05 May 2011


In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, here is a Latin TOPLESS recipe for you.
Though you might not associate anything south of the border as topless, they do compensate for it gastronomically by making some of the most delicious open face style corn-based flat cakes,  commonly known as a traditional sope (pronounced "SOH-peh").
File:Koeh-283.jpgTo understand Mexican cooking, you must first appreciate the role corn has played in forming the foundation of it’s wonderful cuisine.  Maize as it was known to the Mesoamerican people became part of the Latin speaking cultures though their domination of the New World.
This wild grain was cultivated into various varieties throughout the Americas. Today, it’s form is known to the English speaking world as ‘corn’.  Since the first European contact this grain has found acceptance through the globe as a suitable harvest for most climates.
It is with this basic natural food source that most Latin meals are prepared. Mexican cuisine, in particular, uses maize as the foundation for most of it’s dishes in the same manner that Europe used wheat.  In essence, these corn-based flat variations range from the basic tortilla to the thicker ones used as the ‘bread-like’ foundation for their own version of ‘going topless’.  This is especially true for sopes.
Originating in the region of Culiacán these traditional maize based tortilla-like rimmed patties are now found all over Mexico by various names and forms. Most recipes call for  the use of lard to fry them in.  However, you will find that in this recipe the lard is omitted. They are baked here to make them a little healthier to enjoy…but, mind you these are equally enjoyable to the fried versions.
Now mind you, if you have a Mexican comal or cast-iron flat griddle you can also make these delicious little cakes on it.

Makes about 18-24
3 cups masa harina* (check in the ethnic aisle or a Hispanic grocery store)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder…adds a little fluff to them
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of garlic powder
2 cups hot water…plus, extra 1/2 cup - if necessary
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup grated Monterrey jack cheese
*do not substitute masa harina with regular corn meal…as the masa is a finely ground corn flour meal from corn that has been soaked in lime and then, force dried before going to the mill.

OPTIONAL TOOLS (If available)
http://0.tqn.com/d/mexicanfood/1/0/w/2/comal.gifMexican comal

1:  Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (ALTERNATE: Using a comal, clean and preheat on high)
2: Whisk together masa harina, baking powder, salt and dash of garlic powder /in bowl. Stir in hot water a little at a time until mixing with your hands until it forms soft ball of dough. It will go from lumpy to forming a solid ball. Let stand 5 minutes under a towel.  Then, stir egg, then oil into dough.  Mix until you have a nice pliable ball of dough. Use extra water, if necessary.  Allow to rest another 5 minutes under a damp towel.
3:  Divide the dough with a pastry cutter or deep knife until you have even amount of 1/4 cup size mounds.  Cover with a damp towel until you need them.
4:  SHAPING THE SOPES: Make the dough into 3-inch round by about 1/4-inch thick disks one at a time using one of the following methods:
   A: AUTHENTIC WAY: Shape with your hands into a small disc like a pizza.
   B:  Use a rolling pin (palote) between two sheets of plastic.
   C: Use a tortilla press (tortilladora) between two sheets of plastic.
Place a disk on a lightly corn floured work surface. Press indentation in center of disk using small drinking glass or ramekin, then shape 1/2-inch edge around indentation with your fingers. Repeat with remaining dough. If you are not baking right away, cover with a slightly damp towel.
AUTHENTIC WAY: Skip any further shaping and proceed to baking.
4. BAKING: Place in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until sopes begin to look dry.
AUTHENTIC WAY: Place unformed dough on the hot comal until one side begins to slightly brown…not too much. Turn over and slightly press with fingers in the middle to make a shallow rim. Turn over again until you have lightly browned discs. Remove carefully and place on a surface to form the final ridges of the sopes by pinching the edges up. Careful as dough is still hot. Repeat for each disc.
Both using the methods of baking and a dry grill creates sopes that are  lower in calories than the traditional frying method.
5. Sprinkle each indentation with 2 tsp. grated Monterey Jack cheese.  Return to oven, and bake 5 minutes more, or until cheese has melted. Optional, if freezing the formed sopes allow them to thaw a bit before baking in the same manner and adding cheese.
6. Remove from baking sheet and allow to cool slightly on cookie rack before handling.
NOTE: If you plan to freeze them for future, do not bake them.  Simply in a freezer proof plastic bag separating them with a piece of parchment paper.  Then when you are ready to eat them allow them to thaw before baking as directed above.

A. Fill each with a layer of refried beans...I cook my own and then mash them.
B. Add your favorite salsa...or add a nicely roasted chile.
C. Add your favorite filling (already prepared...carnitas, steak, chicken, shrimp, veggies, etc). Heck, add whatever tickles your palette!
D. Sprinkle with queso fresco, cilantro, and garnish with avocado slices ...or whatever you like

[pics to follow]


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