Pupusas Recipe | From El Salvador

Pupusas Recipe | From El Salvador
This pupusas recipe for stuffed corn cakes is for when the cupboards are nearly bare, and you need a hearty handheld meal—and you need it fast!

This pupusas recipe for stuffed corn cakes is for when the cupboards are nearly bare, you need a hearty handheld meal—and you need it fast!

This pupusas recipe for stuffed corn cakes is for when the cupboards are nearly bare, and you need a hearty handheld meal—and you need it fast!

What are pupusas?

This pupusas recipe, for El Salvadoran corn cakes made with masa and stuffed with yummy stuff like garlic, onions, cheese, pork, or beans, is absolutely one of my go-to recipes. They’re naturally gluten free, and they could not be simpler.

I have a special place in my heart for Latin American cuisine, since so much of it is naturally gluten-free. They’re not wheat junkies like we Americans are.

Although pupusas originated in El Salvador, they’re also popular in Honduras. Pupusas are also really common in Northern California, and when my family and I took a trip there a few years ago, the most common gluten free friendly restaurants had pupusas on the menu.

Are all pupusas gluten free?

Pupusas are naturally gluten free. Like anything else, though, they can be “glutened” if wheat flour is added to it, any of the filling ingredients are gluten-containing, or the masa harina used is contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients.

They’re made primarily with masa harina corn flour, which is a precooked cornmeal that’s dried, treated with limewater (also known as slaked lime or calcium hydroxide), then dried again. If you start researching slaked lime too much, you might not want to eat anything with masa harina. It has mostly industrial applications. But it gives masa harina its amazing aroma and flavor, and, well, it’s gluten free. 🙂

The moment you open a bag of masa harina corn flour, you’ll be reminded of fresh corn tortillas, which are made with the corn flour and water. Pupusas are thicker and more savory as they’re filled before being cooked. Corn tortillas are cooked plain. For another meal option using masa harina, try my recipe for Colombian empanadas.

If you’ve only ever had packaged corn tortillas, you really should try making them fresh. Two of my three children will only bother to eat corn tortillas when I make them fresh, as that’s ruined them for eating the packaged kind.

This pupusas recipe for stuffed corn cakes is for when the cupboards are nearly bare, and you need a hearty handheld meal—and you need it fast!

Working with masa harina

I typically buy Bob’s Red Mill brand masa harina corn flour, as it’s available through Amazon.com for a good price. If you’re gluten free, just be sure you buy the variety that’s labeled “gluten free.”

Maseca brand is also labeled gluten free, but in the grocery store it’s often stored on a shelf right next to some sort of wheat flour, so I prefer to buy it online.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to work with a simple dough made of masa harina and water. The masa absorbs the water fully after a few minutes, so it’s useful to cover the dough and let it rest briefly before working with it or you might overhydrate it.

You’ll know that the masa has too much water added to it if, after a few minutes, the dough is too soft to hold its shape properly. It’s easy to add more masa to get to the proper consistency, though. It’s easier still to add more water by the teaspoonful, though, so add less water at first.

The texture of properly made pupusa dough is like PlayDoh. You’re better off working with it slightly dry (but never crumbly), and then moistening your fingers to seal up any cracked edges after shaping.

This pupusas recipe for stuffed corn cakes is for when the cupboards are nearly bare, and you need a hearty handheld meal—and you need it fast!

How to make pupusas at home

In this pupusas recipe, I use only one piece of dough, then flatten it into a pancake, create a well in the center, fill it, and then shape the masa around the filling. You can make pupusas with two pancakes of masa dough instead of just one. But that method yields a more doughy result, since masa harina alone tends to be bland.

Pupusas can be filled with cheese alone. I like them with beans, cheese, and some spices. They’re awesome with pulled pork, too, especially if it’s been cooked with plenty of Latin American spices. You can even add some warm spices like ground cumin, smoked paprika and chili powder to the dough itself for more flavor. It doesn’t change the ingredient proportions.

