Growing up in small town mid-America I wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of ethnic foods beyond the standard Americanized Italian, Chinese and Mexican. While I loved “Mexican” food, I really hadn’t realized that there was much more to the cuisine than tacos and burritos stuffed with either ground beef or chicken and served with a side of beans and rice. Sure, I encountered the occasional enchilada and even more rarely, the occasional tamale, but my experiences were rather limited. Once out of high school though, and able to travel, I discovered that Mexican cuisine was filled with all sorts of wonderful foods, from complex moles to delicate ceviches to a vast array of street foods.

I have particularly become enamored of masa harina, the ground “flour” made from corn soaked in a lye solution. Masa is the basis for corn tortillas, tamales, and sopes. It can also be used a thickener for soups and stews and makes a wonderful addition when breading foods before frying.

The other day I was hungry for some good Mexican inspired food, specifically tamales, but I really didn’t have the time or the energy to get that involved so instead I decided to make some sopes. For those of you not familiar with sopes the best way to describe them is like a very thick corn tortilla that is crispy on the outside yet soft and tender inside though that doesn’t quite do them justice. They are then topped with a whole variety of fillings. This day I decided to braise up some beef and top my sopes with shredded beef. Add a little lettuce, some avocado and salsa and you have fantastic meal!

Shredded Beef Filling
this recipe makes more than you will need for 1 meal’s worth of sopes

2 1/2-3 pounds beef arm roast, or chuck roast
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can Rotel (canned tomatoes and green chile peppers)
1 can tomato paste

Season the roast with salt and pepper and place in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic, Rotel and enough water to come 3/4’s of the way up the side of the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until tender enough to shred with a fork. Remove meat from pot, allow to cool for 5 minutes then shred. Meanwhile increase heat to high and start reducing liquid. Once shredded, return meat to pot along with tomato paste and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is thickly coated by the sauce. Remove from heat and serve or cool and package for later use.

Sopes con Carne

serves 6 as an appetizer or 3 as an entree

1 1/2 cups masa harina (dried masa flour)
3/4 cup water
vegetable oil
Shredded Beef Filling
Pico de gallo
shredded lettuce
sour cream

Combine the masa harina and water. Knead for 5 minutes. Masa harina continues no gluten so the kneading is really to make sure the dough is fully hydrated. Adjust consistency by adding more water or more masa, a little at a time, until you have a soft dough that is only slightly sticky. Divide the dough into 6 balls.

Flatten each ball into a circle about 3-4 inches in diameter. Meanwhile heat a skillet over high heat. In another deep sided pan heat about 1 1/2 inches of oil to 350°F. In the dry skillet briefly cook the masa disks for about 1 minute per side, just until they brown a little.

Remove from pan and while still warm (as soon as you can handle them) create a 1/4 inch lip all around the edge.

Drop into the oil and fry for about 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Drain on paper towels. While draining, dice up the avocado and mix in a little lime juice and salt. Stir just enough to bring together and mash it up enough for it to hold all together. Fill the sopes with the shredded beef, top with shredded lettuce then the avocado, pico de gallo and sour cream. Serve 1-2 per person.

If you make the sopes bite sized they make the perfect appetizer hors d’oeurves. You can then fill them with anything from BBQ chicken to melted cheese to mashed plantains.