Sopes on the Road and at Home

Freshly made tortillas filled with tender beef, pickled onions and picante salsa
Recipe for sopes — corn masa topped with
your favorite Mexican ingredients

Venturing off of our beaten track to Valle de Banderas (Nayarit, Mexico) brought an unexpected treat — sopes and tacos for breakfast at a no-name street eatery across from the plaza. Despite fluent Spanish, the waiter must have thought we were tourists (that’s what I get for carrying my camera around) and didn’t offer us the full menu. So we made our choices from the limited offer — tacos de res (beef tacos) pictured above, and quesadillas con carnitas (quesadillas with chopped pork) only to see customers at the next table enjoying sopes con lengua, a masa tortilla formed with a rim and filled with seasoned, chopped beef tongue. I was too full to order more, but Russ ordered a sope and gave me a taste. It was delicious.

Sope con lengua (tongue)
Note the plastic bag over the plastic plate. As many street-side eateries don’t have running water, they solve the dishwashing problem by giving each customer a new plastic bag over re-usable plates.

Chopping carnitas — tender pork — on a well-used cutting block

Wooden tortilla press with a bowl of masa

The memory of breakfast stayed with me after we returned home, inspiring sopes again for dinner. For quick meals, I try to keep on hand the Mexican kitchen basics — tortillas and sopes in the freezer, packaged re-fried beans, commerical salsa, cheese, and the vegetables of Mexico essential for traditional cooking — onion, garlic, tomatoes, fresh chiles, avocado, cabbage, lettuce, cilantro and radishes for garnish. With these basics, any number of dishes can be assembled easily with a minimum of time, such as tacos, quesadillas, tostados and sopes. (Often, the only difference in my kitchen between these is the base — a soft corn tortilla, flour tortilla, crisp corn tortilla or soft corn tortilla with a rim. Toppings and fillings vary according to what is in the fridge.) When there is time, it is worth making fresh salsa and homemade refried beans.  Just in case you are wondering, my fridge doesn’t usually contain beef tongue. But today it had a piece of left-over sirloin steak.

If you are fortunate enough to have a tortillaria a tortilla-making shop — in your town, you can buy ready-made masa and form your own sopes. Roll a ball of masa about 1 1/2 ” (3.8 cm.) across, and flatten it in a tortilla press or with a rolling pin until it is about 3-4″ (7.5-10 cm.) across. Cook lightly on a hot griddle or skillet for a few minutes, then turn and cook the other side, pinching up the edge of the cooked side to form a small rim all the way around. Cook thoroughly, about 5 minutes total.  Another option is to make corn tortillas or sopes with Maseca, a corn flour mix. Or simplest of all, just buy some tostadas or packaged corn tortillas. Your dinner can’t be called sopes anymore, but will be just as good.

Back to my dinner. I heated a package of refried beans, thawed a package of sopes, sliced the sirloin and crumbled queso añejo, a dry, salty cheese. Queso añejo is the traditional cheese used on many Mexican dishes. Feta cheese would come close if you need a substitution.

Sliced red onion, mushrooms, poblano chiles and minced garlic were quickly cooked in a bit of olive oil until tender.

Lastly, thinly slice lettuce or cabbage, mince cilantro and slice radishes for the garnish. Don’t forget to set out the salsa, the crowning touch to almost any Mexican meal.

Dinner is served. I wish you could join us!

Market day in Valle de Banderas

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