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I had my first sope at a restaurant called Poc Chuc on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island just off the coast of Mexico, north of Cancun. This was over 20 years ago and it was just a tiny hole in the wall but over the next few years, I kept returning to Isla Mujeres and watched the island grow and expand except for the Poc Chuc.It didn't change. I've not been back for almost 14 years but if I went back tomorrow, it would be the first stop I made to have something to eat before I continued on to my hotel.

My two favourite things to eat there were sopa de lima and picadas, which i later found out are just sopes by another name. The sopes were really oily and so hot that I would burn my fingers trying to eat them before they cooled off but I had to eat them every single day. It was also my favorite place to hang out on Sunday nights and just snack all evening while I watched Siempre Domingo on their little tv set, which is on 24/7 just like is in every little restaurant I have ever been to in Mexico. These people like their tv.

I have made sopes before but I am always working on a way to make them just a bit healthier and I have failed, so I don't make them often at all.

Today, I found a recipe that made me want them again and so I incorporated some ideas from that and from Rick Bayless to come up with a sope that would taste enough like Poc Chuc that I would love it but not cause me to die of a heart attack before the meal was finished.

I started with this recipe from a little bit burnt, a great food blog I found on Food Buzz. The added baking powder is something that Rick Bayless has in the recipe I use of his but that one also has cheese and an egg and you bake it without any frying and I didn't want to make those. Rick Bayless also adds a couple of tbls of lard to his dough, so I added 1 tlbs of shortening to mine. I don't have any actual lard but these were so tasty that I might actually pick some pork lard up next time I am at Kensington Market stocking up on mexican ingredients. Next time I might add a bit more shortening but they were really, really good.

The fillings were not traditional at all but they were the fillings that I knew Little Shack would like, so I used guacamole, some salsa, diced tomato, pickled red onion and crumbled feta (a good substitution for queso blanco when you just want to crumble some on top of a dish).

Sopes a la Mamashack:

1 cup masa harina
1 1/2 tbls shortening or lard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
about 1/2 cup + 2 tbl hot tap water

mix the masa harina, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the shortening like you would for pie dough. I just use my fingers to work it in until it has that pea like texture. Add the water, starting with 1/2 cup and mix it all together with your hands. Add water, 1 tbls at a time until the dough has the texture of a nice, soft cookie dough.

If you are making small appetizer sized sopes, roll the dough into balls the size of golf balls. I made them bigger because it was our entree so mine were the size of swollen golf balls, maybe 2".

If you have a tortilla press, great. If not, I use a flat spatula to flatten them out until they are about 1/4" thick.

Heat a dry, heavy pan (i like cast iron) over medium heat until it's really hot. Add the sopes and fry for two minutes a side. Take them out of the pan and start pinching up the sides to make a little wall, turning your flat disc into a little well to hold in all those tasty fillings. It will burn your fingers a little bit but like fashion, sometimes you have suffer for great food.

Meanwhile, heat another heavy pan (I don't like to use a really big pan to fry) with about 1/4" of vegetable oil. The oil is ready when a little piece of dough sizzles after you drop it in.

Add the sopes and fry for a minute or so , flat bottom down and then flip them over and fry them for another minute , flat side up. Remove from the pan and place, flat side up, on a paper towel lined plate to drain some of that extra oil.

After they are all done, flip them right side up and start filling them. I did a bit of salsa on the very bottom, a spoonful of guacamole, some shredded chicken, some finely diced tomato, pickled red onion and some crumbled feta.

I think I have finally found the perfect recipe for these little beauties and look forward to making them again with lots of different fillings. To see my recipes for guacamole and the pickled red onions, go here.

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