Soups & Stews
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!
Here are a couple of hearty old favorite wintry food ideas to enjoy while you are sitting in front of your TV watching all the ongoing 2018 Winter Olympic competitions taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea.
I’ve been a real fan of winter sports ever since I was a kid and have followed my two favorite winter sports, figure skating and downhill skiing, ever since. There is something about the physical freedom of gliding over the ice or snow that defies description other than to say it is as close to an out of body experience you will ever have. When you stand on top of a snow covered mountain there is a crisp silence that sets you free just before you push away for your downhill run through the snow covered forest. I lived in Santa Fe for several years and there was Ski Santa Fe just a short drive outside of town, so skiing became a regular weekend activity. After several runs it was always great to ski up to the mountainside outdoor bar and grill to refuel and catch up with friends. The grill cooks were at their stations turning out these amazing, I’m going to call them, Santa Fe burgers topped with Grilled New Mexico green and red chilies and grilled pineapple. I guess it could be called a Hawaiian burger as well. In any case the heat of the chilies paired with the caramelized pineapple really hit the spot! You felt re energized and ready to hit the mountain for a couple more late afternoon runs before the sun sets over the northern New Mexican mountain scape.
Another hearty favorite ski season meal is a New Mexican cassoulet like bean stew laced, of course, with wonderfully hot and flavorsome roasted red and green chilies. This is food for any season, but especially perfect served in front of a fire, or in this case in front of your TV, watching the Winter Olympics.
Santa Fe Burger with Grilled Pineapple and chilies 1 burger
Best to gather all your ingredients together grill side and ready to go once the grill is fired up and red hot!
The green and red chile rajas should be made in advance. See the recipe below.
- 1 burger roll of choice
- olive oil for brushing
- 1 small peeled garlic clove
- 5 oz/ 142 g best quality ground beef, formed into thick patty
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
- sea salt
- 1 slice yellow or red onion, grilled
- 1 pineapple round, grilled
- green and red chile rajas (strips)
- 2 thin slices Manchego or Gouda cheese
- firm green lettuce leaf
- tomato ketchup (optional)
Preheat the grill until the coals are red hot.
Slice the burger bun in half and lightly brush the interior surfaces with olive oil. Place the halves on the grill and toast, turning the bun a quarter turn after a minute to mark the surface with a cross hatch pattern. Remove from the grill and rub the grilled surface with a small garlic clove and set aside.
In a small bowl combine the olive oil, fish sauce, and light soy sauce and set aside.
Pat the burger dry with a paper towel and place on a small plate. Brush the surface with the olive oil mixture and season with sea salt. Place brushed side down on the hottest part of the grill. Lightly brush the top surface with olive oil mixture and season with salt. let the burger grill until it is deeply marked before giving a quarter turn to mark with a cross hatch pattern. Then flip the burger over and grill as before until marked with a cross hatch pattern. At this point the burger should be done with a pink center. If you want a medium well done burger continue grilling another minute on each side.
Top the burger with the cheese and allow the cheese to soften before removing the burger from the grill.
While the burger is grilling brush both sides of the onion and pineapple slices and place them on the grill. After a minute or so give the slices a quarter turn to mark with a cross hatch pattern. Then flip them over and repeat to mark with the cross-hatch pattern as before.
Assembling the burger:
Place the bottom half of the bun on a plate. Lightly spread mayonnaise over the surface and top with a leaf of lettuce.
Place the grilled burger on the lettuce. Add the grilled onion on top and top the onion with the grilled pineapple round. Place some green and red chile rajas over the pineapple and add ketchup if using.
Place the top of the burger bun over the burger and serve!
