Pupusas De Queso – Salvadoran Cheese-Filled Tortillas – Recipe

Pupusas de queso

Pupusas are El Salvador’s best known national delicacy. The concept is simple, just corn masa with a savory filling and flattened into a thick disc, then baked on a lightly-greased griddle or in a cast-iron skillet. Essentially like a quesadilla, though there is something different about the taste when the filling is cooked at the same time as the dough instead of in a second pass. They are also quite similar to the arepas of South America.

The most common vegetarian fillings for pupusas are cheese, refried beans (if they don’t contain lard), and loroco (a flower bud which can be hard to find in America.) For cheese pupusas, a soft, fresh quesillo would be most traditional. If you can’t find that, any mild, meltable cheese can work well. While not traditional, fresh goat cheese (chevre) is also delicious.

Pupusas can be shaped entirely by hand (as I did in the picture above), or using a tortilla press for a more uniform thickness and neat look.

Curtido is the classic accompaniment to pupusas. It is a simple and vinegary cabbage slaw which cuts through the richness of the filling. I find it addictive and will eat any leftovers as a condiment with rice or whatever else I can get my hands on. I’ve included a recipe for that as well.

I’ve been on a big masa kick lately. Pupusas are a great and gentle introduction to working with it. If you want more, check out these bocoles and tamales.

Pupusas De Queso
Vegetarian and gluten-free; not vegan unless you use vegan cheese
Makes about 14, serves 4-6

  • 3 cups masa harina (MaSeCa is a common brand; Bob’s Red Mill makes a tasty one)
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water (and probably more)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese (see above for choices)
  1. Thoroughly mix the masa harina and water, first with a spoon and then get in there with your hands. You want a moist, firm dough. I’d compare it to Play-Do. You should be able to form it without cracking. Add more water a little at a time as needed. Let rest, covered, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet to medium and grease lightly. I used my favorite 12″ cast-iron skillet and could cook 3 at a time.
  3. Moisten your hands lightly. Break off a piece of dough and form a ball about 1 3/4″ or so in diameter. Use your thumb to press a deep well in the ball, making it almost into a bowl. Put about 1 1/2 tablespoons of cheese in the middle. Close the ball over the filling and squeeze to seal. Using either a tortilla press or your hands, flatten into a circle about 5″ in diameter.
  4. Cook each pupusa for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Press down a little to be sure you have contact over the whole surface. When done, you can hold them in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes while you complete the batch.

Curtido (Cabbage slaw for Pupusas)
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Makes: a lot

  • 1/2 medium head green cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced or grated
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or you could use a fresh jalapeno or two)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (apple cider or rice vinegar will do in a pinch)
  1. In a large bowl, cover the cabbage and carrot with boiling water and allow to stand for a minute.
  2. Drain well, then combine all other ingredients.
  3. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Allow to stand for at least an hour. Toss again just before serving.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes.

20 Responses to “Pupusas De Queso – Salvadoran Cheese-Filled Tortillas – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 9:40 am #

    That looks really delicious! I’m so glad you posted that because I’ve been trying to learn vegetarian Mexican recipes. Just one question: Do you think I could substitute red cabbage? Because I have a lot, and I don’t know what to do with it.

    • Reply
      March 29, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Pupusas are NOT mexican….. Pupusas are from El Salvador!!!!!

      • Reply
        November 2, 2016 at 10:29 am #

        FYI it does not matter because Mexican people like the food anyways that we Salvadorean people make

  2. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    March 22, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    @Sarah – I don't see why you couldn't use red cabbage to make curtido. It would look different but I'm sure taste just as great.

  3. Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks for the pupusa recipe! The only ones I’ve made were from a fat-free recipe, and the results were just as dry and tasteless as you would expect. I’ll give yours a shot!

    BTW, I don’t usually buy these kinds of convenience foods, but I find prepackaged coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots) to be a big timesaver when I make curtido (or hot and sour soup, for that matter).

  4. Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    This is something I haven’t seen before. It looks fresh, different and tasty. I think I will try it!

  5. Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Good for a winter evening in the mountains (I know it may not sound much like a Mexican landscape, but I could eat this in winter after a day skiing!)

  6. Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    I LOVE pupusas! and agree that you can’t eat them without curtido. thanks for posting both recipes, I can’t wait to try it!

  7. Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    I made a version of these last summer with the addition of squash blossoms – delicious! Wish I could take the photo from your post and eat it for lunch. It looks so bright and fresh-tasting.

  8. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    March 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    @Dawn – wow, squash blossoms sound  fantastic in them!

  9. Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    oh HURRAH. thank you for this! there are a ton of pupusa places in the dc area, some stellar, some not-so-much. i love them, but have been wanting to give them a shot at home so i can control what’s going in. so excited đŸ™‚

  10. Reply
    May 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Feta is another non-traditional cheese that works really well to fill pupusas. I make them all the time to feed all of my friends and roommates; they can never wait until I am finished to start eating!

  11. Reply
    Rebecca- Guasave Sinaloa Mx
    September 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I found this by surfing the web! Absolutely great. The taste was so close to ones my friends make they were surprised.
    Gret web site.

  12. Reply
    September 25, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Please recognize that THESE ARE NOT FROM MEXICO (not everything on the web containing ingredients commonly used in mexican foods is from mexico. Pupusas for example are from the country El Salvador.)

    • Reply
      March 29, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Thank you!!! I hate when people think that everything that looks spanish is mexican.

      • Reply
        November 2, 2016 at 10:26 am #

        not all people think that way it is just because people dont see how good food from El Salvador taste good

  13. Reply
    January 27, 2016 at 12:05 pm #


  14. Reply
    November 2, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    i love el Salvador food but also mexican food because both foods are great

  15. Reply
    September 5, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m half Salvadorian and I don’t find it ok to call our pupusas stuffed tortillas because they are not tortillas, I would appreciate if you change the title. This dish is only Salvadorian.
    You forgot to include the tomato salsa that goes on top of the curtido. its a very simply salsa not spicy at all.
    Pupusas can also be made of rice flour and they can also contain a variety of other stuffings like chicharron (pork), squash blossom, loroco, shrimp, fish, cheese, beans with cheese, revueltas (pork, cheese and beans) depending on the region of El Salvador.
    Pupusas are my favorite dish from El Salvador, you will all love them. There are many other great dishes like the Salvadorian tamales wrapped in banana lives made from a tender strained masa very popular in central america. The plantain empanadas stuffed with milk pudding or black beans, stuff meat peppers, turkey sandwich, meat picadillo turnovers, fried plantains, sopa de pata (cow feet soup), yucca with pork, the quesadilla bread, the horchata drink, fruit salad drink

    • Reply
      September 7, 2017 at 8:42 am #

      You are totally right, filled tortilla isn’t a very good description. I was looking for something that would help someone who hasn’t had them before get a basic idea of what they are. I’m open to other ideas! And if you want to mention your recipe for the tomato salsa I’m sure people would love to know.

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