Bean, cheese and smoked chilli pupusas

30th December 2020 | Eativity editors

What’s a pupusa? 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 quite like a pupusa. I discovered the hot, bean-filled good-time gals at the Alemany Flea Market and 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 hungry mate across various American states for these satisfying grilled corn cakes. And I’ve also worked hard to nail them at home. Paired with a sharp krauty slaw to help your gut break down all that fire and cheese, I think this recipe 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

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


1. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add chillies and dry roast for approximately 2 minutes or until slightly puffed. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over chillies and set aside for 15 minutes to rehydrate.
2. Meanwhile, heat a quarter cup of vegetable oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add brown onion and the onion skins and cook, stirring until charred. Be mindful as the oil will spit and smoke. Take the onion further than you think. Redman-Lloyd likes the skins burnt and crisp – it adds more flavour.
3. Remove chillies from water and roughly chop, being mindful to avoid the seeds. Transfer the chopped chillies, onions and a few tablespoons of chilli liquid to a blender, add 1 can of drained beans and 1 can with liquid, and purée until smooth. Do not throw out the hot oil.
4 Add the puréed mixture to the remaining oil, then cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom until mixture is thickened (5-7 minutes). Set aside to cool and thicken even more. 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 the flour. You want the dough to come together but still have some stick. Let dough rest under a damp cloth for 15 minutes.
6. While dough rests, combine kraut with carrots, massage. Roughly chop jalapeños. Add Mexican 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 and 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.
9. Divide dough into 10 equal balls. Keep covered with a slightly damp tea towel or cling film.
10. Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Ready yourself with a small bowl of warm water with a drizzle of oil. This will keep your hands from sticking to the dough as you work with it. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a non-stick pan or skillet over medium-high heat.
11. Round one ball in the palm of your hand and use your thumb to make a groove in the centre, making a well for the filling. Fill the hole with about 2 tablespoons of the beany-cheesy mix and using a damp finger, pull the dough back up around the hole, enclosing the filling. Gently flatten into a disc. Repeat with remaining filling and dough balls.
12. Transfer pupusa to hot skillet and cook, turning once or twice until golden brown and crisp (approximately 2 minutes per side). If some filling leaks out, it’s okay, crisp burnt bits of bean and cheese is unsurprisingly delicious. Brush pupusa with chilli oil on both sides for an extra kick and warm on a tray in oven while you roll more.
13. Serve pupusas loaded with kraut slaw, quick-pickled onion, coriander leaves and stems, lime wedges and your favourite hot sauce.