Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas

30th December 2020 | Eativity editors

What are pupusas? It’s the national dish of El Salvador – a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savoury filling and grilled. Pupusas are popular throughout Central America, and they’re absolutely delicious. Try this recipe for bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas from former Gourmet Traveller food editor Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd, and we promise you’ll agree.

“I spent a lot of time working in San Francisco, alone,” says Redman-Lloyd. “Nothing cheered my lonely heart like pupusas. I discovered the hot, bean-filled good-time gals at the Alemany Flea Market. From there, I made it my mission to try as many pupusas as I could. While I never quite reached El Salvador or Honduras – their birthplace – I’ve dragged many a mate across various US states for these satisfying corn cakes. I’ve also worked hard to nail them at home. Paired with a sharp slaw to help your gut break down all that fire and cheese, this recipe for bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas with sauerkraut slaw and pickled onion does a pretty good job of paying homage to my fave street-side snack.”

Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas with sauerkraut slaw and quick-pickled onion

Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas with sauerkraut slaw and quick-pickled onion

Serves 4-6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes

You’ll need:

For the pupusas

2-4 dried Mexican chillies (Redman-Lloyd uses pasilla and guajillo, but if you can’t find them, substitute for 2 tsp smoked paprika)
1 cup vegetable oil, divided
1 brown onion, quartered and pieces separated like petals
2 x 400g cans red kidney beans (reserve liquid from 1 can)
3 cups masa flour
1 cup mozzarella, whole ball, grated
2 tbsp chilli oil, for brushing (optional)

For the sauerkraut slaw

2 cups of caraway-spiced sauerkraut
1 bunch baby carrots, cut into thin coins
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
2 tbsp preserved jalapeños, chopped
1 lime, juiced

For the quick-pickled red onion

1 red onion
1 cup white vinegar
3 tsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds

To serve

Lime wedges
Fresh coriander
Hot sauce

Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas with sauerkraut slaw and quick-pickled onion


1. Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add chillies. Dry roast for 2 minutes until slightly puffed. Remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over chillies. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a quarter cup of vegetable oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add brown onion and onion skins. Cook, stirring until charred. Redman-Lloyd likes the skins burnt and crisp – it adds more flavour.

3. Remove chillies from water and roughly chop, avoiding seeds. Transfer chilli, onions and w tablespoons of chilli liquid to a blender. Add 1 can of drained beans, 1 can with liquid. Purée until smooth. Don’t throw out hot oil.

4 Add puréed mix to remaining oil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, scraping the bottom until mixture thickens (5-7 minutes). Set aside to cool/thicken. Season to taste.

5. In a large bowl, mix masa flour with a generous pinch of salt. In stages, add 3 cups of warm water to flour. You want the dough to come together but also have some stick. Let dough rest under a damp cloth for 15 minutes.

6. Combine kraut with carrots, massage. Roughly chop jalapeños. Add oregano, lime juice and a splash of brine from the jalapeño jar. Season to taste.

7. For the quick-pickled onion, combine vinegar with 1 cup of water, sugar and spices in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Roughly chop the red onion and place in bowl. Pour pickling mix over red onion and leave to pickle and cool for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste.

8. Grate cheese directly into bean mix. Stir to combine. Season to taste.

To put everything together:

1. Divide dough into 10 equal balls. Keep covered with a slightly damp tea towel or cling film.

2. Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Ready a small bowl of warm water with a drizzle of oil. This will keep your hands from sticking to the dough as you work it. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.

3. Round one ball in the palm of your hand. Use your thumb to make a groove in the centre, making a well for the filling. Fill the hole with 2 tablespoons of the beany-cheesy mix. Using a damp finger, pull dough up around the hole, enclosing the filling. Gently flatten into a disc. Repeat with remaining filling and dough.

4. Transfer pupusas to hot pan and cook, turning once or twice until golden brown and crisp. If some filling leaks out, it’s okay. Crisp bits of bean and cheese is delicious. Brush pupusas with chilli oil on both sides for extra kick. Warm on a tray in oven and roll more.

5. Serve pupusas with kraut slaw, quick-pickled onion, coriander leaves and stems and lime wedges as well as your favourite hot sauce.

Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas with sauerkraut slaw and quick-pickled onion