The Edible Journey: El Salvador

Some culinary adventures aren’t quite what I’d hoped for. That’s what happened when we sat down to our El Salvadoran meal as part of our Lenten Friday rice bowl menus. (Read more about that here.)

The fault, I confess, is all mine. I hadn’t prepared quite as well as I thought, so I had to substitute ingredients. Sometimes that works. This time it wasn’t a good idea.

Our meal that day was Pupusas de Queso, or cheese-stuffed tortillas. That sounded marvelous. Anything with cheese sounds marvelous to me. But the recipe called for maseca, which is made up of ground dried corn that’s been previously soaked in lime water.  The soaking breaks down the difficult-to-digest anti-nutrients found in all grains. I was all set to buy it, but it came in a 5-pound package and I wasn’t sure I’d use it again.

“I’ve got regular corn flour at home,” I told George, as we stood in the grocery aisle, dithering. “How different can it be?” Famous last words.

Not only did I not use the maseca, when I started to cook


Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

I discovered I didn’t have enough of the regular flour, so I padded it with corn meal. What I ended up with was tough little tortillas that left a lot to be desired. And of course, that was the day George’s sister joined us for lunch.

“We’re conducting an experiment,” I told her, and she gamely went along with it.

If I’d cooked this right, I’m sure we’d have enjoyed these a lot more, maybe even as much as Fernando, the El Salvadoran man featured by Catholic Relief Services with this week’s recipe. He dreams of becoming a businessman, and of creating a better future for his family. It motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses, which is dangerous work for $10 a day because gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers.

Fernando is a graduate of YouthBuild, a CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. You can read more about Fernando by clicking here.

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe. If you try it, do it the right way, please, and not like I did.

2 cups maseca
1 pinch salt
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup queso fresco or farmer’s cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine the maseca, salt and water in a mixing bowl. Knead to form a dough like playdough. If the mixture is too dry, add more water. If it is too sticky, add more maseca.

Using wet hands, form the dough into 8 balls about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small cup, and fill with cheese. Wrap the dough to seal the cheese. Pat the dough to form a round disk about a quarter inch thick. Repeat with the remaining dough and cook each side in a slightly oiled skilled.

Pupusas are served with curtido, a cabbage salad, and salsa roja. Find those recipes here. I did make both of those, and they turned out good. In fact, I liked the salsa a whole lot better than anything you buy in a jar.

I might, in all fairness, buy that maseca and make these the right way. The idea of making my own tortillas, stuffed or not, sounds intriguing.

Next stop on our edible journey: Mexico


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meals, recipes, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Edible Journey: El Salvador

  1. blb1 says:

    All I can do is smile. I’ve mentioned my experiments I believe.

  2. Nell says:

    This recipe does actually sound super delicious!

  3. Lauri Starnes says:

    Hello Monica! I cannot even tell you how thoroughly that I have enjoyed ALL of your posts for the last few yrs.! Just finally making a comment. & so Glad u r taking care of my Georgio!!!! I can see that he loves u SO much & SO glad that u found each other!!!!! Peace & Love! 🙂 ***PS-just tried to post again on your website but wld nt allow me to do so!!??  

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      Sometimes they make me approve a comment before it’s published. Are you following me? That should, I think, make your comments go up automatically. Anyway, I’m so glad you like what I write! I have a ball doing it. And yes, George and I are probably the happiest two people in the world. Life is good.

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