When you dine at a typical Mexican restaurant, you’re probably already familiar with the usual offerings of enchiladas, tacos, refried beans, and rice, right? It’s kind of ironic that many dishes served in most of today’s Mexican joints are actually of American origin by way of Texas or California. We Americans have put our own twists on the originals over the years and have since labeled them “Mexican food”.
To get a little more authentic taste of South of the Border cuisine, try out the following recipe for Mexican sopes, a zesty appetizer that will have you ditching your old gringo go-to of nachos and chimichangas.
Sopes are handheld Mexican street food dish made from a dough made of masa flour (dried and finely ground corn) that are flattened, typically fried, then topped with either meat or beans and salsa. This version of the classic Mexican dish sees the little masa “boats” baked instead of fried — saving you some calories and a greasy mess on your stove top. I chose to use flavorful Mexican chorizo sausage for the filling and topped it with a Yucatecan-style (i.e.: from the Yucatan Peninsula) sauce comprised of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and habanero pepper. These sopes can be made any size you please — form smaller ones for appetizer servings and larger ones if you’re serving them as a snack or main course.
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Tapas (or “small plates”) have been a popular restaurant trend for quite some time now; the fad of ordering multiple small plates filled with smoky chorizo, spicy tomato sauce and garlicky shellfish (to name a few) for sharing with tablemates is still going strong. Plus, they’re a great way to try an array of dishes without having to order huge portions that will just end up in a doggy bag.
Here’s a novel idea: You don’t need to venture out to enjoy these dishes, as many of them are pretty darn simple to whip up at home. The ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store and you may even have most of them in your pantry.
Here is an amazingly simple and exotic tapas dish to get you started on your culinary tour of Spain: stewed chickpeas with chorizo, aka “habas con chorizo.” Smoky and slightly spicy cured Spanish chorizo rendered and sauteed with onions and garlic, then simmered with cinnamon, cloves and broth until the liquid and aromatics have reduced and are absorbed by the chickpeas. Sounds complex but, trust me, it’s pretty foolproof and 100 percent delicious.
The key to getting the liquid to reduce is all in the pan. A large sauté pan with sloping sides will allow steam to be released, thus aiding in the liquid reduction process. A pan or pot with high, straight sides will keep more of the liquid vapor trapped inside the vessel and it will take the liquid twice as long to reduce; only choose this type of pot or pan if you’re making a soup or stew.
This dish hails from Catalonia, located in the northeastern region of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Catalan dishes rely heavily on ingredients used in Mediterranean cuisine — tomato, garlic, olive oil, legumes, eggplant, etc. One legume, the garbanzo bean (or “chickpea”), is used often in Mediterranean dishes either whole in salads or stews, or mashed up to make hummus or falafel. Pork products are widely used in Catalonia — since they’re the main producers of pork products in Spain — and cured chorizo (a hallmark of Spanish cuisine) is often used to flavor soups, stews and a range of other dishes. Put chickpeas and chorizo together and you’ve got a hearty, smoky dish that’s adaptable for any occasion (save for Jewish or Muslim holidays).
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