SOPA DE TORTILLA

I love tortilla soup. I will order it just about anywhere, at any time of year, and I’ve been known to judge the entire menu of a restaurant solely on the quality of their sopa de tortilla. I’m obsessed in every sense of the word–and having not been able to find a version I deem delicious in Chicago, I learned how to make it.

This soup is very representative of a typical Mexican kitchen and uses the traditional flavors and textures of the tomato, chile, avocado, epazote and tortilla. I’ve never cared much for tomato-based soups or broths, but this soup converted me.

The secret, I’ve found, is adding a few crunchy little pieces of chicharrón (also known as pork rinds or cracklings here in the U.S.). They add a depth to the soup’s flavor that I’m convinced cannot be achieved otherwise. All of my favorite places in Mexico for tortilla soup serve it similarly; all the ingredients for assembling the soup are brought to the table separately and the waiter puts it together right in front of you, almost like a little show with your meal…. 

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Back from Cancún…

coconuts growing in Cancun

I’m back from Cancun and finally starting to recover from the intense humidity–about 95 percent–and nursing some mosquito bites so nasty that it looks like I’m coming down with a case of the chicken pox.

But aside from the weather (Hurricane Ida couldn’t stop me) and some bugs, Cancun did not disappoint.

There’s something I just love about coconuts–and piña coladas don’t even begin to cover it. All over Cancun, I saw palm trees with coconuts growing on them. In some cases, I saw them ripe and brown and falling off the tree; in other instances I saw gardeners trimming the leaves and picking up broken coconuts that had fallen to the ground. To some, getting to see coconut trees is no big deal, but to a Chicagoan it was a little slice of heaven. How glorious to have these natural beauties growing in your front yard or on the side of the road near where you live. These are things I dream about during the long Chicago winters.

As I was only in Cancun for a few days and working when I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t get much of a chance to explore local taco joints much to my chagrin. But I did eat a few noteworthy items and jotted down a few thoughts to share.

sopa de lima

Sopa de lima, the quintessential Yucatecan dish, was undoubtedly the culinary highlight of my short trip. This version was the traditional broth with the addition of shredded chicken, strips of red bell pepper and nopales (also known as cactus paddle, and new to me as an ingredient of this soup), a generous floating slice of lime and a handful of perfectly crunchy tortilla strips which I promptly devoured before I even managed to take a photo.

I’m big on soups, and as my husband might also remind me, I’m big on lime juice even when it doesn’t technically belong there. I’ve never made sopa de lima at home; my first authentic taste of it was at El Faisan, a Yucatecan restaurant in Cuernavaca (a stone’s throw from Mexico City) about a year ago. Sopa de lima is simply a chicken stock-based soup with a lot less lime juice than you’d think neccesary in order to be called lime soup. A number of the recipes I’ve been studying include either serrano chiles or habaneros, and many have interesting spices like cloves or bay leaves and peppercorns in the preparation as well.

I’ll be experimenting with some sopa de lima recipes from Spanish-language cookbooks this winter, and when I find one that I think is worth sharing, I’ll let you know. I’m hoping to also get some more authentic sopa de lima taste-testing in when I travel to Cozumel soon. If you’ve got a good recipe, please get in touch and share so I can try it out. I’ve seen so many variations on the recipe that it almost makes my head spin when I think about it. Of course, I’ll be seeking advice and recipe suggestions from friends and family in Mexico when I make my annual December visit.

Other food notables from the trip: each day with breakfast, I ate chistorra, a notoriously fatty, delicious, fast-curing pork or pork/beef sausage not unlike chorizo (except for its size). The first night, I had a torta de cochinita pibil with an elegantly sliced avocado garnishing the plate, and as you can probably imagine, it didn’t take me too long to enjoy it–avocado and all.

I’d love to see any comments about your favorite Yucatecan foods as I’ll be headed back to the region in January.

  • How do you like your sopa de lima?

This Tortilla is headed South of the border!

I’m very excited to share that I’m on my way to the Yucatan Peninsula this morning… Cancún to be exact! I must admit, I was a little stressed about the weather over the weekend with Hurricane Ida passing over Cancún, but it seems to have passed and my flight is scheduled to leave on time.

It’s my first time visiting Cancún, and while I’ll be there on “official business” almost all week (photographing a wedding), I’ll also be scouting for local tacos and other Mexican delights to please my palate. Please share with me in the comments your favorite Yucatecan dishes–I plan to try some new things there and hope to come back with some ideas for recipes to tinker with in my kitchen!

Cancun Map

map of Mexico (pinpoint on Cancún)

I’ve had several questions about where certain Mexican cities are located in relation to each other over the last few weeks, so I know some of you will appreciate this little geography lesson. Cancún is at the northeast tip of the peninsula–and is far from the centrally located capital, Mexico City, from where I usually take most of my culinary influence here on The Other Side of The Tortilla.

