On the last night of our honeymoon, we stayed in a small hostel near the airport in Managua. Our flight home left in the wee hours of the morning, so we wanted to find dinner within walking distance to keep things simple. After exploring our new neighborhood, we stumbled upon a small Salvadorian pupusa restaurant that still has us grinning.
The owners cooked from a free-standing griddle in their front yard along with a few small tables and some cute hanging lights. We sat down, not knowing quite what to expect, as neither of us had eaten pupusas before. We asked our waitress what she recommended, followed her guidance, and were delighted when hot, cheesy, savory pockets of beans, cheese, and jalapeños soon arrived on our plates. I was immediately inspired and wanted to recreate the magic when we returned home.
If you’re not familiar, pupusas are stuffed breads made from masa. Masa is the same stuff used to make corn tortillas. Pupusas are traditionally served with curdito, a fermented cabbage slaw, which is culinary genius because it balances the savory heaviness of pupusas with some bright acidic veggies.
This vegan pupusa recipe is easy to make, even for first-timers. You can add many different types of fillings – cheese, beans, potatoes, and meats are just a few examples. Living the vegan-ish lifestyle, I’ve stuck to my veggie guns here but know that the sky is the limit with fillings. I’ve also included lots of photos so you can see the masa shaping, step-by-step.
If you make these vegan pupusas, leave a comment, rate the recipe, and and tag a photo with #plantandvine on Instagram. I’m excited to see what fillings you choose!
Vegan pupusas and wine
If you add a lot of spicy salsa to your vegan pupusas, make sure that your wine pairing is not high tannins or high alcohol. Both wine qualities can increase your perception of spice so that nice glow of heat could turn into a four alarm fire in your mouth. If you add meat to the pupusas as a filling, you can turn up the volume on the wine and go with a bigger, bolder red.
- Pinot Noir – Light enough to not overwhelm with enough flavor character to complement the recipe. Mushrooms, cloves, cherry, and cranberry.
- Suggested Regions: Willamette Valley, Oregon or Burgundy, France (Red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir).
- Rosé – Go for a Cabernet France, Tempranillo, or Syrah rosé. Because the base wines are a little bit bigger, you get a bolder rosé.
- Suggested Regions: Provence or Languedoc-Roussillon, France or Spanish rosés.
- Crianza or Reserva Rioja – Made from Tempranillo grapes, the Crianza or Reserva styles have minimum oak aging requirements (6-12 months) which balances out the fruit-forwardness of the younger examples.
Vegan Pupusas with Refried Beans and Cheese
A honeymoon winner dinner! Savory cheese and bean-filled tortillas cooked on a griddle to perfect. Pupusas are a national treasure of El Salvador.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings
- Category: Mains, Vegan
- Method: Frying
- Cuisine: Salvadorian, Central American
- 1/2 head purple cabbage, shredded
- 2 fresh jalapeños, seeds removed and diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour**
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil (grapeseed or canola)
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1 can (15 ounces) refried beans
- Cheese (we used vegan shredded cheese)
- Oil for cooking
- salsa (optional)
- guacamole (optional)
- Combine ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir so cabbage and jalapeños are coated in salt and vinegar.
- Put bowl in refrigerator until ready to eat. The ingredients will get tangier with time so feel free to do this step ahead of time. If you make in advance, cover while in refrigerator.
- Stir the dry ingredients together.
- Add the warm water and oil, and mix to combine. Knead for a few minutes.
- Once soft and moist, set dough aside for about 15 minutes.
To make the pupusas (look at pictures above for reference):
- Divide the dough into six balls. If you work with one ball at a time, keep the remaining dough covered while not in use so it does not dry out.
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
- Dampen hands. Take a ball in your hands and flatten it between your palms. Put in a small tablespoon of refried beans and about a half tablespoon of cheese in the center.
- Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, crimping in the center. Gently press the dough between both palms to create a flat circle. Keep pressing the dough gently while rotating to get a thinner circle.
- If the dough splits, pull a little extra dough to patch holes. It helps if your fingers are wet while patching dough. Small holes in the dough are ok; pupusas can be cooked even if they have small holes.
- Once you have a nice sized pupusa (roughly 6 inches diameter), add oil to the pre-heated skillet. I used grapeseed oil. Cook the pupusa about 2-4 minutes on each side. You’re looking for a golden color and browning spots, with the dough fully cooked.
- Continue shaping and cooking the pupusas. Serve warm with curtido, guacamole, and salsa.
- Best served fresh. Can be kept in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Pupusas will be drier after reheating so make sure to have some salsa and guacamole ready.
*Recipe is a guide. Adapt ingredients and measurements as desired. Adapted from The Curious Chickpea’s Vegan Jalapeno Cheese and Refried Bean Pupusas.
**Can be made gluten-free by substituting additional masa for the regular flour. We did this for our recipe which made the pupusas a bit drier but still very delicious!
Keywords: vegan pupusas, pupusa recipe, pupusas with curtido