These are Salvadorian packages of deliciousness. A savory filling, generally including beans, is flattened inside of a corn flour exterior that’s a bit thicker and fluffier than a normal corn tortilla. The preparation and cooking of a papusa creates a softer wrap than the dense dough around a tamale. The outside gets toasty with a slightly crisp texture, but the interior masa cooks to a soft, light texture as the filling warms.
The papusas I fell in love with were sold from a food truck at our Farmer’s Market. Unfortunately, that market is closed through winter. So, when I got a craving for them, I decided to play around with making them myself since the ingredients are pretty simple. It is very common to serve the papusas with curtido which is a quick vinegar-based slaw. I do like a slaw with a lot of my Mexican or Central American foods and this treat is no exception. I think the zingy, cool, crunch is a good balance to the warm, soft texture of the papusas. There are tons of papusa recipes out there, this is what worked for me when I was playing around.
My filling was a quick mix of what I had on hand, refried beans, soy chorizo, and southwest frozen blend (black beans, corn, red bell pepper, onion, and poblano pepper) with spinach. That chorizo was a new purchase for me last week, just to try it out and I found it worked well in the papusas. The ones from the food truck were black beans and corn, I’ve also seen pinto beans and kale or some recipes that use vegan cheese options. After making, I tried some cooked fresh and froze the others. I liked the frozen ones more, the final texture was softer. I put a single layer on a cookie sheet on top of a silpat mat and tossed them in the freezer overnight before stacking them in tuperwear for freezer storage.
A note: I am a self-confessed over stuffer, it’s a severe case, terminal for a lot of my burritos and wraps. Please believe me when I tell you that these cannot be overstuffed successfully. I would have done it if I could. In fact, if you want them fully closed without leaking, use less filling than I did because all of mine still have holes (I don’t mind holes or patching if needed, see Tips at the bottom of the recipe).
Papusas (this recipe will make four 4 inch papusas)
- 1 cup masa harina or corn flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill, do not use corn meal!)
- 1 cup warm water
- ¼ tsp salt
- Fillings of choice – approximately 8 Tbsp or ½ cup total
Place corn flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Add approximately ½ cup water to the bowl and combine. Add more water as needed to make a soft but not mushy, dough. I used ¾ cup in total.
Let dough rest for 20 minutes to hydrate.
Separate into 4 balls, I used a 2-ounce cookie scoop. Using more or less water will change the weight and size measurements.
Flatten each ball into a circle in your hand trying to keep the dough evenly thick. I kept it in my hand to start making a slightly curved shape, creating a dip in the middle. It may help to oil your hands lightly to prevent dough sticking to your hands.
Place 2 Tbsp of filling into the dip and gently push/pull the dough to cover the filling until it resembles a circular dumpling.
Carefully flatten the sphere. I did this between my hands and then by laying it onto a silpat mat and gently pressing it flat, then flipping it over and pressing again, trying to spread any areas with more dough. My raw papusas were 4-5 inches in diameter.
Don’t worry if the papusas crack as you’re doing this! You can leave the holes to crisp the filling in that spot, press the surrounding dough back together, or use a little extra dough to patch over the hole. If you are having a lot of cracking, your dough may be too dry and needs more water.
I strongly recommend pausing here and freezing the papusas overnight to improve the final texture. Do not thaw before cooking if you freeze them.
When ready to cook, place fresh or frozen papusa in a lightly oiled pan on medium heat, I’ve had less sticking with cast iron. I also use a lid to hold extra heat for thorough cooking. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, carefully flip with a spatula and cook the second side. I like a few toasty spots on mine, but cook until at least warm through. The masa will be delicate when first heating so handle with care. Once they’ve cooked, the exterior firms up for easier handling. I generally end up cooking on each side twice as I check for doneness.
Serve with slaw, salsa, guacamole, or whatever else strikes your fancy!
If you have trouble with the dumpling style process, I did see an alternative. Split each dough ball in half, flatten each half into a circle, spread the filling across the middle of one and place the other circle on top, gently pressing around the edge to seal. You may still want to flatten these as they will likely be a bit fat in the middle.
Chose fillings that are already cooked or ready to eat. They will only reheat while the papusa cooks. I would avoid very wet fillings, they might cause a soggy interior texture. Refried beans worked because they are easily squished. Do not use large pieces, or firm ingredients with sharper edges as they would break through the dough when flattening.
Beans. Read my post on pulses for some of the benefits of beans, they are wonderful for feeding your microbiome, weight loss, cardiovascular health, and much more!
Masa Harina. Unfortunately, this is a semi-processed corn. There is a bit of protein with very little fat, but also not a lot of fiber or micronutrients. I wouldn’t call it unhealthy, but it’s a not a superfood. Try to make the filling count with vegetables and legumes instead!
Slaw. Hey, I’ve got a post on that one too and even more information on cruciferous vegetables in my article on sprouts! TLDR, add cabbage to everything, it’s wonderful for health.