How to make pupusas

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Have you ever wondered how to make pupusas? In this article we tell you everything you need to know about how to make pupusas. We discuss how to make masa dough for pupusas, how to shape pupusas, how to cook pupusas, and more! 

Gluten free and vegetarian bean and cheese pupusas with avocado, lime, and jalapeños.

What are pupusas made of?

What are pupusas made of? Pupusas are made of a simple dough that consists of water, masa harina, and a little bit of salt. Masa harina is a corn based flour that is used to make many other popular dishes such as corn tortillas, gorditas, sopes, and chalupas. Masa harina is made entirely from corn so it is a great option for people who have sensitivities to wheat and gluten. 

What consistency should pupusa dough be?

What consistency should masa dough be to make pupusas? When you are making masa dough for pupusas you do not have to be extremely precise with your measurements. Masa dough consists of only a few simple ingredients, so it is easy to adjust the ratio of the ingredients in your dough if it is a little too wet or dry. It is more important to understand the consistency that you want your dough to be so that you know whether you need to add more masa harina or water.

When you make pupusas, your masa dough needs to be wet enough that it holds together without crumbling when you shape it. If your dough is overly dry and crumbly you should add water to the dough 1/2 tbsp at a time until the dough comes together. 

You will know your dough is too wet if it sticks to your hands excessively when you try to shape it. If your dough is too wet you should add more masa harina 1 tbsp at a time until the dough becomes easier to work with. A good masa dough should be exactly that – easy to work with!

How thick should pupusas be

How thick should pupusas be? The exact thickness of your pupusas will vary depending on what fillings you put in your pupusas. In general, pupusas should be between a centimeter and an inch in thickness. 

If you are making cheese pupusas then your pupusas should be relatively thin like pancakes. If you are using larger fillings, such as whole kidney beans, your pupusas will need to be a little thicker. 

How to shape pupusas

How do you shape pupusas? There are a few different ways you can shape pupusas. We will go over a few different options starting with the most common method. We recommend trying the most common method first – after all, there is a reason it is the most common. If you have trouble with the first method you can move on and try the second method. 

How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough to put pupusa fillings in.
How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough that is filled with pupusa fillings.
How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough that is filled with pupusa fillings. The cup is being closed to create a ball that is filled with fillings.

The cup method of shaping pupusas

We will call our first method for shaping pupusas the cup method. That is because you make a little cup out of masa dough then fill the cup with your pupusa filing. 

  • Grab a ball of pupusa dough. Grab a small handful of masa dough and roll it into a ball that is about 2 inches in diameter. 
  • Make a hole in the middle of the ball. Use your thumbs to make a hole in the middle of the ball of masa dough. You should stick one thumb about half way into the ball of dough. Do not push your finger all the way through the ball.
  • Pinch the walls of the hole out until you have a little cup. Pinch the dough between your thumb and the rest of your fingers to thin out the walls of the hole until you have a nice little cup. 
  • Add toppings to the cup. Fill the cup up with toppings. Make sure that the toppings do not take up the entire cup. There should be a little bit of a rim left at the top of the cup that you can pinch together over the toppings. 
  • Pinch the rim of the cup together over the toppings. Squeeze the dough in the palm of your hand to collapse the rim of the cup closer together. Pinch the rim of the cup together so over the toppings so that you have a ball of masa dough that is filled with toppings. 
  • Flatten the pupusa into a patty. Gradually flatten the pupusa by pinching it between your thumb and your fingers. Make sure your hands are wet when you do this. If your hands are wet it will prevent the dough from cracking.  

The cup and lid method of shaping pupusas

As you might be able to infer by the name, the cup and lid method is very similar to the cup method of shaping pupusas. The only difference is that instead of pinching the rim of the pupusa together over the top of the filling, you grab another piece of dough and use the to cover up the hole on the top of the cup. 

The main benefit of using this method then you can fill up the cup with more fillings. The main drawback of using this method is that it introduces a weak point where the dough is more likely to crack along the line where the lid meets the cup. 

