Sopa of My Dreams

I like to think of myself as an honorary Mexican. After all, where I was born was once part of Mexico, and we in California now have a population that is more Mexican than non-Mexican.

An edible summer bouquet

My two oldest brothers — twins, 20 years my elders — both married Mexican women. My earliest childhood memories are filled with large, spirited fiestas. Our live-in housekeeper, Angelita, and the brick mason Sisco who worked at our house were both like family. By the time I was six, I could eat the hottest salsa you could throw at me.

Finally, I cook Mexican at least once a week — not burritos or enchiladas, but interesting regional dishes or unique things I’ve discovered while in Mexico and have recreated at home. Among them is one of the most subtle, exquisite and simple soups on the planet — sopa de flor de calabaza. Even the name is beautiful. It translates more simply: Squash blossom soup.

For those of you with home gardens cowering before the coming onslaught of zucchini, here’s a perfect use for the summer explosion of squash blossoms. For those of you in the city or burbs, there’s the farmer’s market. I would be torn between this and my other favorite squash blossom preparation, Italian stuffed blossoms, were there not enough to go around. But thankfully there are always plenty. More than watermelon or hot dogs, this to me is the taste of summer — served, perhaps, with Baja crab cocktail, grilled skirt steak with fresh corn tortillas, and — definitely — icy, salty, tart, sweet homemade margaritas. So on to the soup…

Like minestrone, this is one of those soups that what’s in it depends on who you ask. If you’ve got the time, start with homemade chicken stock — because the soup is so simple, the quality of the broth sets the stage. You can go all abuela if you’d like and add whatever ingredients from the garden or fridge you may have lying around. I’ll sometimes use some fresh basil, another recipe I was looking at included herbs such as thyme and marjoram, which I think might be herbal overkill. But to each his own. Serve this soup in deep blue ceramic bowls to knock the socks off your guests. Sweet dreams.

*   *   *

Mexican squash blossom soup
serves 4-6

2 quarts homemade chicken stock
1 tbsp. chicken fat (or vegetable oil)
8 shiitake mushrooms, cubed
1 large onion, halved and cut into slivers
2 cloves garlic, slivered
2 serrano chilies (or 1 large jalepeño), seeded and slivered
1 cup chopped swiss chard
1 tbsp. masa harina
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb. zucchini blossoms, stamens and base removed, petals torn into strips

If you make chicken stock beforehand and cool, you will have a bit of chicken fat on top that you can use to sauté the onions and mushrooms. If not, use vegetable oil.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the onions and mushrooms over medium heat until wilted. Add chicken stock, garlic, chilies and chard, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Whisk in masa haring quickly to avoid clumping. Add cream and cilantro and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Add zucchini blossoms and turn off heat. Cover, let sit for 10 minutes, and serve.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 02:15:35

    Lovely post dude.
    Cisco’s name was spelled like I just spelled it. He was a gem!


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 02:23:03

    I was just going to say that, An, about Cisco! Yes, with a “C”! I remember him teaching me to say “Hasta Mañana!” He was truly a family member. None of the housekeepers were, but Sean would never remember that. They were in and out…probably totally overwhelming for them 😉 I also remember spending a day at Sarah’s family’s home in Pacoima…NICE people (and a little scary) and yes, the HOTTEST salsa ever and we got a taste for it. I still eat things until my eyes water and my family says, ‘There goes Mom with the hot stuff again”. Really…
    LOVE squash bottoms…especially when Sean makes them slightly coated and fried with delicate marinara…WANT THAT NOW


    • scolgin
      Jun 19, 2012 @ 03:55:16

      You don’t remember that housekeeper because it was after you left. She was with us a long time (relatively), and used to stay in that back bedroom.


  3. mom
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 03:45:04

    Do any of you remember when Nin was in the pool and a giant tarantula was climbing down the wall toward the water? She screamed, Cisco pulled a slingshot out of his back pocket and nailed that spider at at least 40 feet. A deadly weapon in his hands. He could have done the same with a house breaker.


    • Lisa Gaskin
      Jun 19, 2012 @ 03:57:25

      Sean has opened a virtual can of worms!! Yes, I remember that tarantula…and how nice Sean that you had a housekeeper that stayed 😉 I lived in that weird back bedroom for a time…


  4. paul
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 22:50:59

    Is the amount of Masa Harina subjective based on desired thickness or is there a set measure. How much do you add Sean?


    • scolgin
      Jun 19, 2012 @ 23:28:57

      Whoops! Thanks for pointing out the mistake, Pal-o! I fixed the recipe (1 tbsp., though YES, it is somewhat subjective, as it is more for flavor than thickening… I like just a hint of its flavor in this case).


      • paul
        Jun 20, 2012 @ 00:53:38

        Usted y toda su familia están invitados el 30 de junio para mi casa abierta del cumpleaños. . . pista: es un cumpleaños muy importante. Estoy escribiendo en español en honor de su herencia mexicana adoptada.

      • scolgin
        Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:24:44

        ¡Mira! Su español es muy bueno, mi amigo primero! Feliz cumpleaños para tu!!!

  5. Michelle
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 00:38:08

    May we come to dinner on Mexican night, please? We don’t garden anymore (having given the whole 50′ x 50′ fenced area over to the chickens) and for some reason we seldom find squash blossoms at our markets (the farmers say they sell well in Cincinnati but not here … huh???). So when I do find them, it’s straight to the Italian cheese-filled cornmeal-coated olive oil-fried thing for me. But this looks so lovely, I see the need to reconsider.


    • scolgin
      Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:26:16

      Michelle, should you guys ever make it out to Southern California, you’ve got a standing invitation for the Mexican feast of your dreams!! And if I ever make it out your way, I’ll be expecting Derby Pie and a four-course tobacco and bourbon dinner. 😉


  6. Benjamin Thompson
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 21:28:50

    I keep clicking on this list thinking I’m going to read a sope post.


    • scolgin
      Sep 06, 2012 @ 21:30:42

      What a difference a letter can make, huh? I’ll do sope if you want me to! I’ll be in Mexico in a couple weeks, doing posts from down there (staying in a house with a abuelita chef!) — so maybe I’ll have her show me her sopes technique.


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