Lime soup. If there is one traditional dish in the Yucatan Peninsula, this is it. Translated as “lime soup”, this is more of a spicy chicken with tomato soup. Contrary to the name, limes are not the major ingredient in this savory and standard soup. It is basically a chicken or turkey vegetable soup flavored with limes and made nicely hot with a touch of habanero peppers.
The unique bittersweet limes of the Yucatan, variously referred to as “lima agria”, are hard to find abroad, but you can usually get them at Hispanic food markets. It is a cousin to the Key Lime of Florida, but since even that is often hard to come by, I’ve made it with regular Old Persian limes.
I first had this soup at a little restaurant (more like a glorified kitchen) in the back streets of Cozumel in the late 80s. We befriended the owner and, after several return trips to Mexico, I asked him if I could talk to his chef about their preparation. This recipe is a combination of that recipe, my own experimentation and some tidbits I picked up in some old Mexican cookbooks. This seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
PART ONE: THE BROTH
2 turkey or 4 chicken wings
1 turkey or 2 chicken carcasses
2 tablespoons cooking salt
½ sweet lime (substitute Persian lime if not available)
1 spring fresh mint (or dried equivalent)
8 whole allspice berries
15 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or dried equivalent of 1 teaspoon)
1 stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2 medium heads of garlic (about 20 average sized cloves)
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, cut and diced
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Some wire bag ties or string
8 to 12 servings (depending on your appetite!)
PART TWO: THE SOUP
2 quarts salpimentado broth
1 turkey or 2 chicken breasts
3 sweet limes
1 güero or chilaca chili (pepper), veins & seeds removed
1 habanero chili (pepper), veins & seeds removed
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
½ cup chopped epazote (wormseed)
Place the wings and carcasses in four quarts of cold water. If they are not covered, add water to cover. Season with the salt, more or less depending on your personal taste, and boil. Remove the scum as it forms on the surface or the broth. Three ways to prepare the spices (garlic, peppercorns, allspice, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin seeds). If you are using dried oregano no need to roast or toast.
- Toast light in a toaster oven or regular oven, taking care not to burn them. Toast the garlic with the spices. It is done when the garlic is a light to medium golden color.
- Roast them in a cast iron skillet. You will know they are done when the cumin deeds begin to pop and a delicious aroma is wafting off them. Take care not to burn over-roast.
- I own a spice roaster, basically a mesh basket which I can hold over an open flame and shake to roast the spices. Grind the spice, without the garlic, until you have a medium powder. You can use a spice grinder. I prefer a mortar and pestle. If you are using dried mint you should add it to this spice bag as well. Put into a 4″ square of double cheesecloth and tie off with the bag ties or string. At any time, add the onions, garlic, spice bag, lime and mint to your broth. Reduce over a low heat to about 10 cups. This should take about one hour. When done, strain the entire mixture through a sieve or cheesecloth. Discard the bones, spice bag & vegetables. Cool and skim grease from surface. You now have salpimentado broth! This can be kept and served as a broth or used for the second half of our menu.
Roast the tomatoes in the oven at 400 degrees. When the skin begins to peel and the tomato smokes a bit, pull away the skin. Remove the seeds with the aid of a teaspoon, fry the tomato into a puree and season with salt and pepper. Peel and section the limes. Toast the habanero and güero/ chilaca chiies in the oven until the skin is a medium brown. The best habanero are orange, they are riper. Boil the turkey or chicken breast in the broth with the lime sections, the guero/chilaca chili, tomato puree, cilantro and epazote. Dried ingredients are okay to use, just reduce the amounts accordingly. Fresh epazote is almost impossible to buy in the US. When the meat is cooked, remove from the broth and allow cooling. Reduce the heat on the other ingredients and allow simmering. While this is boiling, cut the tortillas into strips and either fry in a bit of oil to make them crispy or bake in the oven. When the meat is cool to your touch shred into small strips and adds back to the broth. Bring back to a boil. Add the tortillas strips to the soup just prior to serving.
Instead of starting the broth from scratch you can use regular old chicken or turkey stock. Be careful when handling habanero chiles! They are the hottest in the world and the oil from them can burn your skin. Wear protective gloves, or make certain to wash your hands well before doing anything else! Serve this with plenty of hearty beer; Superior, Modelo or Bohemia is recommended.