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Salvadoran papusas with black beans, curtido and salsa roja

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

This was a dish I was introduced to by one of my lunch buddies. When we could dine out, pre-COVID days, we would go out for lunch every 2 weeks with the goal of discovering new cuisines, local restaurants, but mainly to hang out and talk. One of them chose papusas at a small dive in Redwood City, California, it was the perfect choice in every way. Zipotes Restaurant papusas are the best I have ever had, always served with grace and a smile. This is not really a complex recipe, but it does require planning. At least 5 days for the cabbage (curtido), 2-3 for the salsa. There are a few components, but in reality a pretty simple though spectacular recipe. The curtido is the magic that brings the dish together, crunchy, fermented and amazing. The red beans, are smoky and irresistible. Yes, you will wonder what this recipe is all about when you char the onions, but hang in there, they are amazing. These beans are so good you will make them again, just to have them on the table. The original recipe calls for the beans to be stuffed into the papusas, but since I was just learning to make them for the first time, I went simple with just cheese. The salsa adds that perfect touch of heat to the dish. This recipe is from a bunch of recipes online with acknowledgements next to each recipe. I have added some additional notes to the recipes based on my experience in making thsee recipes. I do however want to thank Darlene from International Cuisine for allowing me to republish her wonderful recipes. I love her site and am a touch jealous of her extensive travels!

For more recipes from Bon Appetit, click here.


For the curtido (Bon Appetit)

1 very small head cabbage, shredded. A red cabbage gives a wonderful splash of color 3 medium carrots, shredded

1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced 2 serrano chiles, stems removed, thinly sliced 1 garlic clove, minced 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican) 5 teaspoons (or more) kosher salt 1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup (or more) apple cider vinegar

To make the curtido:

Toss cabbage, carrots, onion, chiles, garlic, oregano, and salt in a large bowl. Let sit 30 minutes to wilt cabbage. Transfer to an airtight container (like a 2-qt. ball jar) and press down firmly on cabbage to release juices; liquid should be at or above level of vegetables. Seal and let sit at room temperature at least 24 hours. As a note, the cabbage I used did not give out any liquids. In addition, I did not have an airtight container large enough for all the canbbage, I let it sit in a large plastic bowl covered with wrap. They came out well fermented and delicious. If serving after 24 hours, toss with oil and vinegar and season with salt, if needed. If serving after 48 hours, curtido will be tangy and may not need vinegar; toss with oil, then taste and season with salt and vinegar, if needed.

Do Ahead: Cabbage relish can be made 1 week ahead; chill after 5 days. I followed the recipe leaving the curtido out for 3 days and then refrigerating it. It continued to develop in the fridge. I did not add any vinegar or oil as it did not need it.

For the salsa roja (International Cuisine)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup onion, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic

1 serrano or jalapeño chili pepper, roughly chopped, or to taste

2 cups tomatoes, roughly diced

2 teaspoons dried oregano, Mexican preferred

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup cilantro, minced

To make the salsa roja:

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion, garlic and chili and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the tomatoes and oregano and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Puree the tomato sauce in a blender until smooth, adding a little water if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir in cilantro if using and serve. I generally let the sauce come together for about 6 hours at room temperature and then 1-2 days in the fridge.

To make the red beans (Bon Appetit)

1/2 lb. El SalvadorIan red beans or red kidney beans, soaked overnight

2 onions, quartered and peeled into individual petals

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped=

3 cloves garlic

Salt to taste

To make the red beans:

Put the drained beans in a large pot, add one onion quartered, the green pepper roughly chopped and the three whole garlic cloves. Cover with water by about 4-5 inches and cook till very soft, about 25-30 minutes. Cool.

In a non-stick frying pan, add 2 tablespoons of oil and the other quartered onion. Heat up the oil and onion slowly and cook them SLOWLY until they are black and burned, this takes quite a while, but be patient. Once black and burned remove the onion pieces reserving the flavored oil in the pan. This is not the time to worry about burning the onions, about 50% of them need to be well charred. This charring adds the wonderful flavor the the beans. Cool.

Blend the bean mix and charred onions in a blender until smooth using some of the water that the beans have cooked in. Return the bean purée to the pan with the burnt onion oil and sauté for 10 minutes or so. The final consistency of the beans is like heavy cream, or a bit thicker. Add salt and taste. The beans should have a pronounce smoked aroma and flavor.

For the papusas (makes 12) (Bon Appetit)

3 cups instant corn masa flour, available in the Mexican store near you ot on Amazon.

4 ounces grated queso Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons oil

2 1/3 cups water or as needed

To make the papusas:

Mix all the ingredients together into a smooth thick dough, either by hand or using a stand mixer. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to allow the flour to saturate.

Coat your hands with oil to stop the dough from sticking to it. Divide dough into 12 balls (about ¼ cup each), keeping them covered with a damp towel so they don’t dry out. With 1 ball in the palm of your hand, use your thumb of the opposite hand to create an indentation in the center. Pinch sides to create a well for the filling (it should look like half of a coconut shell). Fill hole with 2 Tbsp. cheese. Pinch dough around filling to enclose (it’s okay if some is poking out), then gently flatten to a 4½–5" disk, dipping your hands in oil-water as needed. Repeat with remaining dough and bean mixture (you may have some filling left over).

Cook pupusa in a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until center slightly puffs up and pupusa is browned in spots, 3–4 minutes per side. Add a touch of oil as needed to crisp fry the outer layers. If filling leaks out, it most probably will if you are making them fir the first time, simply scrape off pan after pupusa has cooked.

Serve immediately.

To serve:

You can have the curtido and salsa on the table ready. Heat the beans and serve in a bowl sprinkled with some cilantro on top. Serve the papusas fresh, as they come off the frying pans, so they are still hot and gooey. I usually have 2 pans going at the same time to speed up the process.

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