Sopa de lima is a wonderfully easy, flavorful traditional Mexican lime soup from the Yucatán region. It's in some ways a kind of chicken soup, but with quite a different flavor profile - it's fresh with subtle depth, not to mention a yummy crunchy tortilla topping. So good.
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When many people think of Mexico's Yucatán, they think of the beaches and resorts of Cancun and along that coast. However, as with any resort area, you miss a whole lot of the true feel of the region. In fact, technically, it's only part of the Yucatán peninsula rather than being in Yucatán state.
Mérida, on the other hand, gives you a much better feel for the region. Yes, it's inland and has become more touristy over the years, but there is also a lot of history, traditional architecture and lots of places to enjoy the food of the region.
This Yucatán soup has Mayan origins and uses simple ingredients you'll easily find in the area. It is still a big favorite in the region, and for good reason.
What is in sopa de lima?
As with any traditional recipe, you'll find some variations, but most at least include a few key components:
- Chicken - traditionally you use breast meat for this and poach it. Some use turkey instead. Either way, you shred it up and mix it into the soup.
- Broth - typically made through poaching the chicken, although you can also add some stock for a bit of a broth-y flavor.
- Sofrito - this is essentially a fried seasoning made with onion, pepper and tomato that adds depth of flavor to the dish without taking over.
- Lime - this adds the main flavor to the broth giving it a great freshness (more on this below)
- Tortilla strips - fried pieces of corn tortillas that you add as a crispy garnish.
If some of these sound a little similar to the tortilla soup you might have come across in a Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurant, that's not too surprising. But this is also simpler (it's not loaded with beans and avocado, for example) and, to me, in the best possible way.
While it's a soup, it tastes pretty light and fresh so it feels like it works just as well on a hot day as a cold one (maybe not surprising given where it's from, but it is so true). You get to enjoy some delicious flavors without it being too filling. And, it's easy to make.
Lima versus limón
Depending on your experience of Spanish language, you might give a different answer on how to translate these two words into English, just as you might have a different answer on how to say lemon and lime in Spanish. Because the answer to both varies.
In Spain, you are more likely to find lemon called limón and lime called lima, but in Latin America, you may well find them both called limón or the names reversed. Some of that seems to be because the fruits are non-native and what has become more available in one place is not the same as another.
Limes are more common in Mexico, for example, while in Chile you'll find lemons but rarely limes. So there may not have been much need to distinguish in the past.
Then to add to the confusion, the "lima" used here is a variety of lime you find in Mexico that's not quite the same as the limes we are more familiar with. It's a little sweeter in flavor than the Persian lime you are probably more familiar with. The flesh is a little paler, too. While 'regular' lime works fine here, if you find it too sharp, you can add a little orange or grapefruit to balance it out and be closer to the limas used in the original.
What is a sofrito?
A sofrito is essentially a cooked, aromatic base, always with at least onion and usually tomato and/or some kind of pepper. It's used in much the same way as mirepoix (onion, carrot and celery) in French and Creole cooking, just with slightly different ingredients.
It apparently originates from Catalan cuisine and spread and evolved with Spanish colonization. Some versions use more herbs, other such as the Dominican variation sazón include some vinegar.
One of the key things to remember when you make the sofrito is you want to soften the vegetables but not brown them. In fact "sofrito" means to lightly fry. This helps bring out a little natural sweetness without the flavor being too strong.
Making crispy tortilla strips
The final part of this soup to mention is the crispy tortilla strips. These are simply cut up corn tortillas that you cook to make them crispy. You can either fry them briefly or bake them in the oven. Either way, keep an eye on them as they can quickly go from just crisp to burnt.
While you can make the rest of the soup ahead, make sure you don't add the tortilla strips until the last minute. They, unsurprisingly, soften soon after going into the soup so the later you wait to add them, the more they keep a bit of crispness as you enjoy your soup.
This might seem like a lot of explanation, but sopa de lima is really far from complicated. And it comes together relatively quickly as well. Mexican lime soup has a few components, but each adds flavor and texture to make one truly delicious soup that you'll be happy to enjoy any time. So make an excuse and give it a try soon.
Try these other broth-based soups:
- Sopa de ajo - Spanish garlic soup (may sound unusual but it's simple and so tasty!)
- Cock-a-leekie soup - Scottish chicken and leek soup
- German pancake soup - Flädlesuppe ( a simple combination of broth and pancake 'noodles')
- Plus get more Mexican recipes and lunch recipes in the archives.
Sopa de lima - Mexican lime soup
- ½ lb chicken breast 450g, 1 medium-large piece
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock 980ml, or low sodium stock if bought
- 2 cups water 980ml (cold)
- ¼ red onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano (or Italian, if Mexican not available)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper
- ¼ red onion approx 6tbsp once chopped
- 1 Hungarian wax pepper or banana pepper
- 1 tomato medium-large, approx 140g, ¾ cup once chopped
- 2 cloves garlic (optional)
- 1 pinch salt, pepper and Mexican oregano
For rest of soup
- 2 corn tortillas or 3 if smaller
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or other neutral oil for frying, or a little more if needed
- 2 limes
- 6 stems cilantro coriander, approx
For broth/chicken (and sofrito prep)
- Place the chicken in a pot and add the stock, water, onion, bay leaf, garlic (peeled but left whole), oregano and salt and pepper. Cover and place over a medium heat to bring to a simmer. Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender, around 20 - 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables for the sofrito. Mince the onion and pepper and finely chop the tomato and garlic, if using.
- Once the chicken has cooked, remove the chicken and let cool a minute or two. Meanwhile, strain the broth and discard the other solids but keep all of the liquid. You can either strain it directly into another pot of around the same size, or into a bowl, clean out the original pot and transfer back.
For tortilla strips
- Cut the tortillas into thin strips - if using larger tortillas, cut the bigger strips in half (or you can cut the tortillas in half first then into strips).
- Warm the oil in a medium skillet/frying pan over a medium heat. Add the tortilla strips and cook, spreading them out and turning as needed until they are crisp on all sides but not burnt. If you prefer, you can lightly brush/drizzle the tortilla strips with oil and cook in a medium oven for a few minutes instead.
- If you have used the skillet for the tortilla strips, once they are cooked, remove them and drain them on kitchen paper. Then you can re-use the skillet for the sofrito.
- Warm the skillet with a little extra oil, if needed, over a medium heat and add the onion and pepper. Cook for a minute then add the tomato (and garlic, if using). Add a little salt, pepper and oregano and cook for a few minutes, stirring now and then, until all the vegetables have softened but are not browning. Once softened, remove from the heat.
To finish soup
- Add the sofrito to the strained broth and mix through. Shred the chicken and add this as well then cook the soup for a few more minutes to let everything mingle.
- Meanwhile, squeeze 1 to 1 ½ of the limes and thinly slice the remaining half lime. Remove the cilantro leaves from the stem and roughly tear or chop.
- Add the lime juice to the soup (1 lime or 1 ½ to taste and depending on how juicy the limes are). Mix through then serve the soup in bowls, making sure you distribute the chicken evenly, topped with some of the tortilla strips, some cilantro and a slice or two of lime.
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