To date, when planning trips, my passion has been primarily with Europe. I have had the privilege of hiking in the Alps, swimming in the Mediterranean, (un)successfully navigating Barcelona, and relaxing in the presence of the Eiffel Tower. Despite my long-term relationship with all things Europe, since 2005 I have had a secret romance with Mexico.
I had always planned to study abroad…in Europe, but after my freshman year of college I switched majors leaving me no time for such adventures. Or so I thought. After some research, I found out, like most universities, Mizzou had a summer study abroad program. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on my way to spend the summer in Cuernavca, Mexico. I had never really thought about going to Mexico and to be honest, I was disappointed that I had to trade Spain for Mexico. Like most things unexpected however, this trip to Mexico remains one of the best and most important things I have ever done.
While it has it’s issues, Mexico is by far the most vibrant and loving place I have ever been. Part of the study abroad program was living with a Mexican family; this may have been my favorite part of the experience. Another Mizzou student and myself lived with a little abuela, Rosie, and her daughter and grandson. Rosie cooked us breakfast and lunch (La Comida – the main meal of the day) everyday. In Mexico, La Comida is served at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We had to wait and entire school day to have lunch, so needless to say we were always starving. Luckily, Rosie took this meal seriously, as any proper abuela should, and we always had a huge feast waiting for us when we got home.
Rosie’s kitchen had an island where we sat and ate while she insisted on continuing to cook and fill our plates with more piping hot food the second they were empty (she only sat down and ate with us one time the entire summer). We indulged in mole poblano, chiles rellenos, posole, and a multitude of tacos served in tortillas straight from the tortilleria. Everything was perfect, but when Rosie asked us if there was anything we wanted her to make us, the answer was always: Sopes.
Sopes where my favorite culinary discovery in Mexico and Rosie would make them for breakfast or lunch. I would eat at least three in one sitting (yes, I gained a mess of weight on this trip and probably 3 lbs of it was pure sopes) and would dream about them the rest of the day. Sopes are antojitos (street food) like quesadillas, gorditas, and tostadas, but not as well known here in the States. These tasty bites consist of a thick, pan fried, corn tortilla (with a rim to keep all the toppings in place) topped with pretty much anything! Rosie prepared them topped with refried black beans, Mexican chorizo, crema, salsa verde, queso fresco, and avocado. Sopes are meant to be picked up and eaten by hand and the sign of a successful sope is when you have gone through more than one napkin, you can’t resist licking your fingers, and crema and salsa are dripping down your pinky.
Since most Mexican restaurants do not offer sopes and the tortilla base isn’t sold in stores like regular tortillas, I had not eaten them since leaving Mexico. I started making my own corn and flour tortillas this summer and it dawned on me that I could make sopes as well, so we enjoyed my first stab at them this week!
For those that haven’t seen Mexico, other than through resorts or cruises, I encourage you to. The people are friendly, color is everywhere, the language is beautiful, the history way beyond ours, and the food leaves you speechless. I cannot wait for my next trip to Mexico and my next authentic sopes. Until then, mine are a great substitute.
Te amo México.
Dough recipe adapted from Viva Vegan by Terry Hope Romero
1 1/2 cups Mexican masa harina, such as MASECA brand
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Canola or peanut oil for frying
Refried beans, homemade or canned (homemade beans are runnier and more authentic)
10 oz Mexican style chorizo, cooked and drained
Crema (found in the Latin foods section of the grocery store)
1 Avocado, diced
Queso fresco, crumbled (feta is a good substitute)
Cilantro, torn into bite-sized pieces
Make sope base: Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
In a mixing bowl, combine the harina, water, and salt to form a firm yet pliable dough. If it’s too crumbly, stream in a little more water; if too moist, sift in a tiny bit more harina. Knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Divide the dough into six equal portions and roll into balls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel.
Working with one ball of dough at a time, pat the dough into a circle 1/4 inch thick and about 3 to 3 1/2 inches wide. Place the thick tortilla in your palm. Using your other hand, pinch it with your finger and thumb to form a small raised ridge around the edge of the tortilla. Your sope will look like a little tart. Place the sope flat side down on the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the dough has firmed and the bottom has a few toasted spots. Continue with remaining dough.
Pour 1/2 to 3/4 inches of canola or peanut oil into a cast-iron skillet and heat over medium-high heat until a small piece of dough dropped into the pan sizzles immediately and vigorously. Fry one or two sopes at a time for 4-6 minutes, until their surfaces are golden. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a 250° F oven until ready to serve.
When ready to eat, allow each guest to build their own sope. I recommend slathering the base with refried beans, then sprinkling with chorizo, topped with salsa and crema, and finished with avocado, queso fresco, and cilantro. A sprinkle of lime juice is nice too.
Variations - The sky is the limit with sopes! Any variation of refried bean works nicely. Try shredded chicken or beef, pulled pork, beans and scrambled eggs for breakfast (Rosie did this as well), vegetarian with beans and sauteed spinach. Be creative! The sope base may also be made with blue corn harina as well (see picture above, I am eating a blue corn sope in Cuernavaca).