7.23.10 Sopa de Lima
Not as in Lima, Peru, as in Mexican lime. I had a reader request for Yucatecan sopa de lima, the Mexican version of Jewish penicillin, and I was happy to oblige, in part because I had a big jar of freshly made chicken stock in my fridge. The timing didn't really work out for photos as I only know how to make them look good using natural light. So you'll have to make do with a couple that show the difference between the small, seed-filled Mexican limes (not unlike key limes) and the more ubiquitous Persian limes. Either one works for this soup, and you can even use lemon. I ended up using both. This recipe was not something I grew up eating. My mother's cooking was much more influenced by her mother's New Mexico roots. And although I have eaten this soup in Mérida, I consulted a number of sources to get it right, including Rick Bayless, the Chicago-based chef (and Obama favorite) whose recipes tend to be impeccably researched and very authentic. I can't really say this is his recipe; I changed it too much. His stock calls for pork bones, and for a few other ingredients I didn't have on hand. But in the end, I wound up with a delicious, light but satisfying soup redolent of cinnamon and cumin, with a bit of chile heat, a pleasingly tart finish and a fabulous garnish of crispy tortilla strips. It's great in hot weather and cold, and if you have stock on hand, you can cook up a pot in about an hour.
I can't tell you the difference it makes to fry with leaf lard. I was amazed by how greaseless your tortilla strips will turn out. If you are freaked out about lard, please, take my word for it: it's a vast improvement on frying with vegetable oil, and leaf lard in particular offers a lot of nutritional value. Ask around at your farmer's market or organic butcher's; I'm sure you can get yourself a tub of rendered lard.SOPA DE LIMA (Yucatecan Lime Soup)serves 61/2 teaspoon whole cumin3 cloves1 3" piece cinnamon1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns2 tablespoons expeller-pressed peanut oil4 cloves garlic, minced1 large yellow onion, diced2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and minced1 teaspoon Mexican oregano2 bay leaves8 cups chicken stock1 lemon, thinly sliced1 teaspoon salt1 whole chicken breast, halved (on the bone is best but I used boneless/skinless and it was just fine)1/4 cup fresh lime juice2-4 scallions, thinly slicedfried tortilla strips (recipe follows)1 lime, thinly slicedlarge handful cilantro, picked and roughly choppedPlace first 4 ingredients in a mortar and pestle and pound briefly. Tie up contents in a double piece of cheesecloth and set aside.Heat oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Sautee garlic and onion until translucent, then add chiles, oregano and bay leaves and sautee a few more minutes.Pour in chicken stock, then add spice bag, salt and sliced lemon. Bring to a simmer and add chicken breast. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Then remove chicken and cool slightly. Slice or shred using 2 forks, and return to pot. Simmer another 10 minutes or so, to let flavors meld. Remove and discard spice bag.Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice and scallions and taste to see if you need more salt. Serve in individual bowls, garnished with a handful of tortilla strips. Pass additional lime and cilantro on the side.TORTILLA STRIPSMake this garnish while the soup cooks.8 corn tortillas1 cup rendered leaf lard, or high-heat-tolerant oil for fryingsea saltHeat lard or oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal). Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into 1/4" strips.When oil is hot, fry strips in batches, without crowding. Drain on paper towels (though if you use lard there will be virtually no draining necessary) and sprinkle with salt.