Sopa de Lima (Mayan Chicken Lime Soup)

Sopa de Lima

The story of this soup goes back a few decades to my first trip to Cancun, Mexico, about three decades ago. One evening we decided to leave the resort strip — much of which was still being built at that time, and head into the city/town, which was much smaller than it is today — to eat at a local out of the way place where we hoped to find some inexpensive authentic food. We found a place and had a very interest dinner of real Mayan food and the whole tab came to about $7, including a round of very good margaritas. Even today that would be about $20. Amazing. The star of that dinner was Sopa de Lima. I’ve thought about it many times since then and recently got the bug to try my hand at it. I went through several iterations that were not quite right (including a number of variations from top cooking sites that, while good in their own right were not what I recalled), and finally hit on the recipe below, which is as close as I’m likely to get without an ingredient shopping trip to the Yucatan.

It turns out there is a special member of the lime family grown there. I won’t go into all the details, except to say you can’t get it here and it’s even tough to find in other parts of mexico. The authentic dish also includes a special mild chili called  Xcatic, which isn’t readily available here either. That said, ordinary limes work pretty well and banana peppers or similar will work, as well. Not authentic, but if I can trust a 30-year-old memory, the result is very close to what I remember.

Sopa de Lima (Mayan Chicken Lime Soup)
Serves 4
A soup that's native to the Yucatan and Mayan culture, Sopa de Lima is a lovely chicken soup with fragrant with lime and chili.
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  1. 1 whole frying/broiling chicken (3-4 lbs.), cut into pieces
  2. 8-10 cups water (enough to just cover the chicken)
  3. 1/2 Onion, coarsely chopped
  4. 3 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife
  5. 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  6. 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  7. 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  8. 1-2 mild chilis (anaheim, banana, hungarian, etc.)
  9. 1/2 onion, diced to small pieces
  10. 2 small tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/4 ich pieces
  11. 1 tsp. dried oregano
  12. Several springs of fresh cilantro (4-5)
  13. (Chicken bouillon or similar, if needed)
  14. Salt and pepper to taste
  15. 1 lime, sliced thin
  16. Juice and zest from 3 limes
  17. Crispy tortilla strips for garnish
  1. Place the chicken pieces, onion, garlic, salt and oregano in a large pot and cover with water with a inch or so to spare. Bring to a rapid boil and then reduce heat and simmer until the chicken breast pieces are just cooked through.
  2. Remove the cooked chicken pieces to a bowl to cool and strain the broth through a sieve into another container. Rinse out the pot to get rid of any protein coating it's surface, skim or pour off as much as the protein/fat from ther broth as you can, then return the broth to the pot and bring back to a simmer over low heat.
  3. When the chicken is cool enough, remove the meat from the chicken pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Shred the chicken meat with a fork and reserve.
  4. Heat the oil in a large saute pan and cook the chilis, onion, and tomatoes until they're just soft and add them to the simmering broth.
  5. After about 15 minutes or so of simmering, taste the broth and adjust with salt, pepper and, if needed, a little chicken bouillon or similar concentrate. (I find this is sometimes necessary, depending on the quality of the chicken I can get.)
  6. Add the shredded chicken, lime slices, lime juice and lime zest to the broth and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, then taste and again adjust seasoning.
  7. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with crispy tortilla strips* and serve immediately.
  8. *You can buy the tortilla strips or make them yourself by cutting tortillas into strips and quickly frying them in hot oil.
  9. The broth can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated until needed.
  1. *You can buy the tortilla strips or make them yourself by cutting tortillas into strips and quickly frying them in hot oil. The broth can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated.
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