Invented in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, but now found throughout Mexico, sopes are similar to corn tortillas, but somewhat thicker, with a hand-shaped lip around the outer edge. They are fried in oil until their shape holds, getting marvelously crispy on the outside, while staying hot and fluffy on the inside. My first experience with a sope was at a restaurant in Progreso called “La Pinata,” a wonderful bar, open to the outside, which was a bit of a mixed blessing; as nice as it was to sit out in the night air under the stars in the restaurant’s well-worn leather equipale chairs, it also exposed you to the heavily-trafficked chaos of 31st street, as well as, at certain times of year, a lingering smell of open sewer that the restaurant’s cheerful waitstaff repeatedly assured me was simply the scent of low tide from across the street.
As La Pinata was down the street from one of the first houses we rented in the area, and because their staff seemed patient with our broken Spanish, we found ourselves there at least weekly. It’s a restaurant heavy with memory, for me, both good and bad; one part of my mind focuses on the last-minute, impromptu 30th birthday party I had there, filled with a collection of expats, the occasional (and by “occasional,” I mean “frequent,”) stray dog, and about 15 shots of tequila, or the many times we visited for decompression sessions with our good friends Missy and Alden, or the time the owner of the restaurant asked us to appear in a few print advertisements for the restaurant in the local newspaper.
I also can’t help but remember, though, eating tacos at La Pinata the first time my late father got caught in some sort of repetitive Alzheimer’s-loop, repeating the same four or five sentences over and over, while I watched, terrified, unsure if he was joking or not. These are the restaurants that burn holes in your heart, and the kinds of establishments that become the most important in our lives, where as many memories get made as in your own living room. They become extensions of your home, another set in which to stage the big events of your life, where the actual food is unimportant, and where the waitstaff become your unlicensed counselors and confidants.
But, to paraphrase Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, Mexico is way the hell down there and you’re in here, with a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers. Making these sopecitos can be as complicated, or as simple as you’d like, depending on how burnt out you are from cooking, at this time of year. Make everything from scratch, using some of our recipes (they are linked below). Or buy a few helper ingredients ready-made. It doesn’t matter. Our slight Yucatecan twist (with the addition of tomato and habanero, making these almost something like a salbute) on the traditional sope knocks another dent in that enormous Tupperware container full of turkey meat, and isn’t that all that matters for this week?
Shredded Turkey Sopecitos (Sopecitos de Pavo Yucateco)
Makes four small sopes; Serves two
- 1/2 cup Maseca brand corn masa
- 1/3 cup warm water
- Pinch of salt
- Vegetable or corn oil, for frying
- 1/2 cups refried beans, homemade or canned, heated
- 1 cup shredded white and dark meat turkey
- 1 cup salsa verde, homemade or canned
- 2 tablespoons Mexican crema (or two tablespoons sour cream mixed with two teaspoons milk)
- Handful of cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 fresh tomato, chopped
- 4 tablespoons Mexican cotija cheese
- 1 “mellowed” habanero pepper (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine Maseca, warm water, and pinch of salt, and knead with hands into a ball. Divide ball into four pieces, and flatten in a tortilla press (or using hands) into 4-inch rounds, about a quarter of an inch thick. Set finished rounds aside on parchment paper, and crimp edges into a slight lip.
- Fill a small frying pan with approximately one inch of oil, and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Place two of the raw sope shells, cup-side-down, into the oil and fry for one minute. Flip shells and cook another minute, until shells are set and light golden brown, but not crunchy. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining raw sope shells.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine shredded turkey meat and salsa verde, and simmer, covered, until heated through, and meat begins to shred and fall apart.
- To assemble sopecitos: Stack each fried sope shell with a tablespoon of refried beans, followed by about two tablespoons of the turkey and salsa mixture. Add a sprinkle of cilantro, and a sprinkle of tomato. Drizzle about two teaspoons of the crema on each sope, followed by a sprinkle of the cotija and habanero to taste, if desired. Serve immediately.