The ravioli method of shaping pupusas

We will call our final method of shaping pupusas the ravioli method. This method is a little more labor intensive than the other methods so we recommend trying the other methods first.

  • Grab 2 balls of pupusa dough. Grab 2 balls of masa dough that are around 1 inch in diameter. Since you use 2 balls of dough for the ravioli method, your balls of dough should be small. 
  • Flatten the balls of pupusa dough. Flatten both of the balls of dough so that you have 2 thin tortillas.
  • Pile the fillings on one tortilla. Put all fillings for your pupusa on one of the tortillas you made. Leave a rim around the outside of the tortilla that does not have any toppings on it. 
  • Cover the toppings with the other tortilla. Grab the other tortilla and put it on top of the first tortilla with the toppings on it. 
  • Pinch the tortillas together around the edges. Push down on the tortillas around the edges that do not have any toppings on them. At this point your pupusas will look more like raviolis than pupusas!
  • Pinch off the excess dough. Pinch off all of the excess dough around the edge of the pupusas. Cup the edges of the pupusas with your hand to round the pupusas out and smooth out any edges. 

Masa dough flattened out with beans and cheese on it to make pupusas.
Masa dough flattened out with beans and cheese on it to make pupusas.
Masa dough flattened out with beans and cheese on it to make pupusas.

Tips for shaping pupusas

Here are some of our best tips for shaping pupas. Most of these tips apply no matter what method you are using to make your pupusas. 
 

  • Moisten your hands when you shape pupusas. When you are shaping your pupusas you should make sure that your hands remain moist. The benefits of having moist hands are threefold – the dough will be less likely to stick to your hands, the pupusas will be less likely to crack, and it will be easier to smooth over any cracks that do appear. You should keep a large bowl of water that has a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in it next to you when you shape your pupusas so that you can periodically dip your hands in it. 
  • Flatten the pupusas gradually. You should flatten your pupusas out gradually, making them a little bit thinner with each gentle pinch. If you try to flatten out your pupusas all in one go they will be much more likely to crack around the edges. 
  • Keep extra dough to patch up cracks. No matter how careful you are with your pupusas you are bound to get some cracks and holes when you shape your pupusas. You should feel around a little extra dough that you can use to patch up any holes that appear.  
  • Try flattening pupusas in your hands and on the table. In the previous section, we recommended holding the pupusas in your hand and pinching them between your thumb and the rest of your fingers to flatten them. If you are having trouble flattening your pupusas this way you could also put your pupusas down on a nonstick surface such as a sheet of parchment paper or saran wrap and press down on the pupusas from above to flatten them.

How to cook pupusas

How do you cook pupusas? Pupusas should be cooked in a lightly oiled pan, skillet, or comal over medium to medium high heat. The pupusas should be cooked for around 3 – 5 minutes per side or until the pupusas start to brown.

Gluten free and vegetarian bean and cheese pupusas with avocado, lime, and jalapeños.

How to freeze and reheat pupusas

Pupusas reheat wonderfully. If you like to meal prep or keep leftover meals in your freezer for when you are busy then you should try making a double or triple batch of pupusas and freezing the leftovers. All you have to do is load the pupusas up in a freezer bag and tightly seal the bag then throw it in the freezer. 

When you are ready to eat your pupusas all you have to do is take them out of the freezer and heat them up. There is no need to thaw the pupusas before reheating them. You can heat the pupusas in a large flat pan over medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes or you can microwave the pupusas for 3 – 5 minutes. If you microwave the pupusas I recommend putting a dry paper towel under them to absorb any excess water. 

Are pupusas gluten free?

Are pupusas gluten free? Pupusas are made from masa harina which is an entirely corn based flour. That means that pupusas are naturally gluten free! As always, you should check to make sure the masa harina you are using is not made on equipment that is shared with gluten containing flours before using it. If you are eating pupusas out at a restaurant, you should make sure that the pupusas are not cooked on the same surface as other gluten containing dishes.

