This is certainly one of the Yuctan’s most unique contributions to the world of Mexican cuisine. The Mayan version of tortilla soup that includes two unique ingredients from the Yucatan peninsula, citrus limetta (limon dulce) and habanero chilies. Citron Limetta is neither a lemon nor a lime as we know them, but an aromatic mildly tart lemon lime like citrus fruit with a mild tropical aromatic sweetness native to the Yucatan. The habanero chile is considered one of the hottest chilies in the world and the Yucatan’s most important agricultural export. The flavor has a hint of fruitiness as well as a heat delivery that is unrivaled. Alas, both of these ingredients will be hard to find unless you are lucky enough to have a Central American grocer where you live.
But not to worry, the best substitute for citrus limetta is either using Meyer lemons or Florida Key limes. Their juice mixed with a dash of Seville orange juice nearly replicates the flavor of citron limetta. In a pinch, using lemons or limes with a dash of orange juice will be just fine.
Likewise, the best substitute for the habanero chile is replacing it with 3 or 4 small red Thai thin skinned chiles.
Sopa de Lima is uniquely flavored with spices that have been used in the local cuisine dating back to the early Mayan culture. There are versions of Sopa de Lima found throughout Mexico, but once you have tasted the Yucatecan version you will appreciate the subtlety of this refreshing tropical soup that cools you down in the hot and humid climate of the Yucatan or warms you in the middle of winter further north. A visit to this lush tropical peninsula that sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea lulls you into slowing down and letting the Mayan cultures of the past as well as the present wash over you. Merida is a beautiful colonial town where you can easily fall into the rhythm of the local’s lifestyle and enjoy some of the most beautiful markets and delicious foods in all of Mexico.
Sopa de Lima serves 4
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled, and chopped
- roots of 3 cilantro stalks, crushed
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, lightly toasted
- 8 whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves, lightly toasted
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 inch piece cinnamon bark (canella)
- 4 allspice berries
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + more as needed
- 10 cups water plus more if needed
- 1 pound/450g chicken breasts (or turkey breast), skinless and boneless
- 8oz/225g chicken livers (optional)
- 2 teaspoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 sweet green bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced into strips and halved
- 1 habanero chile, minced (or 4 small thin skinned Thai red chillies, minced)
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and diced
- 4 citrus limetta (or alternatives as mentioned above)
- 6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chilies, including seeds
- 2 ripe Haas avocados, sliced
- a handful of fresh cilantro leaves
To make the broth, place onions, roasted garlic cloves, cilantro roots, marjoram, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole cloves, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, sea salt, and water in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Then add the chicken breasts (or turkey breast which is a local favorite) and lower the heat to a simmer and poach for 20 to 30 minutes. Timing will depend on the size of the breasts. As soon as the breast are tender remove them from the broth and set aside to cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the flesh apart into pieces and set aside.
While the breasts are poaching you can cook the chicken livers. Rinse the livers and place them in a small sauce pan. Ladle in just enough broth from the stock pot to cover the livers and bring to a simmer. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes only. Using a slotted spoon transfer the livers to a bowl and set aside. Pour the broth back into the stock pot. When the livers are cool cut them into a fine dice and set aside.
Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the broth into a large bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer and return the strained broth to a cleaned stock pot and set it back on the stove over very low heat.
To make the soffrito place the lard or vegetable oil in a skillet placed over medium heat. When hot add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, habanero chile or (Thai chiles), and a pinch of salt. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted and very soft without browning.
Meanwhile blanche the tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds or until the skin begins to split. Promptly remove the tomatoes and set aside to cool a couple of minutes. Then slip of the skin off and discard. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and core and discard. Finely dice the tomatoes and place them in a bowl along with juices.
Then stir the diced tomatoes into the soffrito and cook a couple more minutes. Then transfer the mixture to the broth in the stock pot and bring back to to a simmer. Continue simmering the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile juice 2 of the citrus limetta and thinly slice the 2 remaining and set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the vegetable oil for frying the tortilla strips. When the oil is hot add the strips a fry until golden, about 45 seconds. Set the fried tortilla strips on paper towels and set aside.
When you are nearly ready to serve add the pulled chicken and the chicken livers (if using) to the simmering soup and cook another couple of minutes.
Best to serve the soup in individual bowls as pictured above. Have all of the finishing condiments ready and within reach.
Just before serving add the citrus limetta juice to the soup and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Ladle portions of the hot soup into each bowl and tuck several slices of citrus limetta into the soup. Put the remaining sliced limetta in a small bowl to serve along with the soup at the table.
Place 3 slices of fresh avocado over each serving and top with tortilla strips. Scatter some serrano or jalapeno chilies and fresh cilantro leaves over each serving and serve promptly! Serve with the remaining serrano or jalapeno chilies in a bowl on the table.
Buen provecho y feliz cinco de Mayo!