Tasty little pillows of delight

What home-cooked New Mexican meal is complete without sopapillas on the side?

By T.L. Testerman
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 6/15/18

Sopapillas. When you bite into one of these delicious pastries, expertly prepared, you know it.

A universal facial expression of pure bliss appears, accompanied by a silent reverie of all that is …

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Tasty little pillows of delight

What home-cooked New Mexican meal is complete without sopapillas on the side?

Posted

Sopapillas. When you bite into one of these delicious pastries, expertly prepared, you know it.

A universal facial expression of pure bliss appears, accompanied by a silent reverie of all that is good in the world.

Local chefs Juana Fonseca and Lourdes Medina are the current custodians of a top secret sopapilla recipe passed down over 30 years ago from Connie Archuleta, co-founder of the bustling destination hotspot for locals and visitors, El Taoseño Restaurant at 819 Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

Fred Archuleta, the general manager and Connie’s son, said, “Sopapillas are for a special time. They are good if not too thick, not too much dough, thin and puffy and caramel brown.”

He added that the New Mexican pastry can be explored in many ways. His restaurant’s menu is expansive with sopapilla burgers, sopapillas stuffed with your choice of beans, chicken or chicharron, and beef. When offered an option, most customers choose the sopapilla over the ubiquitous tortilla.

Lourdes Medina said she loves making sopapillas because “I like working the dough with my hands. Sopapillas must be rolled just perfect with the right thickness.”

She said the process makes her happy because it’s “doing the best you can at what you do.” Archuleta said they make hundreds of sopapillas a day, by hand, and it takes a lot of muscle.”

Nina Griego, a waitress at El Taoseño, added the sopapilla tastes “like an unsweetened doughnut.”

Andy Medina and his wife RaeLynn own Ranchos Plaza Grill at 8 Ranchos Plaza in Ranchos de Taos. Medina said when he was a 22-year-old culinary school student in Los Angeles he learned “the basics, and how to adapt modify and change” recipes. But, one recipe that has not changed for generations in his family is the sopapilla.

The restaurant uses four ingredients and a simple preparation ritual. Flour, baking powder, water, salt and love. Medina said, “It takes a heart to make good food. You can always tell when someone is cooking with their passion and heart. It is an elevated experience.” The restaurant uses local honey to compliment the sopapilla and drizzle on top. We make a lot of sopapillas. He said the restaurant uses a mixer to combine 40 pounds of flour at a time.

“We also have a vanilla bean ice cream stuffed sopapilla on our menu that is dipped in cinnamon sugar before frying and covered with chocolate sauce. There are also sopapillas stuffed with savory ingredients like chicken, beef and our signature carne adovoda dish, and a vegetable-only option for our vegetarian customers.”

Andy Medina said people come from all over the world to his restaurant. Customers tell him, “If you had this food in New York City, or California or Idaho...you’d make a killing.”

He said he and his family have no intention of selling out and becoming “corporate.” He was offered a teaching position at the culinary school but chose to return to Taos. “I wanted to go in depth with the elders in Taos, to study with my grandparents,” Medina said.

Sopapillas are a fried pastry made from a leavened wheat dough or sometimes a mixture of wheat flour, and masa harina, a traditional Mexican flour used to make tortillas. Butter or shortening is then added.

The dough is set aside to rise and later rolled in a sheet, which is then cut into geometric shapes like a triangle, square or circle. The size of the individual pastry varies from small to large, depending on if it will be a dessert or stuffed with goodies and used as the main meal’s event.

The geometric shapes are then deep-fried in oil. The hot oil causes the shapes to puff up, forming a hollow pocket in the center. “If you don’t roll it right, or have just the right mix of ingredients and temperature, you don’t get puffy. If you miss the sugar, it won’t be the brown color. It’s not easy, the chefs must learn the technique,” said Archuleta.

The word sopapilla entered the Spanish language from the Mozarabic language of Al-Andalus, a medieval Muslim territory and cultural domain known today as Spain and Portugal. The original Mozarabic word Xopaipa meant a bread soaked in oil.

It is further derived from the German word suppa, which translates to bread immersed in liquid. Differing opinions abound about the origin of the pastry, but most agree it is New Mexican, and some say Albuquerque was the official birthplace 200 years ago.

Taoseño Maxine Davis moved to Taos with her family in 1986. She said that although her mother didn’t make sopapillas, they ordered them from the menu at local restaurants as a special treat and she loves them.

Davis left Taos for a few years in 2000 and lived in the jungles of Borneo, an island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago where food options are limited. With some creative finagling of local chiles, Davis said she adapted her New Mexican recipes into tasty meals in the jungle for her family. Following her success making tortillas, she moved to sopapillas and never looked back.

“The recipe is like tortillas, less of this more of that.” Davis said the island experience taught her. “You can’t appreciate all the conveniences we in America take for granted until you have nothing but rice and your garden. You gotta get creative.” She added with a smile her jungle sopapillas turned out “perfect.”

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