Wine With . . . Lime, Chicken and Tortilla Soup (Sopa de Lima)
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Sadly, we have never visited the Yucatan, but we are immensely fond of Sopa de Lima, which noted food writer Diana Kennedy describes as the soup of this Mexican region. We hope to get there someday, to admire the pre-Hispanic monumental Mayan architecture, the colorful weavings, the masks, and the beautiful beaches at Tulum. Meanwhile, we’ll satisfy our craving to be in the Yucatan by ladling up bowlfuls of Sopa de Lima, an immensely refreshing and satisfying soup often based on chicken, with a liberal zing of fresh lime juice a defining ingredient.
This recipe is easy to adapt and simplify if desired. You can use leftover cooked chicken, or poach a boneless breast; or you can do as we did recently and cook a whole chicken. (The appeal of this method is the additional benefit of getting a couple of chicken sandwiches from the leftovers the next day). For the broth, homemade or canned chicken stock are both viable options. You could crush up some store-bought tortilla chips instead of frying your own, although the homemade ones really are superior. Corn makes a delicious addition to the soup, and diced tomatoes can also be part of the picture if desired. A jolt of heat from habanero or other spicy peppers is traditional, but we eschewed these additions this time around since we were in the mood for simplicity and serenity on the palate. If you have access to Mexican cinnamon and Mexican oregano all the better, but these ingredients aren’t critical. We were forced to make one unexpected substitution due to a quirk of circumstance at the market, where the produce manager informed us that there had been no deliveries of cilantro that day. Cilantro is the traditional herb of the Yucatan kitchen, but we substituted a handful of finely minced fresh mint, basil and parsley—iconoclastic, perhaps, but nonetheless so good that from now on we will always include it in the recipe, with or without cilantro.
Sopa de Lima
Canola, corn or olive oil
6 fresh corn tortillas
6 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
About 4 cups diced, cooked chicken
2 avocados cut into large dice
5-6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
½ cup finely minced fresh herbs including basil, mint, parsley and cilantro
Put about an inch of oil in a sturdy skillet (preferably nonstick) and heat it. Cut the tortillas in half, and then cut the halves into strips about ½ inch wide. Working in batches, when the oil shimmers add a single layer of tortilla strips and fry until golden, turning to cook on both sides. With tongs, remove them to drain on paper towels. Add more oil if necessary. The chips may be made well ahead of time.
Heat the chicken stock and whisk in the cinnamon and oregano. Taste for seasoning. Add the chicken and continue simmering until it is heated through. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and divide it among 4 soup bowls. Add the avocado to each bowl and drizzle the lime juice over it. Top with the cheese, the herbs, and the chips.
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One of the oft-repeated principles of food and wine pairing holds that flavors can complement or contrast each other with equal success. We’ve certainly found that to be true in many of our tastings for Wine Review Online. So long as the wine in question is neither too delicately-textured nor too full-bodied for the dish, a satisfying match may be one in which the wine’s flavors echo those in the food or one in which the wine serves as a foil. In most cases, we’ve found that neither approach proves inherently better than the other.
Sopa de Lima, however, turned out to be a proverbial rule-proving exception. We tried fourteen white and rosé wines with it, and the best matches all consisted of those with citrus-like flavors. These wines reinforced the dominant flavors in the dish, making for a seamless, coherent experience. Wines that offered a contrasting profile, either through overt sweetness as in an off-dry German Riesling, oak as in a buttery California Chardonnay, or spiciness as in a Gewurztraminer, failed to make the cut. They invariably were disappointing, and in fact in many cases seemed to acquire odd, slightly “off” flavors. We’re not sure exactly why Sopa de Lima so clearly calls for a complementary flavored wine, though it’s worth noting that few savory dishes in our experience are so fully infused with the taste of citrus. But whatever the explanation, this definitely is one match that calls for the wine to echo rather than stand apart from the food.