Pupusa and Curtido: The Delicious Food From El Salvador

Aug 9, 2018

My favorite El Salvadoran food is the pupusa. To be honest it’s the only El Salvadoran food that I actually know. But since it’s the national dish it’s certainly worth noting. A delicious warming comfort food the pupusa is a soft corn dough filled with a savory filling flattened and cooked like a stuffed tortilla.  

Common fillings added to the dough are mixed cheeses pork, loroco, which is an edible flower and refried beans. You can find pupusa in most Utah towns and cities. Either in a pupuseria or on the menu of your favorite Latin American mixed cuisine restaurant. 

They are smallish. I can eat three on a hungry night and are usually cooked to order. So don’t’ be in a hurry when you stop by to get one. They come to you simple and steaming on a plate.  You can dress them with spicy and tangy sides or eat them straight.  A Central American version of the grilled cheese sandwich. I’ll take a warm and filling pupusa anytime. But I really am in love with the vegetable side that inevitably comes with them.

It’s curtido. This salad is often described as lightly fermented sour cabbage but those words just don’t’ do it justice. Its kind-of a cole slaw, kind-of a relish, and a bit of a pickled vegetable marinade.  It’s made with cabbage, red or green, shredded carrots for sweetness, onion, chilies, garlic, oregano and salt. But don’t be thinking kimchi. This side is much more mild and subtle than its howling Asian cousin. If you want to mix up some curtido for yourself you just toss in some ingredients in a large bowl and let them sit for an hour to wilt the cabbage. Then you transfer the mass to an air-tight container and press the cabbage firmly until the juices are at or above the levels of the vegetables so everything is submerged. Seal the container and just let it sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. This recipe is an easy entry for the uninitiated into the world of fermentation.

If you eat the curtido after 24 hours you may need to add a bit of apple cider vinegar for a little additional kick.  If you wait a full 48 it should be tangy on its own merits and may not need anything added.  Even better, let it sit longer, up to a week.  Just chill it after five days to slow down the microbial action.  Some people choose to toss their curtido with a little bit of olive oil just before eating. I choose to pile mine into a mini mountain atop my mixed cheese pupusas and dig in. The tang of the slaw and the warm comfort of the cheese and corn make for the perfect mouth-watering meal.

This is Lael Gilbert for Bread and Butter.