Green and Red Chile Rajas Makes 1 pint
Chile rajas are useful as an addiction to so many dishes! There is some preparation involved but well worth the effort. The whole process does become second nature once you have made them a few times, and, as pictured above, are a spicy garnish for a New Mexican bean stew/cassoulet
- 6 whole fresh green chilies
- 3 whole fresh red chilies
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crumbled
Place the whole green and red chilies on the hot grill, or over an open flame on the stove top, and grill until the skin is blistered and charred on all sides. Place the charred chilies in a bowl and tightly cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to sweat until cool enough to handle.
At this point the charred skin will slip off the chiles quite easily. If there are scorched flesh or stubborn bits of blackened skin left attached don’t worry about it. This will add a smoky flavor to the chilies.
Slit the chilies in half lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds and membranes and discard them. Slice the chilies into thin strips (rajas) lengthwise and halve the strips crosswise.
In a skillet heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the sliced onions and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Then add the chile rajas and season with salt and dried sage. Saute for several minutes until the mixture is well combined and fragrant. Transfer the rajas, including the oil, to a bowl and set aside to cool. Then cover with cling film and refrigerate if not using right away. The rajas will keep well for about 5 days when refrigerated.
Who doesn’t love a “bowl of red”, that infamous hot and spicy earthy red chili stew from Texas and the American Southwest. Chili’s popularity really took hold when local chili joints starting popping up across the country in the early 1900’s. A Chili nation was born and chili has been embraced as real North American food ever since!
But hold on, beans, tomatoes, chile peppers, and cacao are all native to the Americas and cultivated by native central American peoples as staple foods along with maize as cornerstones of their diet. Stews not unlike what we now know as chili were likely being cooked up by the Aztecs long before the Europeans ever set foot in the new world. With the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese spices like cumin from the eastern Mediterranean and cinnamon from south Asia were introduced into the local native cuisine and influenced the evolving cuisines of Central and South America.
So yes, Chili’s North Americanization and enduring popularity is undeniable, but it is also a testament to the ingenuity of earlier native American cultures as well.
Making an authentic chili is really quite simple. What follows is a very basic recipe to build from. For me, a well made chili hinges on using the very best authentic ingredients. A stellar chili is a stand alone dish that needs little embellishment. Forget the chili season mixes, the cheese, and the sour cream. It is all about savoring the deep the earthy flavors and aromas of chile combined with the earthiness of the beans!
Authentic New Mexico pure ground red chile, ground chipotle chile, Mexican oregano, and chorizo are all available on line if they are not available where you live.
Chili: serves 6
- ¼ cup cold pressed peanut or olive oil
- 4 cups diced onions
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 ¼ pounds/570 grams best quality ground beef
- 3 tablespoons pure ground red chile (New Mexican is ideal)
- 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile
- 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano (Mexican is ideal)
- 2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup tomato paste (imported Italian is best)
- 1 quart beef stock, hot
- 2 cans kidney beans or pinto beans (or home cooked), partially drained
- 1 oz/28 g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into thin strips
- 4 chopped fire roasted green chilies
- diced red onions
Place 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat to medium low. Season with a little salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook another couple of minutes.
While the onions are cooking, place a skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot add the ground beef, season with a little salt, and saute until the beef releases its juices and is lightly brown and crumbly, about 15 minutes.
Transfer the beef to the soup pot with the onions and stir to combine. Add the ground chile, ground chipotle chile, cumin seeds, oregano, cocoa, and cinnamon. Season with a little salt and stir until well combined. Then form a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste, smashing it against the bottom of the pan to caramelize the paste for about 2 minutes. Then add about two thirds of the hot stock, stir to combine, and bring the contents back up to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in the beans and add the remaining stock. Bring the contents back to a low simmer, add the chorizo, and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chilli has thickened and is a beautiful deep red. Taste and add salt if needed.
I like to serve the chili family style with individual chili bowls set out for each person. Be sure to have small bowls of chopped fire roasted green chilies (see here) and diced red onions for those who want to add some fiery heat to their chili. I love to serve my chili with freshly steamed tamales (see here) as well, but a basket of warm flour tortillas or cornbread will do nicely as well.
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.