How to make pupusas

Follow this tutorial to learn everything you need to know about how to make pupusas from scratch.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Salvadoran
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Keyword: egg free, gluten free, nut free, vegetarian
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients

  • 15 oz kidney beans (one standard sized can)
  • 8 oz shredded cheese (mozzarella, monterey jack, oaxaca, sharp cheddar, etc.)
  • vegetable oil

Masa dough

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 heaping cups masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  • Prepare a bowl of water to dip your hands so they stay wet while you shape your pupusas. Add around a cup of water and 1 - 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the bowl.
    Dip your hands in this bowl periodically as you shape the pupusas so that the dough does not stick to your hands. The pupusa dough will be less likely to crumble if your hands are wet when you are shaping the pupusas. You will also need to wet your hands to patch up any cracks that appear in the pupusas.
  • Combine the ingredients for the masa dough and mix it thoroughly.
    The dough should be wet enough that it can be shaped without crumbling but dry enough that it does not stick to your hands excessively when you shape it. If the dough is so wet that it sticks to your hands, add more masa 1 tbsp at a time until it becomes easier to work with. If the dough is still dry and crumbles when you try to shape it, add water 1/2 tbsp at a time until it comes together.
    A bowl of masa sough for making bean and cheese gorditas.
  • Seperate the dough out into smaller balls that are 1 1/2 - 2 inches in diameter.
    Leave a little extra dough in the bowl. You can use this dough to patch up and cracks in your pupusas.
    rolled sough for chalupa shells
  • Press your thumb into the middle of one of the balls of dough. Widen the hole made by your thumb by pinching the walls of the dough ball until the dough is in the shape of a bowl or cup.
    How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough to put pupusa fillings in.
  • Fill the bowl of masa dough with the beans and cheese. Do not overfill the bowl and make sure there is a rim around the top of the dough ball that is still exposed.
    How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough that is filled with pupusa fillings.
  • Start to pinch the rim of the bowl together so that it covers the beans and cheese. Continue to mould the dough so that the rim comes together and completely covers the beans and cheese.
    How to make pupusas: a cup of masa dough that is filled with pupusa fillings. The cup is being closed to create a ball that is filled with fillings.
  • Start to flatten the ball of dough into the shape of a pupusa. You should flatten the pupusa gradually to ensure that the pupusa does not crack around the edges. Start by pressing down on the center of the pupusa and continue to work your way outwards.
    You have two options when you flatten the ball of dough. This first is to hold the ball between your thumb and your fingers and to use both hands so pinch the pupusa until it is flat. The second option is to put the ball on a layer of sheet on parchment paper and press down on it from above.
    How to make pupusas. Shaped but uncooked pupusas.
  • Preheat a flat pan, comal, or skillet over medium to medium high heat and add a little vegetable oil. Cook the pupusas for 3 - 5 minutes or until they start to brown.
    How to make pupusas. Shaped pupusas being cook on a flat pan.
  • Flip the pupusas over with a spatula and cook them on the other side for 3 - 5 minutes.
    How to cook pupusas. Fully cooked pupusas on a flat pan.

Other fillings for pupusas

In this article we use a simple bean and cheese filling to make things easy. If you want to use a more complex filling, you can follow the steps in this recipe using any filling you want. For example, you could use this pork filling. 

Other pupusa recipes


Cheese pupusas with sour cream, hot sauce, and curtido.

Are you looking for a pupusa recipe that is even easier than this recipe for bean and cheese pupusas? Check out this recipe for cheese pupusas


Homemade curtido. Fresh cabbage, carrots, jalapeños, greed onions, and red onions mixed with salt, sugar, and vinegar for making curtido.

Pupusas are typically served alongside a tasty cabbage slaw called curtido. Check out this recipe for curtido made with cabbage, carrots, red onions, and jalapeños.

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