I’ve talked a lot about my Colombian roots here on PGEW. From a traditional Carne con hogao (not my finest photographic moment but the flavor of that sauce is dead on and cannot be rivaled by most Colombians!) to last year’s After Thanksgiving Colombian Tapas Party, among other things, I have mentioned my Colombian side a lot on ye olde blog. But there is also the other half of my heritage, my dad’s side: El Salvador. That’s right: my daddy is from the beautiful capital city of San Salvador, and even though I am not as familiar with the actual country as I’d like to be (it’s sooo on my list of places to visit!), I am definitely familiar with the food.
When I was younger we regularly used to visit a Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant in Mountain View, CA, called El Calderón. There, we were treated like family, since Lita, the owner, had known my dad since he was a teenager, new to the United States and ready to take on the restaurant world. As he worked his way up the restaurant business ladder, he eventually ended up mentoring her and gave her business advice she still uses to this day. So, because of these ties, he and my mom were like adoptive children and I was like a granddaughter to her, and visits to El Calderón were always filled with extra guanabana, lots of hugs, and plenty of lively conversation and laughter.
Like most Salvadorean restaurants, El Calderón boasts a hefty menu of specialties from the motherland, namely the pupusas. For those of you unfamiliar with pupusas, they’re pretty much the delicacy of El Salvador, though other versions are served in places like Guatemala and Honduras. From what I understand, those versions are nowhere near what the real Salvadorean pupusa should and could taste like, so if you’re going for the real thing, be sure to get it from a true Salvadorean.
If you’ve never tried them, pupusas are basically thick, cornmeal tortillas filled with either cheese, loroco (a type of cactus flower), frijoles (beans), chicharrón (deep-fried pork or beef), or any combination of those (combinación). Think of it as a thick quesadilla with the surprise wrapped up in the middle. To me, that’s what makes a pupusa special: instead of being able to see the filling by just flipping it open as you would a Mexican quesadilla, the fun is on the inside. You’re presented with this humble-looking, fat little tortilla, and you end up with a cheesy, meaty center; sort of like discovering the cream center in a Twinkie (only far more delicious and infinitely less artificial). Pupusas are usually accompanied by curtido, a pickled cabbage & carrot salad that some folks refer to as Salvadorean sauerkraut, as well as the smooth salsa Roja, found in many traditional Salvadorean restaurants. One lends a bit of fire, the other cools things down; both offer just the perfect flavor accents for these delicious cheesy treats.
So when I was faced with remixing a pizza recipe for Round 5 of Project Food Blog, I couldn’t help but think of the pupusa as inspiration. I wanted to do something truly unique and get more familiar with the other half of my heritage in the kitchen. Playing around with pupusas seemed like the perfect way to accomplish this. Pupusas are doughy and cheesy and have all the makings of a perfect stuffed crust, which has become quite popular in many pizza houses today. So I decided to use that as the “stuffed-crust” base for my pizza. Naturally, I couldn’t exactly go completely traditional with this one, since I was aiming for a more pizza-sized pie (pupusas are generally 5″-6″ in diameter), so I didn’t get to practice the fun hand technique that goes with making the real thing. And let me tell you, after some scary moments almost losing my entire crust to my very hungry kitchen floor, I was beginning to think I should have opted for the more traditional sized crust instead! Still, I persevered; this had to work, darn it! It took some planning to figure out how to tackle the logistics of cooking the darned thing, such was the hugeness of my “crust”. With some luck and determination, I managed to get the entire 11″ monster cooked without breaking it! I was uber-proud of myself, especially since I didn’t have another pair of hands to help me transfer the thing to & fro.
Now, even though I like having the pupusa “surprise” in the center, for this particular dish I figured I could use some of the most popular fillings as toppings instead, with a little extra cheese sprinkled on top for good measure. I made my own refried beans (because frankly, even the vegetarian canned version scares me) to use as a spread, and cooked my own chicharrón out of lean beef instead of pork because A) that’s all I had and B) I prefer the flavor of the beef to pork, especially in chicharrón form. For the finishing touches, I sprinkled some curtido on top to add a tangy coolness and crunch and served some salsa Roja on the side, just like they serve at traditional pupuserias.
The end result of all this work? A tantalizing pu-pizza! It even sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Let’s check it out.
Should you want to make regular pupusas, these ingredients work just fine! Just make them much smaller, and stuff the “toppings” inside if you want more than just cheese, and you’ll be set!