Keep in mind that this is like any other new cooking technique: the first few tend to turn out much less beautiful. But you’ll hit your stride soon before the dough runs out. The next time you make them, you hit your stride a little sooner.

Ingredients and substitutions

Since pupusas are so simple, there aren’t many ingredients to discuss but here goes:


If you can’t have corn, I’m afraid you really can’t have pupusas at least not traditional ones. Although there are recipes on the web for corn-free cornbread, many of which use combinations of millet and almond flour, I’ve tried many of them and never been satisfied.

Masa harina, as we discussed above, is also quite the unique corn flour as it’s treated with slaked lime. Short of curing your own corn substitute, I don’t think there’s a way to recreate that experience.


As long as you use a dairy-free cheese in your filling, these pupusas are naturally dairy-free!

Beans, meat and other fillings

Since you can fill pupusas with anything savory, you can make this recipe without beans, without meat or without both quite easily. Get creative!


Like this recipe?

Prep time: Cook time: Yield: 6 pupusas


2 cups (264 g) gluten free masa harina corn flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) lukewarm water

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

Ground cumin, chili powder, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups melting cheese, like Monterey jack, grated


  • Line a plate or rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside. In a large bowl, place the masa harina, and salt, and mix to combine. Create a well in the center, and pour in about 10 fluid ounces of the water. Mix to combine. The dough should not be sticky, and not dry, but should be a bit tacky to the touch. Add more water by the tablespoonful, mixing to combine, until there are no crumbly bits. The dough is easier to work with a little too wet than a little too dry. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 5 minutes to allow the masa to absorb the liquid.

  • While the dough is resting, in a separate, medium-sized bowl, place the beans. Add the desired spices to taste, and mix to combine. Place the cheese in a small bowl beside the beans. Place a small bowl with warm water beside the cheese.

  • Check the dough. If it appears too dry, add a tablespoon of water, wet your hands in the water bowl, and work the water in to the dough. Once the dough is ready, divide it into 6 even parts. Take each piece of dough and roll it into a ball with wet hands. Then, a rhythmic motion, pat the dough between wet palms until it flattens. If it splits along the edges, just press it back together. Pupusas are not meant to rise when cooking, so a tight seal around the edges is not necessary.

  • Press the center of the flattened dough gently into the palm of your hand to create a well for the filling. Add a spoonful of the black beans to the well, and top with a couple tablespoons of grated cheese. The dough will be nearly covered with filling. Then, with the hand that is cradling the pupusa, begin to close the edges of the dough toward the center, rotating the ball in your hand as you work. Your free hand should help to thin the dough a bit to cover the filling. Once the filling is covered with the dough, pat the dough flat again between moistened palms. Place on the lined plate or baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and filling.

  • Heat a 12-inch cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Place as many pupusas as will fit without crowding one another in the pan, and allow to cook on one side for about 3 minutes, or until the underside is no longer shiny and beginning to brown. Flip the pupusas with a metal spatula, and allow to cook on the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm.

  • Originally published on the blog in 2011 (!). Recipe unchanged, photos, video and text all new. 


Comments are closed.

  • Beth
    April 19, 2017 at 10:35 PM

    Have the masa on hand, but I’m going breakfast style with scrambled eggs, crumbled bacon & pepper jack shreds, then serve with avocado slices & salsa .

  • Millie
    April 17, 2017 at 3:28 PM

    I made these for dinner on Good Friday. I added some chipotle seasoning to the mix. They were delicious and a real hit at our dinner. They are even great reheated. I love your recipes.

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 18, 2017 at 8:14 AM

      Adding some spices to the pupusa dough is a great idea, Millie! So glad all went well. :)

  • Mary Ellen
    April 17, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    Can you please give me some info on keepability? I saw another commenter saying she planned to freeze them – do you know if they freeze OK and can you please suggest the best way to reheat them? (Do they need to be defrosted first or can they go straight in a…pan? Microwave? Sandwich press?) And how long would they keep in the fridge? Thanks, can’t wait to try them!

