El Salvador: Cuisine and Recipes

Country | El Salvador Dancers

This tiny country on the Pacific coast has made a rich contribution to Central American cooking. The cuisine of El Salvador is similar to that of its neighbors, with a strong reliance on indigenous foods like corn, beans, squash and tomatoes. The influence of Mayan culture is quite strong, mixed in with contributions from the Spanish kitchen. Pupusas and curtido may be the most well known Salvadoran dishes, but other tasty dishes include pavo salvadoreño, atol de elote, quesadilla and semita.

Image Creative Commons by sjb5

Salvadoran Recipes

Atol de Elote

Beverages | Atol de Elote Image

(Salvadoran corn beverage)

Atoles are very popular beverages in El Salvador with roots in Mayan cuisine. They are a sort of thick drink often eaten with a spoon. Atol de elote is based on fresh corn (elote) and has a wonderfully fresh flavor. For ultimate effect, serve it in a bowl made out of a dried calabash gourd. Read more »

Carne Asada

Meats | Carne Asada

(Mexican grilled steak)

Carne asada, or grilled meat, is great backyard grill food. It is enjoyed throughout Central America, but is particularly popular in Mexico. Many recipes get very elaborate with the marinade ingredients, but the original recipe relies on a simple combination of onions and citrus juice to highlight the flavor of the beef. Read more »

Casamiento

(Salavadoran black beans and rice; see Gallo Pinto recipe)

Curtido

Salads | Curtido

(Salvadoran cabbage salad)

Curtido is a simple cabbage salad traditionally served with pupusas. Large jars of curtido are kept at restaurants and sides of the slaw are served with most meals. Curtido is usually allowed to ferment slightly at room temperature before serving, becoming a kind of Salvadoran sauerkraut. Read more »

Flan de Leche

Desserts | Flan de Leche Image

(Latin caramel custard)

Flan, or crème caramel, is one of the most common dessert dishes in the Latin world. Coming originally from the border area of France and Spain, this simple yet elegant dessert has spread in popularity as far as the Philippines and Japan. Read more »

Horchata de Arroz

Beverages | Horchata de Arroz Image

(Mexican sweet rice beverage)

Horchata (or-CHA-tah) is a milky white, sweet beverage that was introduced to Spain by the Moors. The original Spanish version is made with ground tiger nuts and is especially popular in Valencia. In Latin America, where the tiger nut is not commonly available, pulverized rice is used. In Mexico, horchata is one of the most common aguas frescas and is ladled from large glass jars set in ice. Read more »

Maria Luisa

(Salvadoran jam-filled layer cake)

Maria Luisa is an elegant cake popular in El Salvador and Colombia. A variation is the English tea cake called a Victoria sandwich. Read more »

Pastel de Tres Leches

Desserts | Pastel de Tres Leches Image

(Central American cake of three milks)

The famous cake of three milks, pastel de tres leches is believed to have originated in Nicaragua. It has become very popular throughout Central America and is becoming more and more common in the United States. Soaking the cake in three kinds of milk gives it a rich, dense quality, almost like a cheesecake. Read more »

Pavo Salvadoreño

Ingredients | Wild Turkey Image

(Salvadoran roast turkey with sauce)

Pavo, or turkey, is a popular Christmas meal in El Salvador. Salvadoran immigrants to the U.S. often serve it for Thanksgiving as well. The Salvadoran version of roast turkey has a variety of vegetables and spices that are roasted along with the turkey in the roasting pan. This tasty mixture is then pureed and served as a rich sauce to accompany the turkey. Read more »

Plátanos Fritos

Ingredients | Plantains Image

(Latin fried ripe plantains)

Plátanos fritos are popular in many countries around the world where the plantain is sometimes a major source of starchy calories. It is important to use ripe plantains for this dish (they have black skins). Green plantains will be much too dry. The Caribbean cook will often use fried plantains as an accompaniment to beef or goat dishes. Read more »

Pollo Encebollado

Ingredients | Onions

(Central American chicken simmered with onions)

Chicken smothered with onions, or pollo encebollado, is a popular homestyle dish throughout Central America. It's an incredibly easy dish to make and full of flavor. The red meat variety, bistec encebollado is also a favorite, and both versions are found on most Central American restaurant menus. Read more »

Pupusas

Breads | Pupusas Image

(Salvadoran stuffed masa flatbread)

Pupusas are similar to corn tortillas, only thicker and stuffed with cheese, beans or meat. The pupusa originated in El Salvador, but it is also popular in neighboring Honduras. Pupusas are traditionally made by slapping the dough back and forth between greased palms. A tortilla press is quicker and easier for beginners. Read more »

Quesadilla Salvadoreña

Desserts | Quesadilla Salvadorena

(Salvadoran sweet cheese poundcake)

Unlike the Mexican snack of the same name, Salvadoran quesadilla is a rich, sweet dessert cake often found in local panaderías, or bakeries. The queso in quesadilla is traditionally unsalted Salvadoran queso fresco, a fresh farmers-type cheese. But parmesan cheese is often substituted. Read more »

Salpicón de Res

Meats | Salpicon Image

(Central American shredded beef salad)

Popular throughout Central America, salpicón is a refreshing salad that is great as a topping for tostadas or wrapped in fresh corn tortillas. It is especially easy to make in large quantities for parties and family gatherings. Read more »

Salsa Roja

Sauces | Salsa Roja Image

(Salvadoran tomato sauce)

Salsa roja, a simple yet flavorful Salvadoran cooked tomato sauce, is often served alongside pupusas and curtido. Read more »

Semita de Piña

Desserts | Semita de Piña

(Salvadoran jam-filled pastry)

Semita, a popular pastry in El Salvador, is basically a tart of bread dough filled with jam or other rich fillings. Semita de piña, with a tasty pineapple filling, is a favorite. Other types of semita are la semita alta and la semita pacha, both filled with a third layer of rich, sweet, buttery dough and often jam. Read more »

Tamales de Elote

Breads | Tamales de Elote

(Central American fresh corncakes)

Tamales de elote are a favorite breakfast food in Mexico and throughout Central America. In El Salvador and Guatemala they are often served as the starchy portion of a meal. The fresh elote, or corn, used in Central America has a higher starch content than that in the United States, but the addition of masa harina in this recipe produces a very good approximation of the original. Read more »

Vinagre de Piña

Fruits | Pineapple Image

(Central American pineapple vinegar)

Homemade fruit vinegars are popular throughout Central America, and vinagre de piña is a favorite. The trimmings of a pineapple are mixed with piloncillo and water and set aside to ferment for a few weeks or even months. Read more »