Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sopes with Shrimp and Cactus

Nopales (cactus) boiled with cloves of garlic and strained
So much of what the indigenous people of Mexico eat is finger food, picked up gingerly and eaten with the hands, while it is hot, freshly made, and handed to those gathered around the hot comal. Freshly nixtamalized corn is shaped into small tortillas, gorditas, tlacoyos, huaraches, or sopes...all vessels that will carry the vegetables, the beans, or the meats to those hungry mouths. You simply can't eat some of these things with a fork. They won't even taste the same. The base of all 'wrappings' in Mexican food is, of course, this corn dough, sometimes thickly patted by hand, sometimes flattened thinly in a tortilla press...small, large, oval, round, fried, cooked on a comal, or steamed, but it's all corn dough.

Sopes fit into the category of small, edible 'plates' of corn with diverse toppings, usually offered ahead of a meal. You make your masa (dough) using commercial corn dough like Maseca if you're not lucky enough to live in Mexico where you can always find freshly ground corn dough. For your dough, use slightly more water than the recipe calls for so that your dough doesn't crack on the edges. Here's a recipe for sopes made in an oval shape. These are not fried the way you often find them sometimes and the topping is an amazing mixture of nopal (cactus, or prickly pear) with dried shrimp which is rehydrated with warm water. I've mixed a red chile ancho sauce.

We don't yet have all the evidence to call cactus a superfood, but we know it's part of a healthy diet:  it's high in fiber and antioxidants.

My aunt, Tía Leila, helped me make these in San Miguel de Allende last time we were there. Tía Leila, who is in her 80's, explained to me they were often eaten during Lent in our family when she was a child and later when she was raising her family.

Dried shrimp after rehydration

Sope topped with shrimp, cactus, and chile guajillo salsa

Sopes with Shrimp and Cactus

Recipe Type: Appetiser

Cuisine: Mexican

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time:

Cook time:

Total time:

Serves: 4

Dried shrimp is an ingredient that is usually found in Latino stores, but you can substitute boiled fresh shrimp, of course. I've seen the cactus paddles very often now in regular grocery stores. I recommend you prepare a chile guajillo sauce ahead of time: http://culinarianexpeditions.blogspot.com/2012/04/la-madrina-salsa-recipes.html

  • 3 cups chopped cactus
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups small dried shrimp (or fresh tiny boiled shrimp)
  • 4 cups commercial corn dough (following the recipe on the package)
  • red chile guajillo salsa, see http://culinarianexpeditions.blogspot.com/2012/04/la-madrina-salsa-recipes.html
  • chopped cilantro, optional

  1. Place the dried shrimp in a bowl of hot water to soak for about 30 minutes.

  2. Boil the cactus for about 10 minutes with the peeled cloves of garlic, then strain and set aside.

  3. Drain the shrimp, peel it and chop it.

  4. Place the shrimp and the drained, cooked cactus in a bowl.

  5. Stir in enough chile guajillo salsa to your preference, see recipe http://culinarianexpeditions.blogspot.com/2012/04/la-madrina-salsa-recipes.html

  6. Make the corn masa according to the instructions on the package, adding a few extra tablespoons of water to make it more pliable.

  7. Shape balls of dough about ping pong sized into cylinders.

  8. Flatten them between your hands until you have oval shapes about 1/8 inch thick. (Keep your hands slightly damp)

  9. Place the oval shapes (sopes) on a medium comal (iron griddle) and cook them on both sides until you see spots on the dough.

  10. Remove the sopes from the comal and pinch the sides so they all have ridges on the edges.

  11. Spoon your shrimp/cactus mixture onto the sopes and place them on the comal again for a few minutes before placing them on a tray.

  12. If you like, top the sopes with chopped cilantro.