Sopa de poro y papa

I don’t know what it is about fall that makes me want to eat nothing but soup. I’d say it’s the chill in the air, but since we had an unusually warm beginning to October in Chicago like I mentioned last week, I know that can’t be the only factor. Come the beginning of fall, like clockwork, I always want to eat soup for lunch and dinner almost every single day. Now that the weather is cooling off, I have an entire page-long list of all the soups I want to make at home.

This particular recipe is one I’ve eaten many times in Mexico and I consider it to be a comfort food. During my visit to Mexico City last month, Luci, the family cook, made this as a first course for lunch on a chilly and gloomy afternoon and it was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits.

When I returned to Chicago, I was really missing our family so I decided to make this soup to cheer myself up. The truth is, there’s something about making recipes that I’ve eaten in Mexico that makes Chicago seem like it’s not so far away from the people and places I love in Mexico. Before the soup was even finished cooking, José said, “huele a mi casa.” (Translation: “It smells like my house.”) There are few compliments that warm my heart more, and I was feeling a little better already…. 

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Sopa de frijol negro con chipotle

Check out this fantastic and hearty black bean and chipotle chile soup I made this week. There are three reasons I love this recipe: First, you can make it in the blender—so it’s very easy to clean up afterward. Second, the whole recipe from prep to bowl can be made in 15 minutes or less! And last but not least, this recipe is very healthy—it’s low-fat and high in fiber. It makes a great first course if you divide into smaller portions, or with a little bolillo roll and butter, it can make an excellent and filling lunch or dinner.

black bean chipotle soup… 

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SOPA DE FIDEO

sopa de fideo

Sopa de fideo is a comfort food for me–full of one specific fond memory.

Let me explain. Last summer, after more than a decade of dreaming about visiting Teotihuacan, I finally made the 40-kilometer trip northeast of Mexico City with my suegro and my cuñada. I had yearned to visit this archaeological site since I first learned about it in history books as a kid. The Aztec pyramids fascinated me and I never dreamed I’d be able to travel there, let alone make it all the way to the top of the famed Pirámide del Sol.

After what seemed like a long car ride on the highway from Mexico City (in reality, it was only about 25 miles), we finally arrived at Teotihuacan. I had worn loose clothes to be comfortable while climbing, and as it was cloudy, I decided against wearing a hat. I had also decided that I couldn’t climb to the top of the Pirámide del Sol without toting two cameras so I could have the advantage of shooting photos with two different lenses without risking getting dirt in my camera’s sensor. Sort of crazy on all accounts, right?… 

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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?

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!

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