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!
We’re already heading into the hottest months of the year here in Thailand and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than cooking up a fiery Jamaican Jerk. It’s hot, its ‘spicy, it’s smokin, and it’s a sure bet for breaking into a sweat that’s going to cool you right down Jamaica style!
I realize you all who live further north are still getting battered by some fierce late winter storms, but what better way to escape winter’s travails than chowing down on a seriously hot and lively Jamaican Jerk. Hold onto that thought! This is the kind of in your face spirited food that interjects a partying mood with every mind blowing bite anytime of the year!
Jerk refers to the local Jamaican cooking methods as well as the spice mixture, including locally grown allspice, that is used as a rub or marinade that seasons the chicken or pork before cooking. The allspice tree is an evergreen shrub that grows throughout the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico, and Central America. The wood is used for cooking and smoking while the allspice berries (pimento) are dried, ground and combined with other spices for the Jamaican Jerk rub or marinade.
Jamaican jerk evolved using cooking methods brought to the island by enslaved Africans combined with indigenous Taino traditional pit roasting. Once metal barrels arrived on the island, vertical barrels were adapted for grilling and smoking the jerk simultaneously. Eventually barrel cookery was reinvented by splitting the barrel horizontally. The bottom half of the barrel is stoked with charcoal and fired up. The hot embers are then topped with allspice wood or sweet wood (laurel). The chicken or pork is then placed on top of the smoldering wood. The upper half of the barrel is then pulled down to create an intense chamber of aromatic smoke emitting from the red hot embers and smoldering wood. This combination of flavors and aromas is what makes Jamaican Jerk so unique and popular in Jerk joints on the island as well as in Jamaican enclaves in the US, Canada, the UK, and other Caribbean islands.
The other essential ingredient for any authentic Jamaican jerk is the island’s notoriously hot Scotch Bonnet chilies! These chilies have a distinct fruity flavor, but it is their 100,000 Scoville units of spicy heat that ranks them as the hottest chilies on the planet! But don’t let that scare you off. Risk is, after all, the very spice of life!
The recipe that follows is for Jamaican jerk chicken for the home cook. Obviously home cooks are not going to have a barrel cooker or maybe not even a grill for that matter. Not to worry! The oven method that follows will deliver an authentic mahogany colored Jamaican Jerk scented with allspice and sweet wood (bay laurel) that you will be proud to serve and a sure fire crowd-pleaser to use year round.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken serves 4
Prepare the marinade mixture and marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before roasting.
Scotch bonnet chilies will be hard to find unless you happen to live near a Jamaican enclave. If they are not available, Habanero chilies are very similar and available in Latino markets. Otherwise using a combination of hot Thai chilies will nicely replicate the flavor and heat of the Scotch Bonnet chilies.
You can use a whole chicken with backbone removed, a chicken cut into pieces, legs and thighs only, or just skin on breasts. Breasts in particular, using this cooking method, are beautifully succulent and juicy.
For the marinade/rub:
- 2-4 Scotch Bonnet chilies or Habanero chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- If Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies are not available, use 2 yellow Thai chilies and 6-8 red and/ or green Thai chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- 6 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely ground bay leaves (ground in an electric spice mill)
- 3 tablespoons natural dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Using a food processor or blender, combine the chilies, scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pulse until the mixture is well combined and nearly pureed.
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, rum, and soy sauce until well combined. With the food processor or blender running add the liquid mixture until well combined.
Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream until just incorporated.
Add the salt and pulse to mix. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Transfer the marinade to a non-reactive bowl or tray large enough to hold the chicken and set aside.
You can either poke holes into the chicken using a skewer or, if using breasts, slash the underside of the breasts with a very sharp knife on the diagonal. This will allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh.
Massage and press the chicken into the marinade until completely covered. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you intend to roast.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/ 245 c
Select a deep roasting pan and a rack that will fit into the roasting pan snugly.
