How to Cook Pupusas
Flour covers every inch of the counter. I shred the cheese and zucchini separately into little clear bowls. The blade of the knife slices through the vegetables. I pour the mesa flour into a separate bowl and add just a smidge of water to create my dough. Am I doing it right? Flour covers my hands and the dough needs shaping. I flatten the dough across the palm of my hand and work it into a ceramic dish. I place the cheese and zucchini in the center and close the dough into a ball. Sticky dough covers my hands. I dip them in the water I have set out, eliminating the gluey paste on my fingers. I pick underneath my fingers.
Nothing is as important as my first time making pupusas with Abuela. Small yet feisty, my abuela embodies intimidation. Abuela is a petite 4’11 old woman who carries around a big oxygen tank. The thought of cooking with her sends jitters of nerves through me. A perfect pupusa means zero mistakes. In my family, making pupusas with Abuela serves as a ceremony of passage. The passage of finally becoming accepted as a member of the family and my culture. I stop thinking about what could go wrong and go back to twisting the tops of the pupusas.
“Put these on the stove and do not mess it up,” my Abuela commands.
I place the wet ball of dough with cheese and zucchini down on the hot pan. I squish down the dough with a spatula, intensifying the sound of sizzling. A smile forms as I watch the dough turn gold only to look over and discover Abuela’s disappointment. Pushing me out of the way with her petite figure, she uses her hands to flatten the dough despite the intense heat of the pan. Why is she pushing me away?
I throw the spatula into the sink and start to follow Abuela’s technique hoping not to burn my skin. She speaks to me in Spanish, her words sounding incomprehensible. Is she calling me stupid? Did I already mess up? Carefully, my fingers barely touching the dough, I flip over the pupusa.
“Aye, no!” Abuela shouts, startling me. She flips it back over. “It’s not cooked enough.”
Her words remain in my head. Am I not enough? I know, I’ll make the crema, easy enough.
Sour cream and heavy whip blend together from the mixing spoon. I spike my finger in and scoop out a little crema. Salty flavors dance on my tongue and my creation stands close to perfection. Abuela finally smiles and my worries vanish. I ask to put the crema in the fridge to let it cool and Abuela gives me the okay.
Abuela steps out to use the bathroom and leaves me in charge. She says, “Yo necesito ir al baño. Do not let the pupusas burn. Miras.”
Chuckles slip out of my mouth at the thought of letting them burn. I start to clean off the counter with a wet rag. With every swipe, I reveal a different color of the counter. I collect all the bowls and miscellaneous dishes to wash them. I scrub and scrub, but the stain in the bowls won’t come out. Scrubbing harder and harder I peel back the paint of the china. Finally, I’ve gotten out the stain but the paint flaked. I run downstairs quickly to grab white acrylic when suddenly a horrid aroma hits my nose.
The odor of burnt pupusas travels through the air, enlarging the size of my eyes. Oh no! The pupusas! I forget about the paint and run to the stove. Abuela runs out of the bathroom nearly tripping over her oxygen tank. I turn quickly to Abuela crying after I shut off the burner. I hold her cold shivering hands. “Shhh. It’s going to be okay,” I reassure her, “I’m so sorry but we can start over. Please stop crying.” Burnt and falling apart, I throw the scraps into the trash along with my Abuela’s trust and the opportunity of acceptance.
I pour more flour and ingredients into their bowls. We start over one more time.