Soups & Salads
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!
Who doesn’t enjoy all the indulgences of the holidays, but it is nice to get back to simpler healthier fare as the new year begins and winter sets in in earnest. Refocusing on vegetables and reinventing some tried and true soup favorites is a great place to begin.
For me, that was revisiting a favorite traditional hearty pea soup, but this time with a lighter touch. The idea of introducing Japanese flavors had been floating around in my head and from there all the ingredients fell into place. Using a traditional Japanese dashi broth in lieu of chicken stock was an obvious choice and got things rolling. Adding some Japanese mushrooms sauteed with grated ginger, a pinch of chile, and a splash of sake would surely ramp up the flavor quotient, and some Japanese rice to thicken the broth would bring the soup into its own.
This is a relatively easy recipe to make and, luckily, there are a few handy short cuts that you may find in your supermarket or Asian market. Instant Japanese dashi comes in convenient sachets as do dehydrated Japanese mushrooms packaged along with seasoning for soups. Using frozen peas is just fine for soups and also cuts down your prep time.
By all means serve this soup piping hot during the cold months, but this soup is equally delicious and refreshing served chilled during the hot months!
Japanese Inspired Pea Soup makes 2 liters
For the Dashi:
Heat approximately 2 liters of water and bring to a simmer. Add instant dashi powder as directed on the packaging for the quantity of water. Keep the dashi at a near simmer to add to the soup as needed.
If instant dashi is not available use the traditional Japanese recipe. (click here)
Prepare the dashi and set it over low heat on the stove top.
For the soup:
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 smallish onions, peeled and finely diced
- 4 celery ribs, peeled and finely diced
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 ¾ liters dashi broth
- 250 g / 9 oz frozen green peas
- ½ cup Japanese rice
- 225 g/8 oz small shitaki, enoke, or shimeji (pictured) mushrooms, trimmed
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and very finely grated and including the juice
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
- ½ to 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- thinly sliced green onions for garnish
Select a medium size stock pot and heat it over medium flame. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of the vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and celery and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring from time to time. Continue to cook until the onions and celery are very soft.
Add ½ cup sake to the pot and simmer while stirring until the sake is completely absorbed into the onion mixture. Add the peas and rice to the pot and stir to combine. Then add about 1 ½ liters of hot dashi broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup ingredients are simmering you can prepare the mushrooms.
Place a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When the skillet is hot add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the mushrooms and saute while stirring for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms begin to give up their moisture and soften a bit. Stir in the grated ginger and juice, garlic, and fish sauce and saute briefly. Then add 2 tablespoons of sake and continue to saute until the mushrooms are well glazed with the pan juices and the skillet is nearly dry. Promptly remove the skillet fro the heat and transfer about a quarter of the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside to use later to garnish the soup.
Spoon the rest of the mushrooms into the pot of soup and continue to simmer until the broth is reduced and the contents feel thick when stirred, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Add the sea salt, freshly ground white pepper, and red chile and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning including a dash more fish sauce if needed. Blend once again until incorporated and the soup is the consistency you prefer. Stir in a little hot dashi to thin the soup if needed.
Serve promptly or cool to room temperature before refrigerating for later use.
Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with reserved sauteed mushrooms and very thinly sliced green onions scattered over the surface of the soup.
As mentioned, this soup is also lovely served cold during the hot season.
The Holidays are nearly upon us and we cooks are all no doubt busy planning parties and finalizing menus for holiday meals for our families and friends.
Every year I host a Christmas dinner for friends here in Chiang Mai, where Christmas is pretty much a non-event other than the usual retail angle. Early on I tried replicating a traditional western Christmas feast, which required a turkey imported from the US and winter root vegetables from Australia and New Zealand. It was complicated and expensive and, to be honest, rather ridiculous when it was all said and done. So from that point onward I have been creating holiday menus from various cuisines from around the world which are so much more interesting and fun for myself as well as for my friends. This year it is going to be a casual Spanish paella supper with various Spanish inspired accompaniments including this beat salad. At first glance this salad may not garner much attention. But that said, the earthiness of the beets combined with a sweet note from currants plumped in a hot Spanish sherry bath and the perfumed accent of toasted anise seeds magically reveals this salad’s hidden deliciousness.
This is an easy and deeply colorful salad that is not only a perfect addition to a holiday menu, but to serve throughout the rest of the year as well.
Roasted Beet Salad with Currants and Anise serves 4-6
- 6 medium size beets, roasted
- ¼ cup dark dried currants
- 3 tablespoon sweet sherry (Madeira, or Marsala)
1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- radicchio leaves
- flat leaf parsley sprigs
For instructions on roasting beets (click here)
You can also simply boil the beets if you prefer. Place the beets a in large sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the beets are tender but not too soft, about 30-40 minutes. Test by slipping a sharp knife into the flesh. Drain off the water and set the beets aside to cool.
In either case, when the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skin and discard. Cut the beets into thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into batons crosswise and place them in a large bowl.
Place the currants in a small sauce pan and add the sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sherry is absorbed. Add the plumped currants to the bowl with the beets.
Add the sliced onions, 1 ½ teaspoons anise seeds, , sea salt, and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Add the vinegar and olive oil and toss until evenly coating the beets. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
Cover the beet salad with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.
Remove the beet salad from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serving the salad at room temperature allows the flavors of the salad to bloom.
Arrange the radicchio leaves on a serving platter or individual plates. Nestle the beet salad over the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the remaining anise seeds over the beets and garnish with parsley sprigs.
Delicioso . . . to the very last bite !
As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.