Salvadoran Pupusas de Queso con Curtido (Cheese Stuffed Masa Cakes with Cabbage Slaw)

by simplylife on September 25, 2012

I have a bit of OCD when I travel.  Of course, we all hear the repeated overhead announcements, “never leave your personal belongings unattended.”  But, I sorta have this need to physically be touching all my items at all times.  Thankfully, I have never had my purse, camera or other personal item stolen.

But the truth of the matter is, I don’t do it out of fear of it being stolen.  I do it out of fear of my memory.

You see, after my time teaching English in Sevilla, Spain was over, I boarded a train direct from Sevilla to Barcelona, where I would be catching my flight home.  I was traveling alone and had my large suitcase, oversize purse and carry-on bag.  Initially, when I had first landed in Spain, my luggage was lost and it took nearly an entire week for all my belongings to find my little apartment (that’s an entire story for another day).  Let’s just say, I learned fast the importance of traveling with all your necessities, and at least one change of clothes.

So, being the prepared traveler that I was, I had my carry-on bag filled with my favorite new Spanish blouse and strappy sandals.  If I was going to lose my luggage for another week, those were the clothes I wanted to be wearing everyday (not the boring navy pants and T-shirt I found myself in before).  I boarded the train, placed my luggage at the front, gripped my purse tightly to my chest, and placed the carry-on in the overhead compartment…and then drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke, I was in Barcelona for the first time.  I realized I had no clue how to get from the train station to the airport and was feeling flustered with everyone rushing to disembark the train.  I briskly walked to the exist with everyone else, grabbed my suitcase and tried my best to navigate the bus system to the airport.

I felt a wave of relief when I arrived at the airport and found my way to my gate.  It was at that exact moment, when my mind could be at ease, when I realized my carry-on with my favorite new purchases, was no longer by my side.  After spending several months shopping in all the fun Spanish stores to find the perfect summer top and shoes, I had lost the bag.  Of course, I was grateful to arrive home safely and knew that in the big scheme of things, a few lost items wasn’t too big a deal.

However, since then, I am extra-cautious with all my belongings whenever I travel.

Right. So how does this fit in with Salvadoran Pepusas?  Well, it doesn’t really.  But when I tasted these warm, cheesy, stuffed tortillas, I was reminded about I would love to travel to El Salvador, and then my mind wandered off to previous travel hiccups…and I thought I’d share this story with you.  Are you following?

Really though, I have just been so excited to share this recipe with you!   This is one of those recipes that looks like it takes a lot more energy, time and skill than it actually does to put together!

This was my first time buying masa harina (a form of corn flour);  I wasn’t too sure where to find it, but sure enough, it was available at Whole Foods and our local grocery store, in the “ethnic foods” aisle.  It’s really easy to work with and trust me, tastes delicious when filled with cheese!  Oh, and that salad – I’ve never enjoyed eating cabbage so much! It’s light, refreshing and is the perfect contrast to the warm pepusas.


Salvadoran Pupusas de Queso con Curtido (Cheese Stuffed Masa Cakes with Cabbage Slaw)

by Simply Life

Adapted from The Kitchn

Keywords: fry entree salad side appetizer vegan vegetarian cheese cabbage

Ingredients (Makes 8 pepusas)

For the Pepusas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (or other preferred cheese)
  • 1-2 tbs. oil, plus more for keeping hands oiled

Curtido for the Curtido

  • 1/2 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, grated (I used a vegetable peeler)
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes


For the Pepusas

1. Mix together masa harina, salt and water. Knead to form a smooth, moist dough (if the mixture is too dry, add a touch more water; if the mixture is too sticky, add a touch more masa harina). Cover the bowl with a cloth and let stand for 10 minutes.

2. With lightly oiled hands, form the dough into 8 balls that are about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small hole. Fill the hole with 1 tablespoon of cheese and wrap the dough around the filling to seal it. Pat the dough back and forth between your hands to form a round, flattened disk about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining balls, making sure to keep your hands lightly oiled throughout the entire process.

3. Heat 1 tbs. oil in skillet over medium-high. Cook the pupusas for about 3 minutes per side until golden brown, adding additional oil to skillet if needed. Serve warm with curtido (recipe below) on the side and enjoy!

For the Curtido

1. Combine the cabbage, carrot, and pepper in a bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and then pour over the cabbage mixture and toss together. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, serve and enjoy!

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 ~Have you had any “travel hiccups?”

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  • Decocinasytacones

    I need to touch my belongings when I travel too, I feel I have all my things controlled and in their places…….my wallet was stollen in Mexico and we simply left everything with my mom for 5 minutes, but things happen…this won´t happen again. I´m sorry it had to be in Spain.

    • Simply Life

      Don’t worry- I still have the best memories in Spain…and it was completely my fault! Sorry to hear about your wallet being stolen!

  • Jolene (

    What an interesting dish! I have never heard of these before, but am totally intrigued. The look delicious!

    • Simply Life

      You should try them! They are SOOOO good! =)

  • Liz @ Tip Top Shape

    This looks so great!! I’m really lucky to not have had any major travelling hiccups. I’m sure my time will come, though!

  • yummychunklet

    Those look spectacular, but I’m swooning over the redness of your tomatoes!

  • Colleen

    What a super unique dish! These pepusas look so fun and yummy!

  • Mom

    Your salad looks so refreshing and I love your dough cups…ooh, do these sound good! I too remember that experience and honestly, were so relieved you were safely where you needed to be it was a concern, but not a worry. I am now in the habit of counting my items I should have with me. So far it’s really helped. (This started when we went to Italy…the number of cases; 11…whew)

  • Emily

    Oh man, losing bags while traveling is the worst!! But at least the food remains a good memory!

  • Shannon ~ My Place In The Race

    I have Masa flour I use for corn tortillas but this is a great idea! Gonna have to give it a try! ASAP! 😛

  • Marissa

    I’ve been meaning to make pepusas forever, and these look amazing. Can’t wait to try the recipe. Thank you!

  • Urvashi Agarwal

    I haven’t heard of this before nor have I tasted it but I would like to change that 😀

    CheersChoc Chip Uru

    • Simply Life

      You should definitely try it!

  • Singerinkitchen

    I HAVE had these and I love them Yummy!

  • meri

    oh man, the things you make always send me into the kitchen to make some half-ass pathetic version to try to live up to the cravings you’ve stirred in me haha. These look so so good.


    My husband still talks about the Pepusas he ate with natives from El Salvador while living in NYC. About 5 yrs ago, I looked online for recipe but couldn’t find anything good. So happy to stumble upon your delicious-looking recipe with wonderful photos. They are gorgeous, and such simple instructions. I have the ingredients all ready to go!

    • Simply Life

      Oh great! I love hearing this story and hope you enjoy them!


        I made these a few weeks ago and they were so fun! I want to serve them with some beans next time. Didn’t love the curtido, but that’s probably just me. I am going to make these again!

        • Simply Life

          Thanks so much for letting me know! Yes, serving them with beans is a GREAT idea!!!

  • Kari

    Oh no! Still being away on travels, I can appreciate the horror of that moment when you realised the bag was no longer there! I’m a bit obessive about checking on tickets / passports / valuables, even if I know logically they must still be in my bag. I guess better safe than sorry 😛

    These masa cakes are completely new to me and look amazing!

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