Yucatan Peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula

 

Though Cancún is certainly a big tourist destination because of the beautiful beaches, there is much more to this region than beaches and resorts synonymous with spring-breakers. It’s rich with ancient ruins, cenotes, lush ecosystems and is abundant with remnants of pre-Hispanic civilizations.

I’ll be back at the end of the week with photos and stories to share.

I look forward to reading your comments about Cancún and the Yucatan Peninsula when I return! (And don’t forget next week is tortilla soup week.)

CHURROS

In the U.S., I’ve seen several different versions of churros. Make no mistake: none of them are very authentic. Some make my stomach churn at the thought (think theme park churros filled with chocolate or fruit-flavored goo), while others are passable for some quick cinnamon-sugar satisfaction during a desperate moment. It’s important to fry the pastry dough just right because if they’re over-fried, they’re just no good.

Churros WEB

churros

Several years ago when José and I were still dating, I made my first trip to the legendary Churrería El Moro in Mexico City. Founded in 1935, this cultural culinary gem is more than just a 75-year-old churro depot. It’s an incredible experience. The storefront has a big glass window so you can watch the churros being made. That alone makes it worth the trip. In fact, even famous Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless is rumored to have stood outside El Moro for hours upon hours when planning the concept for his new quick eatery, Xoco.

The waitresses at El Moro wear mustard-yellow diner uniforms with white trim and aprons. The blue, white and yellow patterned tiles, stained glass and yellow stucco walls inside are elements of any dream I have had dealing with churros ever since. (Yes, I dream about churros.) It’s all a part of the experience. With four types of hot chocolate to choose from and for the equivalent of a few dollars, you can’t go wrong when ordering churros y chocolate, especially in the chilly winter months. … 

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Calling all cooks: I'm looking for sopa de tortilla recipes

3703322716_fc75434e76Though I’ve lived in Chicago most of my life, the chilly fall weather always seems to sneak up on me. Here we are in the middle of October and I’ve not made any tortilla soup yet! Those who know me will tell you: if I go to a restaurant with tortilla soup on the menu (even if it’s the middle of summer), I’ll order it. I’m serious about this soup, folks. I’ve been known to judge an entire restaurant solely on the quality of the tortilla soup they serve—no matter what else is on the menu.

The lack of tortilla soup in my house this far into October can only mean one thing: I’m about to go on a bender. So, I’m putting a call out. Send in your recipes and I will try each and every one I receive. The deadline to submit will be Friday, October 23rd and I’ll report back with both my recipe and my favorite recipe submitted by readers the week of November 15th.

I’ve got several favorite places in Mexico City where I go for tortilla soup and I’ll share those along with my recipe, too. You can submit your recipes here in the comments, or if you prefer, via email by clicking on the contact section to your right. There is one condition: your soup must be made from scratch with fresh ingredients (no canned soup bases) and should be based on tomatoes. I won’t try any recipe that isn’t based on tomatoes because then it wouldn’t be traditional tortilla soup.

Buena suerte!

CHILES EN NOGADA

ChileEnNogada

chile en nogada

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day—a statement that usually surprises my non-Mexican friends. Every September, I practically go on a two-week blitz campaign to educate my friends about the real Mexican Independence Day.

The celebration technically begins on September 15th, La Noche del Grito. People all over Mexico gather in their town squares and many watch on television as the clock strikes eleven and the president shouts “Viva Mexico,” and the crowd echoes back the same. “Viva la independencia!”

It’s a grand display of national pride; much like the Fourth of July with the fireworks, parades and parties. I always love watching it on TV, seeing the zócalo in Mexico City filled to the brim with people.

This year, I was standing in my living room with a hand full of queso fresco as I watched El Grito. I was in the middle of making a special sauce, and just as the clock struck eleven, I was about to put the cheese into the blender with milk and walnuts. I didn’t want to miss the big moment, so there I was, cheese in hand, watching my TV and trying not to drip on the floor.

If you’ve never seen El Grito before, here’s your chance:

For 2009, I decided to make my own chiles en nogada, a very typical (and somewhat labor intensive) dish served around this time of year that showcases the colors of the Mexican flag. When I told my suegra my plans weeks before, she asked if I’d be able to find all the ingredients. I had to go to a few stores in order to get everything, and actually, the only ingredient that was difficult to find was a decent-looking pomegranate.

This recipe is from a traditional Spanish-language cookbook by Susanna Palazuelos I received as a gift from my suegra a few years ago, and is adapted to our liking. The original recipe calls for some ingredients I don’t care for so I adjusted portions and some substitutions, but the core of the recipe is still the same. The results were excellent and I even shared some with a few Mexican friends here in Chicago who had never before tasted this very traditional dish.

