When traveling in Mexico or dining out closer to home, I seek out antojitos — those little whims of street snacks and appetizers.
My favorites include flavor-packed, handheld chalupas and sopes made from corn masa dough that has been transformed into crispy, crusty golden containers. They are perfect for Cinco de Mayo, but equally delicious any day of the year.
After a year of pandemic yeast dough and quick bread projects, it’s a pleasure to work with corn masa dough — it’s super simple and forgiving. This flavorful, gluten-free dough is used in the Mexican kitchen for everything from corn tortillas to quesadillas, tamales, dumplings and — of course — shallow rounds for sopas and chalupas that resemble small canoes.
If you live near a tortilleria, by all means purchase freshly made masa dough for the snacks. Most of us will have access to powdered corn masa in a Mexican market or large grocery store. It’s super simple to reconstitute the powdered masa with hot water for tortillas. For the recipes below, a bit of oil, salt and baking powder yields a tender result.
Once you have your corn masa dough ready, it’s time to make your fillings, though the number of fillings will depend on your available time and the number of guests you’re serving.
Serve the sopes or chalupas with a generous spoonful of slightly warmed salsa or Mexican hot sauce. A sprinkle of fresh cilantro or sliced scallions brightens everything with color and flavor.
You can always make the fillings and serve them tucked into hot tor tillas for a fabulous taco party.
If you go this route, know that corn tortillas need to be hot to be pliable enough to bend without falling apart. Brush a tortilla with some oil and lay the oiled side down on a hot griddle. Repeat with a second tortilla. After about one minute, when the tortillas are hot, sandwich them (oiled side in) together. Place about 1/3 cup of your hot filling in the center; fold and serve immediately.
Crispy Chalupas (or Sopes) with various toppings
2 cups (10 ounces) powdered masa harina, such as Maseca, or 1 pound fresh masa dough for tortillas
2 tablespoons sunflower, safflower or expeller pressed canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Sunflower, safflower or expeller pressed canola oil for shallow frying
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
Salsa, warmed for serving
1. Mix masa harina and 1 1/3 cups very hot water in a medium-size bowl with a spoon until a dough forms. (Alternatively, put fresh masa dough in the bowl without the water.) Add 2 tablespoons oil, salt and baking powder. Use clean hands to work ingredients into dough, then gather dough into a smooth ball. Dribble in teaspoons of water as needed to make a soft dough that isn’t crumbly.
2. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 10 to 12 equal portions (each about 1 ounce) and roll each into a ball. Cover the balls with a damp towel.
3A. For chalupas, put one dough ball onto a piece of parchment paper. Use clean hands to shape the dough ball into a football about 2 ½ inches long. Use your fingertips to press a slight indentation in the center of the football to form a shallow canoe shape about 2-inches long with thick sides. Place it back under the damp towel while you shape all the balls. (Always keep the dough covered with a moist towel to prevent drying.)
3B. Alternatively, for sopes, flatten the ball into a 2 ½ inch diameter round disk. Use your fingertips to pinch up an edge, about ½ inch in height, to form a shallow cup.
4. Line a baking sheet with a paper towel. Turn on the exhaust fan.
5. Pour oil into a large nonstick skillet to a depth of ¼-inch. Heat over medium until hot but not smoking. Check the oil temperature by dipping an edge of a corn masa shape into the oil; it should sizzle. Add several corn masa shapes (canoes or cups) to the pan without crowding them. Fry until bottoms are beautifully golden, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip to fry the edge of the shapes to golden, about 1 minute. Flip again so they are flat side down and spoon a little of the oil in and around the shapes’ edges. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes to crisp. Carefully remove to prepared baking sheet. Repeat to fry all the shapes.
6. Top each hot, crispy chalupa or sope with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the warmed filling of your choice. Choices include caramelized onion and tofu picadillo (see recipe below) or shredded chicken with chipotle and avocado (see recipe below). Other easy options include sauteed mushrooms and onion, guacamole, refried black beans and shredded cheese
7. Sprinkle with cilantro. Spoon on salsa as desired. Eat out of hand with plenty of napkins or place on a plate, garnish with a salad and use a fork to enjoy.
Makes 20 to 24.
Caramelized Onion & Tofu Picadillo
Note: You can swap out the tofu with 1 pound ground turkey or pork, browned in a skillet until cooked.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small (6-ounce) sweet onion, chopped
1/2 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/3 cup sliced pitted manzanilla or kalamata olives, or a combination
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon each: dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound very firm tofu, well-drained
1. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add 1 chopped onion; cook and stir until well-browned, about 6 minutes.
2. Stir in 1/2 chopped bell pepper and 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in 6 ounces tomato paste, 1/3 cup sliced olives, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon thyme and a pinch each of sugar, cinnamon and crushed red pepper. Stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons water to loosen the mixture. Remove from heat and cool. (Mixture can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.)
3. Reheat onion mixture if necessary in the skillet. Crumble in the tofu and cook, stirring so the tofu is fully mixed in, until piping hot, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Use to fill chalupas, sopes or in warm tortillas for a taco filling.
Makes about 4 1/2 cups.
Shredded Chicken with Chipotle & Avocado
Note: Grilled or poached chicken thighs, shredded after cooking, taste great here and stay moist when reheated. Rotisserie chicken is also an option.
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 of a 14-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with can juices
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 to 3 teaspoons pureed chipotle in adobo
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 small avocado, pitted and chopped
1. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, mix together 3 cups shredded chicken, 1/2 can fire-roasted tomatoes, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 2 sliced green onions and 2 to 3 teaspoons chipotle. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until warm, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro and avocado. Use warm or at room temperature to fill chalupas, sopes or warm tortillas for tacos.
Makes about 3 cups.