The Grand Central Market was a food hall before food halls were trendy. A well-balanced combination of LA’s favorite ethnic cuisines, the Market feeds a diverse crowd of hungry culinary enthusiasts every day. Thousands flock to this lunch and dinner mecca, driven by the vibrant flavors of a city with every kind of food imaginable, like these spinach and cheese pupusas.
Sarah Clark, the chef behind Sarita’s Pupuseria, built her business by adapting the traditional pupusa — a stuffed, griddled masa cake from her home country, El Salvador — to suit Angeleno tastes. In particular, she spotlighted vegetable pupusas filled with broccoli and spinach, which is a good tip-off that the basic pupusa technique described in this recipe is easy and adaptable to many different fillings and flavors. You could replace the spinach with kale, for instance, or very thinly sliced rounds of zucchini. Or you could dream up entirely new — and entirely untraditional — fillings, such as roasted red peppers with feta, or grilled eggplant with mozzarella, or a handful of chopped herbs with goat cheese. Another bestseller at Sarita’s swaps out the spinach for ¼ pound of raw, chopped shrimp.
Curdito, a tangy, spicy slaw, is the standard side dish with any pupusa. The skill and artistry of pupusas lies in wrapping a generous filling within an evenly thin, supple masa envelope. If the masa is too thick, especially around the edges, the dough won’t cook all the way through. Too thin, and the filling spills out. It takes practice to get right, but masa is inexpensive, and even the mistakes taste good.
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1 cup packed coarsely chopped spinach
- 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
- hot sauce
- 1/2 medium head green cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 large carrot, grated
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes, or taste
- A few pinches sugar
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
For the curtido
Combine the shredded cabbage, carrot, and onion in a large bowl, and sprinkle with the salt. Knead the vegetables together to soften them slightly. Season with oregano, chile flakes, sugar, and ¼ cup of the vinegar. Taste, and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
Set aside to marinate at room temperature for at least a couple of hours before using. Store, in the refrigerator covered — the curtido will be even better the next day.
For the pupsusas
Place the masa in a large bowl, and pour in 2 cups warm water. Stir together with your hand. Lightly knead the dough in the bowl until it becomes less sticky as the masa absorbs the water. The consistency should be firm but pliable, like cookie dough. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water; if it’s too wet, add a bit more masa. Shape the dough into a ball, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Heat a comal, griddle, or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Divide the masa evenly into 4 portions. Working with one at a time, form the masa into a ball. Hollow out the ball with your thumb to make a thick-walled “indentation,” taking care not to go all the way through the other side. Take a quarter of the spinach, and press it into a ball with a quarter of the cheese. Stuff the filling into the cup in the masa, and wrap the dough around the filling until it’s completely enclosed. Place it on a flat surface, and gently flatten the dough with your palm until it’s about 5 inches across and less than ½ inch thick.
Put the pupusa in the hot skillet, and cook until golden and toasted in spots, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Serve with hot sauce and curtido.