These cheesy, savory handmade flatbreads made with a corn masa dough and then stuffed with soyrizo, beans, and vegan cheese are oh so good! This traditional recipe for Vegan Salvadoran Pupusas uses just 5 ingredients. Served with curtido, an easy to make cabbage slaw that completes the dish.
After returning to the United States from a Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa this past summer, we were craving latin flavors. Yes, you read that right. In the spring of 2020, Reed and I were stuck in South Africa for four months dealing with the pandemic along with the rest of the world.
And being stuck in South Africa not only meant an extreme lockdown, it meant limited access to many ingredients. To begin with, they just don't sell hispanic ingredients in the grocery stores there. Then add a lockdown to that and your selection gets even smaller. But even without a pandemic, the truth is latin cuisine in South Africa sort of stinks. I don't like saying it, but latin food in Africa is far from anything that latin cuisine every thought about being.
I mean can you image ketchup as a dipping sauce for a quesadilla or rice mixed with sweet chili sauce in your burrito? That is the reality of hispanic food in South Africa. It is an amazing and beautiful country, but it is not the place to eat or prepare latin cuisine.
So I was delighted when we got back to the United States and I saw masa harina on my first trip to the grocery store. I knew right away that I was going to make vegan Salvadoran pupusas. They sell them all over Los Angeles, but I had always wanted to make my own. I had tried my hand at empanadas made with masa and corn tortillas, of course. But never pupusas. So it was on. Finally time to test my pupusa making skills!
What Are Pupusas?
El Salvador has declared pupusas to be their national dish. But both El Salvador and Honduras have claimed to be the place of origin of the pupusa. Yet, it is the archaeologists that have traced the creation of the pupusa back to the Pibil people. The word pupusa means 'swollen' in the Pibil language. So while both nations wanted to take credit for this traditional dish filled with history and make pupusas an exclusive export, after much debate Honduras ceded the right to El Salvador.
Pupusas are best described as a stuffed handmade flatbread like griddle cake that is in the shape of a round disc. They are often compared to gorditas in Mexico and arepas in Colombia and Venezuela. Pupusas are typically filled with a combination of ingredients such as beans, cheese, and meats. The dough itself which encases the filling is made from a type of corn flour called "masa". Pupusas are eaten by hand and almost always served with curtido, which is a spicy cabbage slaw.
Ingredients Needed for Vegan Pupusas
You only need 5 ingredients to make this recipe.
- Masa Harina
- Refried Beans
- Vegan Meltable Cheese
Masa harina is a corn based flour that is used to form the pupusa dough that holds all the deliciousness inside. Soyrizo, refried beans, and a vegan cheese that melts are then used to fill the pupusas.
For this recipe, you can use either white or yellow corn masa. I used masa harina to make my own dough, but you can also buy already prepared masa at any hispanic grocery store.
This recipe uses refried pinto beans as a filling, but refried black beans work just as good.
As for the cheese, I used the Trader Joe's brand of vegan mozzarella. I find that it is neutral in taste and melts well. I know a lot of plant based eaters love Daiya, which would work perfectly too. I'm just a bigger fan of the TJ's meltable cheese.
What exactly is masa?
Masa is easy to find, but a specialty product. It is not the same as your standard cornmeal by any means. Masa is processed in a completely different manner.
In layman's terms, masa is corn that has been dried and then soaked in a lime solution. The corn is then rinsed, dried again, and ground into a powder to form a corn flour product called masa harina. In spanish the word harina means 'flour'.
Unlike typical cornmeal, the chemical changes that take place when producing masa harina make it able to form a dough by simply adding water.
Masa also has a few known health benefits that make it good for you. For starters, it is easier to digest than most corn products. It is also high in niacin, calcium, and iron. And to top it off, masa is naturally gluten-free.
How to Make Vegan Salvadoran Pupusas
These Salvadoran style flatbread like griddle cakes are pretty easy to make once you get the hang of it.
First, you make the dough by combing the masa harina with water and salt. Then you will want to cover the dough with a damp towel to keep it from drying out. If the dough does lose moisture simply add more water.
Next, you take a quarter cup of the prepared dough and form it into a ball. Then flatten out the ball into a round disc that is 4 inches in diameter.
