You can stand working next to people for ages without knowing some pretty amazing things about their lives.
This happened to me with my friend and coworker Rhina. She came over a few weeks back with her daughter Mildred to teach me how to make pupusas, a traditional food from El Salvador.
A corn dough made from maseca and stuffed with anything from beef, to pork, vegetables, beans or cheese, Pupusas are a dish Rhina has been making for years. Before Mildred arrived, I asked Rhina how long she’s been making pupusas. Assuming she’d say she made them at family gatherings and holidays, I found out that for 15 years, every Saturday and Sunday, Rhina made and sold about 1500 pupusas in the park in Flushing, Queens. That on top of her work all week long in the city.
She started small but as word spread, people in the El Salvadoran community came to the park every weekend to watch soccer and queue up to buy her handcrafted griddled snacks.
Thousands upon thousands of pupusas later, she ends up in my kitchen. When you get to learn from the best, there is something unique in the way hands deftly create a recipe.
As Rhina began to explain the process, how the soft the dough ought to be, how to carefully wrap the masa around the filling and gently form it back into a patty, that little firecracker in her came out! Passing them back and forth between her hands, the sound of the dough slapping pat-pat-pat, I knew before I even bit through the golden crust into the salty, melted cheese that Rhina was making magic.
Serving Size: Makes 28
Curtido or Traditional Cabbage Salad served with Pupusas
1 small green cabbage, cored and sliced very thinly
½ medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
¼ large carrot, shaved thinly with a vegetable peeler
4 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dry oregano
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups instant maseca flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 cups tap water, plus up to an additional ¼ cup as needed
For the filling:
1 16 oz. block whole milk Polly-O mozzarella cheese, grated on large holes of box grater
3 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
1. Place the cabbage, onion, and carrot in a bowl and submerge in hot tap water for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse twice in a colander with ice cold water. Drain well.
2. Dress with vinegar and season with oregano and salt. Set aside or refrigerate until serving.
1) In a large bowl, mix together the maseca and water. Knead into a soft dough adding up to ¼ cup more water until the dough is a soft, workable consistency.
2) Roll a small bowl of dough in your hands. Flatten slightly, and pass the disc back and forth between the palm and the lower part of your fingers until flat and thin.
3) Place a small spoonful the cheese mixture in the center of the disc. Lift the edges of the dough over the cheese like a beggar’s purse and seal together.
4) Combine the cheese and spinach in a bowl. Using your hands, mash and knead together until the mixture comes together into a dough-like consistency. Set aside.
5) Seal and gently form into a ball and begin the process of flattening the now stuffed dough into a thin disc.
6) Repeat with the remaining dough and cheese.
7) Heat a greased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat. Cook the pupusas in batches until golden and flip. Cook on the second side until golden and serve hot with curtido. Curtido can either be eaten on the pupusa or as a side salad. Serve immediately.