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 17, 2017 at 1:53 PM

      Hi, Mary Ellen,
      They freeze fine after being cooked, but they do have a tendency to dry out. I’d recommend that you form them completely, then freeze them raw in a single layer on a baking sheet. Wrap tightly and freeze. Then defrost at room temperature, still wrapped, and cook as directed.

  • Viv
    April 17, 2017 at 7:36 AM

    Any oil in the pan Nicole?

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 17, 2017 at 7:41 AM

      Not it if it’s a cast iron pan, Viv. Although you can put a bit of olive oil spray if you like.

  • Ruthe Hobbs
    April 16, 2017 at 9:35 PM

    I made the strawberry cheesecake forbEaster dinner. It was a hit with everybody. Easy and delicious. Thanks

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 17, 2017 at 7:43 AM

      That awesome, Ruthe!

  • Merilyn Neumann
    April 16, 2017 at 7:51 PM

    What would the corn flour be here in Australia please?

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 17, 2017 at 7:41 AM

      I’m afraid I really don’t know, Merilyn. The proper name is masa harina. I think you’ll have to just google around!

  • Terri
    April 11, 2017 at 7:39 PM

    I tried them, but they burned before they were cooked all the way through. I turned it down to medium for the next few, but they still didn’t cook all the way through. Guess I’ll try medium-low for the next batch.

    • Nicole Hunn
      April 12, 2017 at 8:53 AM

      It sounds like your flame was too high, Terri. Every stovetop is different.

    • Terri
      April 12, 2017 at 4:24 PM

      I bake much better than I cook. Lol. They were perfect on medium after the burner had cooled off.

  • Pamela G
    August 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    OMG!!! I finally had the time to make these last night. I thought for sure it woud take longer to assemble and NO…they are a snap! Although I wouldn’t wet my hands net time – I ended up STICKYYYY- then rolled them between dry hands and had more luck. I am impressed! I made crockpot pulled pork & pupsas & it was delish!

    • Nicole
      August 17, 2011 at 10:10 AM

      So glad they turned out well, Pamela!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Sarah D
    July 25, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Okay, I tried these again and they were amazing this time! I made a couple extra to try freezing and re-heating in the toaster. They were a huge hit, too! I think I’m going to fill up my freezer with these yummy snacks to have as “meals on the go”. I love quick and easy!

    • Nicole
      July 25, 2011 at 7:09 PM

      Hi, Sarah,
      Congratulations! You have mastered the pupusa. Now that you’re such a whiz with masa harina, you’ll be happy to know that we’ll be using it again this week — for soft corn tortillas. Deliciosos! Great idea to stock the freezer with these. I hear you on quick and easy!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Anneke
    June 27, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    Hey Nicole — These have potential, when I find a source for the mesa harina, the first place I looked today didn’t have it. Also, went back to using the Jules flour for my sourdough today, and it rose right up! My plan is to use Jules for the bread and Better Batter for everything else, because I do like the BB, and I can get it much cheaper, but I like bigger bread slices, too. Finally organized some of my recipes today, it was ridiculous, but at least I am feeling less behind. Found some of your recipes that I printed, it might be time for muffins again! Best, Anneke

    • Carrie
      June 28, 2011 at 1:48 PM

      Yummy! These are so delicious! I made them last night for dinner, and I wanted to eat them all. But I had to share with all those people that are called my family. And since I can finally have dairy again, I used quite a bit of cheese. They were SO good! Now I’m starving… Thanks for the recipe :)

      • Nicole
        June 28, 2011 at 1:50 PM

        Hi, Carrie,
        Thanks so much for letting us know how they turned out! I’m so happy for you that you can have dairy. What a relief!
        You’re welcome for the recipe. :)
        xoxo Nicole

