El Salvadorian burger recipe

Burger with chorizo and cheese filled pupusas (tortillas), refried beans and pickled slaw
Goodness, time certainly flies this time of year!  I can’t believe I’ve been silent for so long here – I am sorry for all of you who are desperate for the next burger.  On top of the holidays, my entire family has a nasty flu/cold that currently is making me feel like sleeping for a week.  My 20 month old has recovered from her virus and has tons of energy and is currently trying to help me type this (so please excuse the typos).  But none of that has anything to do with what we’re here for – so let’s move on.

Our next stop is El Salvador.  Located in Central America with the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala and Honduras as it’s neighbors, it’s a beautiful country loaded with rivers and lakes and a giant coast line.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

It is the smallest of the Central American countries, but boasts the third largest economy in the region and over six million citizens.  Interestingly it is about the size of Massachusetts with a similar population (we have about 6.5 million).  So, it’s close by, beautiful, lots of beaches, should we add it to the vacation list?  Well, maybe not just yet.

Unfortunately, El Salvador struggles with an extremely high crime rate.  Just a couple of days ago the National Police issued a statement that the murder rate was the highest since the end of the civil war in 1992.  In 2011 4,308 people have been killed.  (Just for reference, we looked it up and Massachusetts had around 1,700 murders last year.)  From what I’ve read, it’s primarily gangs with the murders associated with robberies and/or drug trafficking.  It’s become so dangerous in El Salvador that the Peace Corps just announced that they won’t be sending any recruits there in the next round of trainee placements due to “safety and security” concerns.  They are doing the same thing in Guatemala and are, in fact, pulling people out of Honduras.  The violence in this part of the region is out of control.  For now, I’ll keep it off the vacation list but add El Salvador to the list of countries to keep in my thoughts and to talk about with people in the hopes that the international community and the people of El Salvador can rally and bring peace to the region.

And if they do, you’re going to want to visit because the food is wonderful.  The first thing you discover right away when researching El Salvador is pupusas.  Pupusas are a thick tortilla filled with cheese or meat or just about anything else you can imagine.  I keep getting El Salvador and Ecuador confused in my head because one has filled tortillas, the other filled potato pancakes, I think I’m in heaven.  The big problem I encountered (from a timely recipe creation standpoint) was that pupusas are made with masa flour, and I couldn’t find masa flour at any of my local regular grocery stores.  I could find it online, but it’s kind of heavy, so you really pay too much for shipping.  So, I went to my local Latin market.  I know, it breaks my rule, but if you want to pay extra to have it shipped, feel free, I’d rather break my own rules and get a big bag for $4.  I used Maseca brand instant corn masa flour as that was the brand that almost everyone recommended (and it was the brand they had at the market).

I can’t claim that the pupusa is a truly original recipe – you really just follow the package directions on the masa then add your filling of choice – no sense re-inventing the wheel.  I filled mine with a really sharp cheddar and some chorizo (out of casing and browned, then chopped fine).  I tried other cheeses, but the pupusa is strongly corn flour flavored so you need a strong cheese to break through.  It took some adjusting and trial and error, but with the masa costing only $4 for 4.4 pounds, I could play around until I got it right.  Give yourself a little extra time to experiment and see what works for you.  I’m not giving exact measurements because I found that the amount of filling depended on the exact size of the ball you formed and there was so much variation from one to the next that I couldn’t get an exact and consistent measurement.  Don’t worry, if you overfill, you just get some of the filling leaking out and it might caramelize a bit in the cooking process – better to over fill than under.  An under filled pupusa is far too dry and boring.

The next key flavor/ingredient is refried beans.  These are extremely popular in El Salvador and I love them too!  I made my own and compared side by side with the canned version.  Homemade was better – the texture was better and there was more flavor, but you could easily doctor the canned version, add some onions and green chilies and you’d be good to go.  I didn’t go as far as to use dried beans – I didn’t want that much texture anyway.  So they really were easy to whip up.

I wanted to top the burger off with something unique and less salsa-ish than some of the other burgers I’ve done, so I decided to go with a traditional picked slaw that is commonly served with pupusas in El Salvador.  El Salvadorian cooking usually tries to balance vegetables along with meats and starches, so this was a great opportunity to honor that tradition.  The slaw is light and crispy – gives great texture with a little bit of acidic tang that works perfectly with the heaviness of the beans and the pupusa.  The tomato also gives moisture and some acidity that make a good counterpoint to the starches.  The final touch was a little bit of lemon aioli that gave the perfect balance to the whole dish.