Walnuts WEB

nueces

RECETA:

  • 10 chiles poblanos
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds reserved
  • A few sprigs of parsley to decorate each chile

NOGADA

  • 1 ½ cup walnut halves
  • 1 ¼ cup milk (2% or whole; you will use 1 cup of the milk to soak the walnuts)
  • 1 ½ cup Mexican cream (crema de leche espesa)
  • 10-12 ounces of queso fresco
  • 2-3 tbsp cane sugar
  • a big pinch of salt

PICADILLO

  • 1 lb pork loin, cut into a few sections
  • 6 cups water
  • about 1/3 of a white onion (a big slice)
  • 7 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 crushed for the pork broth; 2 crushed for the picadillo)
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat parsley, divided (3/4 will go in the broth, ¼ will go in the picadillo)
  • 1 to 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • ¾ of a cup of white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large red tomato, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1-2 apples, peeled and finely chopped (yields about 1 cup)
  • 1 large pear, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ¾ of a cup)
  • 1 large peach, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ½ a cup)
  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup almonds, blanched, peeled and finely chopped
Picadillo WEB

picadillo

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Blanch the walnuts for about 5-7 minutes, let cool slightly and peel the skins off. This is the most important part of the recipe not to cheat on, because the skin is bitter. It will take you awhile to do it, but trust me, you don’t want to leave the skins on. Put the skinned walnuts into a measuring cup and cover with 1 cup of milk, cover with saran wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight. It took me about 1 hour from start to finish with prepping the walnuts.

Measure out ¾ of a cup of golden raisins and rehydrate them by covering with water (room temperature). Let them rehydrate overnight. Drain the water in the morning and reserve the rehydrated raisins until you are ready to use them.

DAY OF:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the walnuts out of the milk and into a blender. Pour about ¾ of the milk into the blender. Discard the rest. Add the Mexican cream, fresh milk, sugar and salt to the blender. Crumble the queso fresco over the ingredients in the blender so it is easier to incorporate (you want the sauce to be completely smooth with no lumps). Blend until very smooth. Pour into a container and refrigerate.

To prepare the relleno, fill a pot with 6 cups of water and add the slice of onion, 3 whole cloves of garlic (peeled but not chopped), 2 cloves of peeled and crushed garlic, the little bunch of parsley and ½ tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil and add the pork loin piece by piece. Allow it to boil gently for about 15 minutes and then let it simmer for about 40  minutes or until the pork is fork-tender. Remove the meat from the broth and let cool a bit. Shred by hand or with a fork and set aside. Reserve about 1 cup of broth. (Use the rest for another recipe like soup if you wish—you just  made pork stock.)

I suggest you chop everything for the picadillo first.

Start with the garlic: crush 2 cloves and add to a large pan. Chop ¾ of a cup of white onion and add to pan. Peel and remove the seeds from the tomato and then finely chop. Set aside in a prep dish. Chop the ¼ of a bunch of parsley left and add  to prep dish with tomatoes.

Peel and finely chop the apple, pear, peach and blanched almonds. Set aside in another prep dish.

Heat your pan on the stove with the ¼ cup of oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat or until the onion is transparent, but be careful not to burn it. Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley (distribute evenly in pan) and let cook for about 5 minutes without stirring it. (That’s why you need to distribute it evenly in the pan.)

Stir the oil, garlic, tomatoes and parsley briefly. Incorporate the rest of the salt (1/2 to 1 tbsp), the apple, pear, peach, raisins and almonds and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the shredded pork loin and the reserved broth. Continue cooking at medium heat for 7-10 minutes or until the fruit has cooked and the mixture looks thickened. Let the picadillo come to room temperature and reserve.

RoastedPoblano WEBRoast the chiles over an open flame and peel them. Make a large cut down the side of each chile, making sure to not break them or rip the skin. (I suggest using latex gloves for the next step.) Using your fingers, carefully remove the seeds from inside the chile and then use the knife to remove any large veins. If you need a full tutorial with step by step instructions on how to roast them, you can reference my post on how to roast poblano chiles.

In a large bowl, dilute 2 tbsp of sea salt and 1 tbsp of white vinegar with water to completely cover the chiles. Let them soak for 40-60 minutes. This will take a little bit of the heat out of them if they are too spicy. After soaking, rinse the chiles with cool water and pat them dry as much as possible with paper towels. With a spoon, add a little bit of the relleno to each chile, being careful not to overfill them.

While the chiles are soaking in the salt, water and vinegar solution, cut the ripe pomegranate and reserve the seeds in a prep dish. To remove the seeds without making a mess, slice the pomegranate with five cuts but don’t slice all the way through. Submerge in a bowl of cool water, pull apart the slices and remove the seeds gently by hand. Rinse gently.

Pour the nogada over the chile filled with picadillo and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top. Garnish each chile with parsley and serve at room temperature.

semillas de granada

semillas de granada

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