You will now top the round disc with refried beans, soyrizo, and vegan cheese to fill the pupusa. Next, you bring the edges of the dough up and around the filling to encase it. Seal the dough by pinching the ends together. Now carefully flatten it out again into a round disc.
If you have any cracks or holes in your pupusas, you can easily patch them with a little bit of the dough and water. All you have to do is add a small piece of the masa, pat it onto the pupusa to patch, and then smooth it out using a wet finger. The texture of the dough is very forgiving, which makes it easy to work with.
As you form the pupusas, set them on sheet pan lined with parchment paper as you finish stuffing the rest.
How to Cook Pupusas
Now that you have all of the pupusas filled and formed, it is time to cook.
Prepare to cook the pupusas by heating your cast iron or non-stick pan to a medium heat. Then brush the pan with a little bit of oil using a pastry brush. Now place 2-3 pupusas in the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown and firm.
Serve the cooked pupusas the traditional way with curtido.
Watch This Helpful Video
Check out this video for a visual lesson on how to make pupusas. The video is not for a vegan pupusa recipe, but the guy, Curly, in the video and his grandma do a great job of showing you how to fill and form the pupusas. Not to mention, they are from El Salvador. It's one of the best demonstrations I've seen on forming pupusas. Skip to the middle of the video to avoid watching them prep the meat.
You will love these Vegan Salvadoran Pupusas because they are:
- Easy to make
- Salvadoran delights
- Savory and delicious
- Satisfying and comforting
- Store fantastic in the fridge or freezer
Leftovers & Variations
This recipe makes about 18 pupusas. The leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 days in an airtight container or in the freeze for up to 3 months. To freeze, you will want to place the pupusas in between sheets of wax or parchment paper, so that they don't freeze together as one big block. Then you can simply them put in a properly sealed freezer bag and they are good to go.
To reheat the pupusas, place them on a sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Frozen pupusas will take about 20 to 25 minutes to reheat at that same temperature. Heating in a microwave at medium heat will work as well, but the results will not be as good.
You can make this vegan pupusa recipe with any filling you like. Jackfruit carnitas would add a nice yummy twist as would sauteed greens . But if you want to keep it simple bean and cheese pupusas are very popular in El Salvador. The choice is yours and the flavor combinations are endless.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for delicious traditional vegan Salvadoran pupusas!
If you try this recipe please let me know how it turns out by leaving a comment and rating. You can also hashtag #danceswithknives with a photo of your creation on Instagram where you can find me @dances_with_knives.
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Vegan Salvadoran Pupusas
- 4 cups masa harina
- 3 ½ to 4 cups warm water
- 2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 15oz can refried pinto or black beans (1 cup needed)
- 6oz soyrizo (1 cup needed)
- 1 package vegan cheese, that melts (I used TJ's vegan mozzarella )
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- Curtido (recipe here)
- Prepare the dough by mixing the masa harina and salt together in a large bowl. Then slowly add the warm water in a little at a time. You may not need all of the water. You want the dough to be the consistency of clay. Not mushy, but wet enough that if you form a disc in your hand that won’t break apart. If the dough is cracking you need to add more water. If you add too much water just add more masa harina. Cover the prepared dough with a damp towel to keep it from drying out. If the dough does dry out just add more water to fix as needed and return to a moldable clay like texture.
- To make the pupusas, start by forming a ¼ cup size portion of the masa dough into a ball. Then flatten the ball out into a disc that is about 4” in diameter. You may want to wet your fingers to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.
- Top the center of the disc of dough with about 1 teaspoon of refried beans, 1 teaspoon of vegan cheese, and ½ tablespoon of soyrizo. You can vary the amounts if you like, but don’t use more than a little over a tablespoon of filling in total. There are 3 teaspoon to a tablespoon If you overfill them they will not seal properly.
- Next, bring the edges of the dough up and over to encase the filling. Pinch the edges together to form a seal. Now pat the sealed dough ball out until it forms a flat disc again. The disc should be about ⅓ inch thick. Don't worry if a hole or crack forms in the pupusa. Just use a little bit of the dough to patch it. With the clay like texture of the dough it is easy to add more and then smooth it out with a bit of water. Lay the discs on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat as you prepare them.
- To cook, heat a cast iron or non-stick pan to medium heat. Brush the pan with a little bit of oil using a pastry brush. Place 2-3 pupusas in the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown and warmed through. Repeat with the remaining pupusas.