Overall the El Salvador burger is rich treat that can easily be a bit too dry, so don’t skimp on the toppings, or the cheese in the filling of the pupusa, it makes all the difference.  We served with one of our favorite Zins and the flavors were definitely able to stand up to the big wine.  Enjoy!

El Salvador Burger
1 pound ground beef
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
4 Pupusas (recipe below)
Refried beans (recipe below)
Lemon Aioli (recipe below)
Pickled Slaw (recipe below)
Pepitas (optional for garnish)

In a large bowl, mix ground beef, salt and pepper.  Form four patties.  Cook burgers to desired temperature.  To serve start with the pupusa, smooth some refried beans on top, then the burger, a dollop of lemon aioli, a generous helping of pickled slaw then top with pepitas (if you want – they’re fun, but don’t add a ton to the dish).

Follow directions from package to make batter for 8 tortillas.  Form four balls out of the batter, then poke a hole in the ball and stuff as much grated cheese as you can (you can also use chorizo browned and out of casing if you want).  Close up the hole then mash the tortilla with your hands until it is relatively flat.  I did a final pass over with a rolling pin to get even thickness – at the end of the day you want the tortilla to be about ¼ inch thick.  Cook the pupusas in a dry cast iron skillet until lightly browned on each side.  Serve hot.

Refried Beans
1 small onion diced (about ½ cup)
1 can pinto beans (15 ounces) drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium/high heat.  Add onions and cook about 3 minutes.  Add beans and mash with a potato masher.  Add ½ cup water and heat through.  Add salt to taste.  Serve hot or room temperature.

Lemon Aioli
½ cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)

Combine ingredients in a glass bowl and whip until smooth.  Adjust to taste.  Refrigerate until ready to use

Pickled Slaw
1 small head cabbage shredded
1-2 carrots grated
¾ cup white wine
1 jalapeno minced
6 small scallions chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup water

Bring a pot of water to boil and add cabbage.  Blanch the cabbage (boil it for a minute or so) then remove it from the hot water and soak in ice water.  When cabbage is cooled completely, drain and add carrots.  You want about a 50/50 visual split between cabbage and carrots.  In a glass bowl, place the cabbage/carrot mixture along with all of the other ingredients except the water.  Let it sit at room temperature for ½ hour.  Add the water, then refrigerate until ready to use.  Longer refrigeration gives you more flavor, but takes away the color.  When you serve, drain the liquid and just use the vegetables.

©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach



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9 Responses to El Salvadorian burger recipe

  1. Danie says:

    Yum!! I grew up with a great salvadorean restaurant nearby… I love pupusas!

  2. Carl H says:

    When making things that should taste “lemony” I almost always use some finely grated lemon zest, it’s a great ingredient for almost anything I reckon.

    Also, “Aioli” is an old Provencal word meaning “garlic and oil”. For me I can’t imagine one without garlic.

    • linda says:

      lol, of course you’re correct on the definition of aioli, I’m afraid I fell into the lazy American trap of use a word for whatever you want it to mean (in this case, a flavored mayonnaise). I find Americans use aioli that way a lot, but that still is no excuse. I’ll try to do better 🙂

      A little lemon and olive oil and some lemon zest makes a great sauce – it works really well with chili flavors. There’s an almond crusted chicken wings recipe that I make from Food and Wine that introduced me to this sauce and it’s a family favorite. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/almond-crusted-chicken-wings We use regular boneless chicken breast cut into nuggets instead of wings. Check it out…

  3. clbtx says:

    I am from El Salvador and I’m super impressed with this recipe! You really captured the essence of the pupusa and the curtido (pickled slaw)! And you are so right about the refried beans – this is my number one request when I go to my mom’s house.

    In case you’re curious, the local cheese normally used is somewhere between a tangy swiss cheese and a mozarella – the cheese stretches when you pull it apart. But, your combination with the cheddar and chorizo sounds yummy! I may have to whip up a batch to try it!

    This is such a great project! So fun to read about it!

    • linda says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I am always interested in more details about local cheese! Swiss is one of my least favorite cheeses, so I think I’ll skip that. Mozzarella is yummy, but a little bland – I like sharper cheeses when you melt them – I wonder if goat cheese would work? I admit, cheddar tends to be my default cheese – I am from the mid-west US after all, so it’s to be expected.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying reading about the project. I hope you make some burgers and tell me how they turn out.

  4. Pingback: Honduras burger recipe | burgers here and there

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