Luscious mounds of toasty golden noodles infused and topped with the incomparable flavours of Mexico.
Who ever said that I can't have my cake and eat it too, is wrong. I love noodles. I love Mexican food. Schmuck them together and what do you get? Sopa seca. Or literally translated, 'dry soup'. Those Mexicans! They've got it going on.
The deliciousness of sopa seca comes from the unique preparation. Instead of cooking the noodles then coating with the sauce, these noodles are caressed in butter until golden, then simmered gently in seasoned fresh tomatoes and rich chicken stock, deeply infusing the flavours into the noodles themselves.
I first tasted sopa seca when I was about 12 years old and my parents finally succumbed to my best 'please-take-me-with-you-batting-of-big-brown-puppy-dog-eyes' look and brought me along on one of their many winter escapes to Mexico. The memories of leaving a frigid Calgary winter behind in the '60's and being transported to the exotic sights, sounds and flavours of Mexico still gives me shivers of delight.
Alas though, in my naivete, and toting an untalented palate, I wasn't as adventurous as I now wished I had been in sampling more of the regional cuisine. Silly, silly girl. But I did find some goodies to love, like the crunchy little taquitos and warm, cheesy, frijoles spread on those renowned, bakery-fresh hard rolls they served in the small cafe in our hotel lobby in Mexico City.
Then one hot, sunny Acapulco day as we sauntered the beach just down from the Caleta Hotel, fantastic, spicy, aromas beckoned us towards a colourful, sand-floored eatery serving only 'antojitos', Mexican appetizers or snacks, 'to satisfy a craving'.
A troop of silver-studded, short, dark and handsome mariachis were belting out one of Mom's favorite tunes, Guadalajara, and as soon as we sat down, just a few feet from the soothing surf of the bay, a bowl of fresh limes, a basket of warm tortillas, crocks of both red and green salsas and menus, were plunked on our rickety table.
There it was, right at the top of the menu, 'sopa seca'. The waiter explained. I grinned. Noodles? In Mexico? Si, por favor!!!
Since that day, I've never met a sopa seca I haven't savoured. I've eagerly tasted many divine versions of Mexican dry soup, some with braised chicken or meat, some with wide noodles and many different chilies and seasonings, some prepared stove-top and then baked and served as main courses.
But, without a doubt, a really 'rustic' Acapulco-beach-cafe-style sopa seca, served as an antojito course will always be my favorite. Muy delicioso! Muy!
SOPA SECA ~ Mexican Dry Soup
Makes 6 appetizer servings
1/3 of a large Walla Walla, Vidalia, Maui or other mild, sweet onion, roughly chopped
7 red-ripened plum tomatoes, halved
2 plump garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sea or Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 pound thin egg noodles, angel hair nests or short pieces of vermicelli known in Mexico as fideos
2-3 cups of homemade or good quality chicken broth
Avocado chunks tossed with fresh lime juice
Crumbles of queso fresco, extra old cheddar, feta, monjerey jack cheese
(I used Old Speckled Hen English Cheddar - so intensely good, it almost bites back!)
Fresh lime wedges, chopped onion, sour cream, chopped cilantro, tortilla chips
Put onion, tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and cilantro into blender container. Buzz, buzz, for a few seconds until completely liquified. Set aside.
Melt butter and oil together in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add noodles, saute while gently tossing with spatula and large spoon, or tongs. Continue carefully tossing and moving the noodles until they are toasty, golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Add blender-buzzed tomato mixture and fold gently to distribute. Top off with just enough chicken broth to cover noodles. Reduce heat, so mixture just simmers. Cover and cook about 8-10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and noodles are perfectly al dente.
Scoop appetizer size servings into bowls or small plates and top with avocado chunks, cheese and cilantro or your favorite topping combinations. Fantastico with a side of cerveza or margaritas and, of course, some rousing mariachi music. Salud!