Yucatan: Recipes from a culinary journey

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 16, 2017

I looked all over Mérida for an English cookbook on the Yucatan, but it was not to be had. Upon returning home my husband found one to order that turned out to be a James Beard Award winning book. It is a fabulous book and the author David Sterling spent 10 years of his life researching and writing. It would have been too heavy to bring home even if for sale in Mérida.

The Yucatan peninsula is home to one of the world’s greatest regional cuisines. With a foundation of native Maya dishes made from fresh local ingredients, it shares much with the same pantry of ingredients, and many culinary practices with the rest of Mexico. Yet, due to its isolated peninsular location, it was also in a unique position to absorb the foods and flavors of such far flung regions as Spain and Portugal, France, Holland, Lebanon and the Levant, Cuba and the Caribbean, and Africa.

In recent years, gourmet magazines and celebrity chefs have popularized certain Yucatecan dishes and ingredients, such as Sopa de lima (which I did this weekend and the recipe is below.) David Sterling takes you on a gastronomic tour of the peninsula in this cookbook and presents the food in the places where it’s savored. Sterling begins in jungle towns where Mayas concoct age old recipes with a few simple ingredients they grow themselves. He travels more than a thousand miles along the broad Yucatan coast to sample a bounty of seafood; shares “the people’s food” at bakeries, street vendors, home restaurants, and cantinas.

This journey of Sterling serves up more than 275 authentic, thoroughly tested recipes that will appeal to both novice and professional cooks. The book discusses pantry staples and basic cooking techniques and offers substitutions for local ingredients that may be hard to find elsewhere.

The book took me all weekend just to glance though since it is almost 600 pages. But the book is beautifully done and probably the most definitive work on this distinctive cuisine.

Sopa de lima is the classic soup of the Yucatan. The lima (Citrus limetta) also known as limmeta or sweet lime is more aromatic and less acidic that the Persian or Mexican lime and gives this soup its characteristic taste. But since we cannot get this lime you have to use the Persian or Mexican lime. This soup is very tasty and can be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and reheated just before serving. It can also be served chilled. We had this soup at a restaurant and I didn’t think it was so great, but doing it at home I felt it was a better soup and worth the effort of creating.


Sopa de Lima

Chicken soup with sweet lime essence

10 servings

For the soup base:

10 cups chicken stock

½ medium chicken (1 ½ lbs.)

1 sprig fresh thyme (1/4 tsp. dried)

Prepare Soup Base:

Place the stock, chicken, and thyme in a stockpot and bring to a simmer, skimming frequently. Continue to cook gently until the chicken is cooked through, 25-30 minutes.

Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Pull the meat from the bones into large pieces or slice into julienne strips; set aside.

Strain the stock through a fine sieve into another pot. If time allows, refrigerate the stock several hours or overnight and skim off any fat before finishing.

For the sofrito and finishing:

Zest of one lime, finely grated

2 Tbs. olive oil

4 cloves garlic. Finely chopped

1 medium white onion, finely chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, finely diced

3 medium Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1/3 cup fresh lime juice (Mexican or Persian lime juice)

Place the stock in a stockpot and return to the simmer. Add the citrus zest, cover the pot, and remove it from the heat to allow the stock to steep as you continue.

While the stock is steeping, heat the oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the next three ingredients and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook until the tomatoes are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sofrita (the garlic, onions and green pepper) to the stock. Stir in the chicken and simmer 2-3 minutes to heat through. Add the citrus juice and serve immediately.


For Serving:

Chopped cilantro

Fried soft taco shells cut into strips and fried in olive oil (I thought these were great and a nice snack even without the soup.)

Slices of lime

To Serve:

Ladle the soup into individual bowls, distributing the chicken evenly. Sprinkle on some of the cilantro and top with the strips of fried soft taco shells, and slices of lime. You can place extra cilantro and taco strips which some chili sauce on the table so diners can adjust their soup to taste.