Some dishes become so intertwined with their accompaniments you forget they’re separate recipes.

The national dish of El Salvador is pupusas. And if you can’t have pupusas without a side of curtido, then curtido must also be the national dish. This healthy topping has been served in South American homes for centuries. With a straightforward recipe, there’s no reason anyone can’t always have a jar of curtido sitting in their fridge.

What Is Curtido?

Curtido is a pickled cabbage slaw or relish. The dish is El Salvadorian and is similar to kimchi or sauerkraut. If you serve curtido fresh, it remains crisp, similar to coleslaw. If you let it sit and ferment, it will resemble the texture of sauerkraut.

The main ingredients of curtido are green cabbage, carrots, onions, some spices and lime juice. Curtido is frequently served with El Salvadorian’s national dish, pupusas. However, it can also be a topping on soups, hamburgers, sandwiches and tacos.

The fermentation process gives curtido a slightly sour and bitter taste. It’s a great topping to a dish for an extra punch of flavor.

This dish packs a lot of nutritional benefits. Curtido has been known to help prevent cancer, boost the immune system, help control blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart attacks. And, as the dish is fermented, it’s incredibly healthy for your gut health. A serving of curtido has high amounts of probiotics that help your digestion.

The History of Curtido

Curtido is originally from El Salvador but has become common in many Central American countries. The origin of curtido is closely associated with pupusas, as it’s said you can’t have one without the other. And when you look up recipes for pupusas online, they will often include instructions for a side of curtido.

Pupusas have a history dating back thousands of years, being made by villagers throughout El Salvador. It’s unclear when curtido became the “must-have” condiment for the pupusas, but it’s been more than a few decades now.

How to Prepare Curtido

Curtido is fairly simple to make, but it’s essential you use clean materials when fermenting any food.

  1. Thinly slice white cabbage, carrots and onions. For a more spicy curtido, consider thinly slicing a jalapeno pepper(s).
  2. Combine vinegar, herbs and salt. The most commonly used herbs in this recipe are oregano or cumin, but this is optional and not at all necessary.
  3. If serving fresh, pour the dressing over the sliced vegetables. Let the curtido mariante for 20 minutes and serve.
  4. If you’re looking to achieve a more fermented flavor, pack all of the sliced vegetables into a very clean jar. Pour the liquid mixture on top. Close the jar with an airtight seal and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  5. Refrigerate after this point and serve cold.

When you’re fermenting foods, it’s crucial to work with clean containers. The process of pickling and warm air allows (good) bacteria to grow. If your container isn’t entirely clean, it can introduce bad bacteria into the mixture.

Curtido Variations

For a traditional take on curtido that uses apple cider vinegar, check out this recipe from BBC Good Food.

The more modern-day versions of curtido use different kinds of vinegar. However, the authentic recipe used to call for lime juice. For the experimental chef, try this lime-based recipe from Slow Burning Passion.

And for anyone who wants to add more color to this dish, this recipe from Bon Appetite substitutes red cabbage for green, resulting in a beautiful, bright pink curtido.

This fermented cabbage slaw resembles Eastern European sauerkraut or Korean kimchi, but it has unique South American roots. The cooling, bitter and sour flavors of curtido compliment any South American dish well. Surprise everyone at your next taco night by bringing this traditional, flavorful topping with you.

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