I remember the date exactly, because it was a day after Sami’s 6th birthday. For months, I had been teaching him and his two brothers, Alan who was then 8 and Juju who was just 1, how to make sopes every night for at least 3 months.
I had been so nervous about teaching in front of a live audience that, instead of telling them our usual bed time story about an imaginary and mischievous monkey called Waba-Waba, I had switched to a nightly cooking demo. They were as loving and kind and patient as they are with me to this day, did not complain, and pretended to be making sopes along with me.
I started the classes at the Institute in an attempt to share my love for Mexican cuisine and culture and to try to open a much wider window into its richness, diversity and surprising accessibility. I wanted to help break misconceptions about our food and our people and invite people north of the border to make use of our ingredients, techniques and recipes to enrich their own kitchens.
The very first dish that I shared was sopes. I even found a photo of that day… and you can see Rosa and I showing how to make sopes many ways, with our hands, using a rolling pin, with a tortilla press…
Why did I choose sopes? To begin with, because they are one of my favorite things to eat! But also, because sopes helped me shine a light on so many crucial elements of Mexican cuisine…
Sopes are part of a category of dishes we Mexicans call antojos, or antojitos, which translates to little cravings. An antojo is something you can eat anytime of day and can either be a quick bite or make a full meal, depending on what you top them with… and how many you eat.
Sopes are made of corn masa, which is a cornerstone of Mexican cuisine that has existed for thousands of years. Made of nixtamalized corn, corn masa renders corn nutritious and versatile. You don’t need to nixtamalize corn yourself, you can buy masa harina, which simply mixed with water makes masa!
Sopes show how playful and versatile masa can be. They are similar to a tortilla, but they are much thicker, and the rim around it that helps contain its garnishes. They are like little edible plates.
Sopes are easy to make. Different from a corn tortilla, someone who is making sopes for the first time, doesn’t need to worry about knowing how to use a tortilla press, the correct thickness, or the technique for making them puff up. They are much more forgiving.
Sopes are also accessible: you can make them ahead of time, vary the toppings, assemble in a few minutes, dress them up or dress them down. I always, always, add a layer of refried beans, a tasty salsa and either tangy, salty and crumbly queso cotija or queso fresco, crumbled on top.
To boot, sopes are super fun to make by yourself or with friends or with your kids.
So as you can see, sopes helped me achieve many things: they helped me show how accessible, forgiving, fun, filling, nutritious, versatile, rich and delicious Mexican food is.
You can follow along with this video too…
To this day, I am still proudly teaching at the Institute where I am the resident chef 11 years after I started. I am also serving sopes any chance I get.
- To make the Sopes:
- 2 cups masa harina or corn tortilla flour such as Maseca
- 2 cups water more if needed
- Pinch kosher or coarse sea salt
- To serve:
- 1 cup refried beans
- 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
- 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco or cotija
- 1/2 cup shredded romaine lettuce
- 1 recipe Quick Roasted Tomatillo Salsita
- Heat a comal or skillet over medium heat until very hot.
- To make the sopes: Combine the masa harina and water, kneading in a revolving motion with your hands. Knead for a couple of minutes, until dough is smooth and has no lumps. If it feels too dry, add a bit more water.
- Divide the dough into 12 balls, each about 2-inches in diameter. Line the bottom of a tortilla press with circles cut from a thin plastic bag (like the ones from the produce section of your grocery store). One at a time, place a ball of dough onto the plastic lining the bottom of the tortilla press, and top with another layer of plastic. Press down to make a flat disk as thick as a pancake, about 1/4-inch thick (much thicker than a tortilla). You can also flatten and form them by hand. Repeat with all 12 balls.
- As you make them, place each sope on the hot comal or skillet. Let them cook about one to two minutes on each side, until opaque and speckled, and they can be flipped without sticking.
- Take them off the comal and place them on a chopping board. Using a kitchen towel to protect your fingers, make a rim around each sope by pressing and pinching with your fingers along the edges. Return them to the comal or skillet, and let them cook for one or two more minutes per side, until thoroughly cooked.
- If eaten the same day, they may be kept wrapped in a clean kitchen towel. If not, wrap them in a kitchen towel or paper towel, and store inside a closed plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 3 days, afterwards they will turn too hard. Reheat on hot comal or skillet for a couple minutes before eating. They can also be frozen and kept for months.
- Once the sopes have been thoroughly cooked and warmed, place on a platter and add a generous tablespoon of refried beans, shredded lettuce, crumbled cheese, chopped onion and Quick Roasted Salsita. Salsa may be left on the side for people to add as much as they like.