        • Carrie
          June 29, 2011 at 3:54 PM

          I’m pretty happy I can have dairy too. I celebrated the first day with a milkshake. A big one. It was lovely.
          I was told to add dairy and eggs back first, instead of potatoes. But I’ll be adding potatoes back in a couple of weeks, and then I can use Better Batter for all of your recipes I’m dying to try! (Just in case you forgot, I’m the same Carrie with the potato allergy from the flatbread recipe from a couple of weeks back) Experimenting with different flours is tiring, (and disappointing most of the time) so I can’t wait to be able to use flour I know will work.
          And you are my hero. My gluten-free hero. All of your recipes that I’ve made so far are amazing. I barely miss eating gluten-ous things anymore. It’s great!

        • Nicole
          June 29, 2011 at 4:27 PM

          Hi, Carrie,
          Of course I know who you are! That’s how I knew to tell you how happy I was to learn that you were able to add back dairy into your diet. Silly.
          That must have been one awesome milkshake. Honestly, if I had to choose between dairy and potatoes, I would choose dairy. It’s so hard to work around that. As many dairy-free substitutes as there are today, nothing is quite the same. Dairy is kinda unique like that. So hooray for milkshakes!
          I know what you mean about wanting to be able to just use one all-purpose gluten-free flour blend that you know you can count on, like Better Batter. It really opens up a whole sense of possibility and optimism. Fingers crossed for potatoes!
          Aw, shucks. You’ll be your own hero as soon as you get your hands on that fine grain, white as snow Better Batter! Team Gluten Free!
          xoxo Nicole

  • Peggy
    June 27, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    First I want to thank Nicole for creating & maintaining this blog. I just discovered it 3 wks ago & I’m in love—with the recipes. lol I am liking Nicole’s style of writing as well. I feel as though we are sitting at the kitchen table talking about food & other good things! Second, I really like Guy & have followed him from when he won the 2nd season of the next food network star. I understand he co-ownes a restranent in Sacramento were I currently live. (BTW I lived in Boulder, CO for 9 yrs, loved the farmers market in the summer.) I want to try all the recipes!!! Love desserts! I bought your book & downloaded to my kindle but I’m thinking I may have to buy the hard copy as well. Nicole, thanks again & keep up the good work.

  • Sarah
    June 27, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    Thank you! Pupusas are pretty much my all time favorite snacks.

  • Nicole
    June 27, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Hi, Stephanie,
    “Thingamajiggy” does have a nice ring to it. But it’s not really Spanish, I don’t think. :)
    xoxo Nicole

  • Jen
    June 27, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Squeeeee!!!!! I love pupusas!!!! LOVE! THEM! I’ve only ever had them at the Boulder Farmer’s Market in Colorado. So good. Painfully good. And now I DON’T HAVE TO FIGURE OUT A RECIPE! LOL! :) Mwah!!!!
    Oh, yes, I’ll be making these. :)

    • Nicole
      June 27, 2011 at 3:44 PM

      Hi, Jen!
      How great that you’re already primed for this recipe, all ready to go?! I have never been to Boulder Farmer’s Market, but I’m jealous of your ability to go there all the same. :)
      Let me know how they turn out! Thanks for posting…
      xoxo Nicole

  • June 27, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    I am totally making these over the holiday weekend. Thanks!

  • Janet
    June 27, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    I had never heard of these, but they look soo good! Thanks!

    • Nicole
      June 27, 2011 at 3:40 PM

      Thank Guy Fieri, Janet! Seriously, though, neither had I ever heard of them. I love being able to adopt another culture’s classic foods. Have fun!
      xoxo Nicole

      • Janet
        July 1, 2011 at 9:59 AM

        Going to visit a close friend in a couple of weeks and she said we are definitely making these! lol

  • Dana P
    June 27, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Pupusas are a big deal around here. LOVE THEM!

    • Nicole
      June 27, 2011 at 3:39 PM

      Hi, Dana,
      Big deal! I love it! Do you make them often?
      xoxo Nicole

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