Say the word “sopaipilla” and a lot of people get excited. Are you one of them? I have memories of Grandma Salazar’s sopaipillas dating back to my earliest years, along with the memories of piping hot ones straight from my mom’s kitchen. Visit either woman to this day and you might just talk her into a fresh batch. What was normal fare for us, turned out to have a cult-following among friends we’ve known through the years. I have to admit, I never eat any that aren’t homemade. So, the ol’ restaurant sopaipilla sundae topped with chocolate drizzle was always a foreign thing to me. Why would you abuse your sopaipilla like that?
My grandparents grew up in Questa (orig. Cuesta), New Mexico, just north of Taos. Standard fare included pinto beans, potatoes, eggs, roasted green chiles, enchiladas, tortillas, sopaipillas and other simple but delicious food. I am thankful, because this is the food my mom and her brothers and sisters were raised on, and then it was our turn! Sure, my siblings and I were subjected to some casseroles during that craze in the ’80s, but the old standbys were northern New Mexican cuisine. We ate well. So well.
Friends were always quick to say “yes!” to a dinner invitation at our house, and I was so proud of the food my mom and Grandma cooked. My little brother and sister started throwing sopaipilla parties in high school, and of the few things I attempted to cook in a college dorm, sopaipillas was one of them. They are a crowd pleaser every time. But something you should know: sopaipillas served our way come with dinner. My family’s favorite way to eat them is to tear them open, and fill the hollow center with creamy pinto beans which have been cooking all day. Once we’ve had enough of those, we drizzle the last one or two with honey. The end. It’s that simple.
Not everyone has grandmas who make homemade tortillas and sopaipillas at a moment’s notice, which is one of the reasons I am sharing. Now you can perfect the art in your own kitchen. Buen provecho!
Grandma Salazar’s Sopaipillas
by Maria Elucresia Salazar, adapted by Stephanie Kunstle
Serves about 8 people
Note: the original recipe uses shortening as the fat for the dough and for frying. I’m sure that lard was the more flavorful original long ago, but I find that butter works just as well in the dough and regular olive oil is perfect for frying (and so much better on the body). Also, if you are at “high altitude,” you may want to decrease the baking powder for best results.
- 4 cups flour
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
- approx. 1 cup warm water
- olive oil for frying (not extra-virgin, as it will burn)
- Combine the dry ingredients with a wire whisk. Cut in the butter until the flour mixture appears slightly lumpy.
- Using your hands to mix, gradually add the warm water, adding only enough to make the dough form into a soft ball, and knead it to make it smooth and elastic in texture.
- Let the dough rest in the bowl, covered with a damp cloth (not wet and not at all dry). For best results, let the dough rest at least 30 minutes. An hour is better, and any time beyond that will just add to the lightness of the sopaipillas. Just be sure not to let the cloth, or dough, dry out.
- Pour about 2 inch depth of olive oil in a medium-sized pot (you want the sides to be high to keep the oil from splashing), and heat over medium flame until temperature reaches about 310-320 degrees F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, watch for the oil to look like it’s moving gently on it’s own. Test a tiny piece of dough to check heat. Dough should instantly sizzle and fry upon touching oil.
- Divide dough into two parts, keeping one covered. Roll out 1/2 portion of dough to 1/4 inch thickness (1.5 mm) or even a bit thinner on an unfloured, clean surface.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise and then across the opposite direction to form diamond and triangle shapes.
- Fry each sopaipilla one at a time, placing the side that was exposed to air (the side of dough that touched the rolling pin) face down in the oil, sliding it in from the tip (no dropping it in!). The oil will sizzle furiously, and then begin to slow down, while the dough puffs. With a long set of tongs, roll the sopaipilla over to let it sizzle on the other side, aproximately 15 seconds or so on each side, until the sopaipilla is just barely golden.
- Remove from oil and place in a bowl lined with paper towels (to absorb extra oil). Repeat with each piece.
- Serve hot!
Pinto Bean Soup
An ancient recipe…
- 3-4 cups pinto beans
- salt to taste (pepper, optional)
- fresh water for cooking
- Sort beans into a collander (pick out any debris, rocks, etc.) and rinse well.
- Pour beans into a large pot, and cover with plenty of water as they will expand.
- Allow to soak for about 8 hours.
- Pour beans back into large collander and rinse again.
- In a large pot, cover beans with water to cover by about 2 inches or so, and simmer for about 8 hours, adding water when necessary to keep them from burning. They can also be cooked in a slow-cooker on high setting all day. (When done in a slow cooker, you can even go for a nice long 24 hour cook which makes them incredibly creamy or try for about 12 hours of cooking on the stove- just keep adding water as needed).
- Using a potato masher, gently crush the beans that are near the bottom of the pot to thicken the soup.
- Salt (and pepper) to taste.
- Serve with the freshly fried sopaipillas and enjoy one of the simple pleasures in life.