A traditional Mexican meal without something made from masa (corn dough) is unimaginable. But there's more to masa than tortillas -- used for tacos, burritos and many other dishes. Sopes (pronounced SO-pas) are made from the same masa dough as tortillas but are thicker and softer, with a rim for corralling layers of frijoles (beans), shredded meats or chunks of fish, and pickled onions, salsa and other additions.
In some areas of the United States, ready-made sope shells are as common as tortillas. But in this area, your best bet is to go to a Hispanic grocery store on Baltimore's Eastern Avenue and pick up some masa harina (a type of Mexican corn flour), from which you can make your own shells. Once shaped, baked and fried in a little hot oil, the sopes are ready for filling.
You can make the sope shells in advance and freeze them uncooked, but be sure to thaw them fully before frying and assembling them. Add whatever fillings you'd like. If you can't find queso fresco, a fresh, unripened Mexican cheese, substitute feta, rinsed to reduce saltiness.
Makes 8 sopes
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups masa harina
1 1/4 cups warm water
oil 1/4 inch deep, for frying
fillings (refried or black beans, cooked chicken, fish or beef)
garnishes (shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, pickled onions, fresh cilantro, crumbled queso fresco)
prepared salsa (red or green)
To prepare shells: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream shortening; add masa harina alternately with water, mixing well after each addition. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape each ball into a flat, 3-inch circle about / inch thick. Pinch edges to make a 1/4 -inch rim.
Place on baking sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To assemble sopes: Heat oil in skillet over high heat to 425 degrees. Lightly salt shells and fry a few at a time, spooning hot oil into centers, turning over once. Cook until golden (about 4 minutes). Drain on paper towels.
Fill each sope by spreading a thin layer of beans (if used) onto bottom. Add some of the chicken, fish or beef filling and garnishes. Serve with salsa.