First Try: Pupusa de Arroz

Pupusas are one of those accidental but life-changing “street food” discoveries that, as someone who cannot eat flour or corn, is now part of my routine eat-out food options. It’s not easy to find a Salvadorean restaurant that delivers during this Covid work-from-home situation (we have 1, but their open hours are sparse). So after researching how they’re traditionally made, I was curious to see how easy it was to make the dough and, if successful, is the dough something I could adapt for other baked goods as well.

What are pupusas?

Pupusas are flat discs of masa (usually corn flour) filled with cheese or other common ingredients, such as pork or chicken. They’re heavy (not greasy per se (it depends on the cheese), but they are discs of pure carbohydrate and fat/protein), but are served with this amazingly delicious vinegary coleslaw that, in my opinion, balances it out to tasty meal.

The dish originates from El Salvador and can be found in many Latin-American restaurants around the Bay Area. However, if you find a place that really specializes in Salvadorean food, they’ll likely have a rice flour based pupusa available to order: Pupusa de Arr贸z. These are completely corn free, gluten free, and if you order a cheese-less filling, dairy free as well!

A bit of backstory

Since Covid shelter-in-place, we’ve had to order our pupusas by delivery and, in our area, there’s only one restaurant that delivers through Doordash AND sells rice-flour pupusas. We’ve been regular customers since the start of this year as a result.

Normally I feel nothing but joy when ordering from them, but in recent weeks, they’ve been repeatedly messing up the order, putting cheese in all our pupusas to my despair (especially when I’m the one craving pupusas! It sucks to wait the hour for delivery only to find I need to go find something else to eat).

Last week this happened to us twice. 4 pupusas per order. 2 failed orders. So 8 pupusas later, my boyfriend had 4 meals of pupusas con queso y chicharron and I had 0.

So that was part of the motivation behind this experiment, but I was also curious about the masa. I’ve been trying to bake gluten free lately and while some things like cake and muffins work well (either using almond flour or my go-to gluten free flour blend), other things fail miserably. The last experiment was with popular GF pie crust recipes and despite doing my research, I concluded there was no way to get that buttery flaky crust without using wheat flour or butter (esp butter… vegan butter is not a good substitute. It fries it more than anything else). It comes out hard, rock-like. It CAN work as a crust, just not a very good one.

GF/DF pie crust followed the same instructions as a normal gluten-filled pie crust, except instead of wheat flour, you use gluten free flour. And instead of butter, you use vegan butter. So not exactly innovative and eye-opening with the recipe changes.

Pupusas de arr贸z is made with pure rice flour. And it doesn’t even have to be a special brand (some Latin-American recipes require specific types of masa to make it work). You can even start with rice and grind your own flour and it will work. The trick is to use hot water.

How I made pupusas (first try experiment)

In 2 cups of rice flour, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp oil, and 1 cup of boiled hot water. Then with a spatula, mix together until it’s still hot, but cool enough to touch. Then start kneading. It came together but was pretty stiff so I continued to add hot water 1 Tbsp at a time, per a youtube video I saw, until it became soft and malleable and slightly sticky. Then let it set and cool on the counter for a bit before pulling off chunks to roll out into pupusas.

I didn’t do the traditional hand-flattening method but used 2 sheets of parchment paper coated with oil and a rolling pin to get a thin sheet. I didn’t trust my skills with handling sticky dough and I wanted to see if this was possible to do (for future dough-usage experiments). It was! It peeled off pretty easily and as long as I wasn’t too rough with it, I was able to add the filling and seal it closed.

Then the boyfriend grilled it on the stove.


They were tasty pupusas. 馃槉 And very easy to put together. Even the dough was quick and easy I could see turning this out real quick for a same-day meal if needed.

In hindsight though, my pupusas had too much dough in them so it was denser and heavier than the restaurant’s… I felt kind of sick after eating it, probably because of all this dense matter in my stomach after a single meal. So I’ll likely try to roll out the dough even thinner next time or try the hand-flattening method traditionally used. Or maybe just add more water so the dough is stickier and looser before using it to wrap pupusas? More experiments to try.

But personally… I think I’ll just order pupusas from that restaurant and be more blatant about “no cheese” in mine.

What about the dough?

The pupusa masa was surprisingly malleable, like rolling pie dough, just stickier. You need to coat the outer surface with oil to prevent sticking. When grilled, the crust was crispy on the outside while soft (but dense) inside. It tasted like a mellow salted rice, which is not a bad thing at all in my book!

This makes me wonder if rice flour pupusa dough can be manipulated to make other things?

  • What if I add more oil to the dough?
  • What if I let it get stickier and looser?
  • What happens if I also add baking powder?
  • How thinly can I roll this dough out? Can it be layered?
  • What if I mix a yeast slurry into the dough after mixing it with the hot water?
  • How will this differ from a potato-based dough like with potato hotteok?

More things to try for the future I think!

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