupusas.

Rub a couple drops of water in your hands, so that the dough does not stick.

Take a golf ball sized amount of dough and work it in the palm of your hands. Press the disc out on every side, creating a thin circle of dough. Make a well in the palm of your hand, allowing the dough to conform to your hand’s shape.

Add about 1 tsp. of beans and a semi-generous pinch of cheese to the center of the well you’ve created with the dough. Gather the dough over the top of the filling, enclosing it completely on top.

Gently flatten the ball in your palms, being careful about keeping the filling from seeping through the dough. Continue pressing until you create a disc about ¼ inch thick.

Place the pupusa on your hot griddle, heating until it begins to brown. Flip and brown on the other side.

When both sides of the pupusa are nicely browned, remove from the heat. Serve while hot, with a generous amount of curtido and salsa roja.


About Julie Hashimoto-McCreery

28 year old food blogger and writer.

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