As the first months of our marriage go by, Doug and I seem to be eating more and more classic Mexican food each week. And it’s not just because Doug has developed what seems to be an endless affinity for the stuff (when we first met 4 years ago, Doug hated Mexican food because he had never had the real deal; now he requests tacos at least once a week). It’s also because I never grow tired of cooking it and sharing it with folks who have never experienced the pleasures of simple, traditional dishes made in homes around Mexico. And recently I got to cook this homey Mexican dish for my longtime friend and neighbor, Matt. (Thanks for stopping by, boy!)
Sopa seca, aka dry soup aka Mexican Noodle Casserole, is something that I’ve mentioned on this blog before. I made it in culinary school once, but this was the first time I’ve had a chance to make it at home, and WOW! I love this version from Saveur. Sopa seca is like the (spicy) Mexican version of noodle soup—it’s filling, comforting, and good for the soul. There’s no meat in it, but you won’t miss it—at least I know we didn’t, and that’s saying something. Although the ingredient list is short for this recipe, the technique for making this dish is unlike any I’ve seen before: you actually TOAST the noodles before making the casserole! I believe this begins the cooking process, so the noodles can more easily soak up the sauce while the casserole bakes in the oven.
As with Italian spaghetti, the sauce for this dish is tomato-based, but it tastes nothing like normal spaghetti sauce. It’s thick and rich, spiked with spicy chipotles and earthy cumin, thinned with chicken stock, and flecked with cilantro. I added both cumin and oregano to the sauce to give it a little more depth of flavor—and because cumin might be favorite spice—so feel free to leave them out if you wish.
The version I make is spicy—I had a pleasant sweat going on at the dinner table—so cut the number of chipotles in half or more if you want less heat. Even one chipotle will bring a nice heat to this dish; however, this spicy casserole is served with cooling condiments like cheese, Mexican crema (or sour cream), and avocado, to help lessen the burn, so feel free to use the full number of chipotles if you’re ready to feel the heat.
Sopa Seca Mexican Noodle Casserole
This recipe is adapted from Diane Kennedy. The original recipe called for mincing the garlic and chipotles, but I found it unnecessary since everything goes into the blender. Serves 4. Click here to download the handy printable.
¼ cup canola oil
8 oz. fideos or vermicelli or spaghetti noodles, broken into 3-inch pieces
4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
4 cloves garlic
1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
½ small white onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
½ cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup crumbled Cotija or Queso Fresco
¾ cup crema or sour cream
2 tbsp. minced cilantro
1 avocado, cored and diced
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with cooking spray, set aside. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, add pasta and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and toasted, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain; set aside.
2. Purée chipotles, garlic, tomatoes, and onion in a blender until very smooth, at least 2 minutes. Return skillet to heat, and add tomato purée; cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 18 minutes. A wooden spoon ran through the sauce should leave a visible line for a few seconds. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
3. Add stock, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add noodles, stir to combine, and season to taste if needed. Transfer to baking dish, and cover with foil; bake until pasta is tender and sauce is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.
4. Divide the pasta among serving plates, sprinkle with Queso Fresco, and drizzle with crema; sprinkle with minced cilantro and avocado, if desired, before serving.