Sopes (so-pez) are a traditional Mexican antojitos (street food) originating in the central and southern parts of the country. They look like thick tortillas with crimped edges and are most often topped with refried beans and crumbled cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, sour cream and sometimes meat. The base is made from a circle of fried masa, which is ground maize soaked in lime (called nixtamalization), hulled, then ground. It is this strange word and ancient process that is the real story here.
Mexico, and Europe for that matter, would not exist as we know it if not for this ancient process dating back to 1500 BC or-so. Nixtamalization is the process for preparing maize (corn) by soaking and cooking it in an alkaline solution (usually limewater), washing it, and then removing the hull. Without it, unprocessed maize is deficient in free niacin and would never have become a staple food as malnourishment and disease would be overwhelming and the population would stay small and remain eating mostly insects as the source for protein. What the early Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas figured out that my making maize this way is that they not only got the niacin they needed to stay healthy- when combined with beans, which they would smear on corn tortillas, or added to soups, the combination provided the missing amino acids required to balance maize for a complete protein.
Without nixtamalization, there’d be no Mayan or Aztec advanced societies. Worse yet, there would be no sopes, tacos, gorditos, or quesadillas….
Sopes – Mexican Corn Cakes
- Large bowl
- Large nonstick skillet
- 2 cups Masa harina (corn tortilla flour)
- 2 cups Water
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup Refried beans
- 1 cup Crumbled Mexican chorizo or Italian sausage
- ½ cup Onion, chopped
- ½ cup Crumbled cheese like cotija, queso fresco, or rinsed feta
- ½ cup Iceberg lettuce, shredded
- Salsa verde or any other, for serving on side
- Make dough: Mix masa harina and water in a bowl with hands until thoroughly combined. Divide into 15 balls.
- Make sopes: Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, flatten dough balls into ¼-inch thick by 2-inch wide pancakes. Add them to the heated skillet. Cook each side until lightly specked, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board and refill skillet. As new batch is cooking, make a rim around the cooked dough with you fingers. Once all "disks" are crimped, add them back to pan flat side down and cook another 2 minutes per side. Place kitchen towel over cooked sopes to keep warm.
- Make topping: add sausage to same skillet over medium heat. After sausage gives up a bit of its fat, add chopped onions and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes more.
- To serve: Place sopes around a small bowl of salsa on a serving platter. Top each sope with 2 tbsps each of microwave-warmed refried beans, sausage-onion mixture, shredded lettuce and crumbled cheese. Eat with hands or a fork.
- Sopes can be made in advance and either kept in the refrigerator for a few days wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a ziplock bag. They can also be kept frozen for a few month before warming, filling, and serving.
- Roasted salsa verde is especially good with Sopes but any homemade or store bought salsa works well.
- Feel free to get creative with the cheese and sausage toppings.
- The cooked sausage topping may be omitted. Instead, you can add fresh chopped white onion over the refried beans.