If you’ve traveled anywhere in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, chances are that you’ve had the pleasure of tasting sopa de lima.
Sopa de lima or lime soup, is an exquisite broth unlike any other. The soup has Mayan roots (the Yucatan Peninsula was part of their empire) and to this day it is among the region’s most famous and delicious dishes. When you first look at a bowl of sopa de lima you don’t think too much of it. But it is that first sip that will coat your mouth and tastebuds with a depth of flavour and a unique underlining scent and taste.
Sure the soup’s broth is made with chicken, but what sets this soup apart from others is the tangy-tart, sweet, taste of the limas. Now bear with me while I explain what this fruit is. On the outside they look like what many non-Mexicans would call a lime. But they’re not. And actually, in Mexico what you call limes we call limón, which is the English word for lemons. But in Mexico the golden coloured citrus, lemon, does not exist — and on the rare occasion that you may find an imported one, they are called limón amarillo or yellow lemon. Confused yet?
Limón is green on the outside and has a slightly green hued inside, and the taste is semi-sweet with some tartness to it. In the US, and other places, our limón is called Mexican lime or key limes. A lima, the powerful ingredient in our soup, is also green on the outside but has a rougher skin. When sliced open you can see a thicker skin than limes, and also the colour is more white than greenish. (The pictures illustrate this.) Limas are still citrusy, but have a sweeter taste than limes and much sweeter than a yellow lemon. If you were going to choose one of these three fruits to suck on it would definitely be the lima.
The limas you see here are native to the Yucatan Peninsula, and some sites actually say that they are not found outside of this region. So though the recipe is called sopa de lima, and limas are what is traditionally used, chances are that you won’t be able to purchase them in your grocery store. But don’t worry, the soup tastes delicious made with regular Mexican limes too.
Another ingredient you may not find is the Xcatic chile, it is also native to the Yucatan Peninsula and not commonly found outside of the region, it’s even difficult to find in other areas of Mexico. But again, don’t worry I’ve provided you with a couple of substitutions.
- !Broth Ingredients:
- 2 large skinless bone-inn chicken breast (OR one turkey breast)
- chicken wings and tips that I save (you can use any other bone-in meat pieces)
- 2 litres or 8.5 cups of water
- halve a small purple onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
- a pinch of sea salt
- a large pinch of freshly ground black peppercorns
- half a teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano
- !Soup Ingredients:
- 6-8 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
- 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 Mexican limas, three juiced and one sliced (or substitute with Mexican limes)*
- 2-3 Xcatic chiles**, seeds and veins removed and finely chopped (or substitute with banana, or wax, or hungarian yellow pepper)
- half a small purple onion, finely diced
- 2 tomatoes, seeded and cubed
- half a teaspoon of fine sea salt, adjust to taste
- large pinch of ground black pepper
- large pinch of Mexican oregano
- about five sprigs of fresh cilantro
- chicken broth from step 1
- shredded chicken breast
- grilled habanero chilies, to serve and optional
- Place the water, chicken meat and rest of "Broth Ingredients" into a large pot. Over medium heat, leave to simmer until the chicken breasts are cooked through and fall apart easily. While the broth is simmering cook the tortilla strips. Either place them on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown and crispy; Or you could also fry them in a little bit of oil until golden and crispy.
- Once the chicken is cooked through we need to separate it from the broth -- but we'll save the broth! Place a colander in a new pot (about the same size as you used for boiling) and drain the broth into the new pot. Set the broth aside, then carefully separate the chicken meat from the other ingredients and set it aside to cool.
- While we wait for the chicken to cool prepare the vegetables and ingredients from the “Soup Ingredients” list. Then in a clean and large pot heat the olive oil; Once hot add the chopped chile and diced onion and sauté until they begin to soften. Next add the tomatoes and sauté until they are soft. Add a pinch of sea salt, black pepper, oregano, cilantro, and gently pour in the broth. Cover and allow the soup to simmer.
- While the soup is simmering juice 3 limas or limas and slice the fourth into thin rounds, set aside. Now shred the chicken breasts and remove any meat from the wings or any other bone-in meat pieces you used. Pour the lime juice into the pot, then add the shredded chicken, cover and continue to simmer for another ten minutes. Give the soup a taste and if needed adjust the salt or lime juice, if necessary.
- This soup must be served straightaway after plating because the tortilla strips will become soggy. Place a little bit of the tortilla strips into the centre of a bowl, ladle some soup into the bowl, top with more tortilla strips, slices of lime, and if desired the grilled habanero. Enjoy!
*The limas are sweet with a tiny sourness. If you can’t find them simply use limes.
** Xcatic chiles are unlikely that you’ll find outside of the Yucatan Peninsula. You can substitute with any of the suggested chiles in the recipe.
Some recipes will tell you to use canned tomatoes, but since we don’t use canned tomatoes in Mexico, and also because they will give the soup a different flavour, I suggest you stick with fresh red tomatoes.
I really hope that you make this soup for your family. It really is a gem of a recipe and something that you can prepare year round — even in the summer.
Lastly I’d like to thank Arthur Trevino, a loyal Spicie Foodie reader and follower, for requesting this recipe. It has been in my drafts queue for a while, but thanks to Arthur it got bumped up the publishing list.
How about you, do you have a special recipe request you’d like to see here?