- ½ cup broken bay laurel leaves
- ¼ cup allspice berries or
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- ½ cup water
Scatter the bay leaves evenly over the bottom of the roasting pan. Top evenly with the allspice berries or ground allspice. Add the water to the pan and place the rack into the pan. Transfer to the preheating oven.
Once the oven is up to the required heat, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and place the chicken onto the hot rack skin side down. Promptly return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, transfer the remaining marinade to a sauce pan and reduce until the marinade is the consistency of a paste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
After 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, skin side up. Baste generously and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes. Then open the oven and baste the chicken once again. Turn the pan to ensure even roasting and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken should have an almost mahogany charred color. Do not be concerned. The chicken has not burned, the brown sugar has merely darkened the marinade during roasting.
Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Traditionally Jerk is served with rice and beans, and sometimes with a spicy fruit salsa as pictured. Be sure to spoon pan juices over the chicken before serving.
Any tropical fruit salsa laced with chilies adds a fresh sweetness to the sliced jerk chicken.
Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.
Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.
Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.
For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!
Paella Mixta: serves 12
Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).
As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.
Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)
- 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
- 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
- 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
- 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
- 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
- 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
- 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
- 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
- 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
- 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
- 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
- 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
- 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
- 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- fresh lemon wedges
- aioli, (recipe below)
Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.
Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.
Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.
Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.
Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c
At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.
Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to
color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.
Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.
Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.
With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.
Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.
Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.
Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.
At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.
Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.
If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.
Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.
Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.
Aioli: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.
With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
I have been a great fan of Rick Stein’s varied food oriented travel series over the years. His curios nature and infectious passion for regional foods combined with simple cooking methods makes for compelling viewing that has you itching to get right into the kitchen and do some newly inspired cookery of your own.
His recipe for Sumac Roasted Chicken from Turkey appeared in Rick Stein, From Venice to Istanbul which aired in 2015. I have cooked similar recipes in the past (see here), but with a stash of Sumac and pomegranate molasses already on hand I was raring to give Rick’s recipe a try.
Sumac is a wild shrub that grows thought the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sumac’s deep red berries are dried and ground into a powdered seasoning with an assertive citrus like flavor. Sumac is also combined with other herbs and seeds for another popular regional seasoning mix called za’atar (See here). Both are ideal seasonings for various salads, grilled vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and stews. Also an ideal finishing flourish for hummus (see here) and muhamara (see here) that I like to serve along with this dish.
Sumac is available at Middle Eastern shops and online.
For the recipe that follows I have made a few adjustments that ramp up the flavors a bit, but otherwise true to the regional recipe. I like serving it with a simple cooked Bulgar wheat with fried onions and red peppers along with a side of zesty hummus or muhammara to compliment the chicken.
Sumac Roasted Chicken serves 4 to 5
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken or 5 skin on breasts
- olive oil for drizzling
- sesame seeds
Rinse the chicken well, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces. If you are using chicken breasts, slice the breasts in half crosswise.
If you are using a whole chicken, rather than discarding the backbone and trimmings why not make a stock for cooking the bulgur and for the marinade.
Place the backbone and trimmings in a stock pot and fill with water. Add a chopped onion, 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the stock has reduced by a little more than half.
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1/3 teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken stock
Combine all the marinade ingredients except the stock in a non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Stir until all the ingredients are completely combined. The consistency of the marinade will be quite thick and sticky. Ideally you want the marinade to stick to the chicken, but you might want to thin it out just a bit with a little chicken stock.
If you are squeamish you may want to use disposable plastic cloves for massaging the marinade into the chicken pieces, otherwise use your bare hands as I do. Take your time and press the marinade into each piece of chicken and patting it over the surface so it sticks to the flesh.
Once all the marinade coated chicken is in the bowl compress it so the marinade reaches every crevasse. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 205 c
Select a baking pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding. Lightly oil the dish and place the marinated chicken skin side up in the pan. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken and spread it out evenly. Scatter sesame seeds over the chicken and lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The chicken and sesame seeds should be nicely colored and the chicken just done. If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes before serving.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or several pieces of chicken onto each individual plate. Add a generous portion of warm bulgur and a good dollop of hummus or muhammara.