Sopapillas, a close relative of Indian Fry Bread (updated)
Over the weekend, M and I checked out the Hammonasset Festival at Meigs Point in Madison. This festival is celebrated once every two years in honor of local Native American culture. And wow, what a special event. There was a unique, calming energy there that day. The highlight for me was the Black Bear Drum group. It was like I was back home in the Southwest again. The intermingling of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo peoples is the essence of New Mexican culture. Regardless of one’s ethnic heritage, to be New Mexican is to be influenced by all three of these cultures. At Hammonasset that day, the tribal beat of the drum group transported me back to the Land of Enchantment, the place I will always call home, no matter where I hang my hat.
Sparked by the Native drummers and dancers at the Hammonasset Festival, I’d like to share one of my favorite New Mexican recipes with you. Sopapillas (so-pah-pee-ahs) are a very close relative of Indian Fry Bread. Sopapilla dough is fried in hot oil which causes the center to puff like a pillow. Growing up, sopapillas were always served alongside a meal of beans and red chile at my house. They can also be stuffed with carne adovada (or beans, carnitas, etc) and served as a main dish. Traditionally, sopapillas and honey are eaten for dessert. The custom is to tear a corner off your sopapilla and squeeze some honey into the puffed, hollow center. While M isn’t growing up in New Mexico, she’s growing up with a little New Mexican in her. I hope you enjoy these just as much as she does!
This is recipe is good for first-time Sopapilla makers. It always takes me about 2 hours from start to finish. Please let me know if you have any questions! Provecho!
New Mexican Sopapillas
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm water (110°, any hotter and you’ll kill the yeast)
3/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1 egg, beaten
3 c. flour (more or less)
Approximately 2 inches cooking oil in a saucepan
Soften yeast in lukewarm water. Set aside. Combine milk, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in butter until melted. Allow mixture to cool until lukewarm. Stir in beaten egg and yeast mixture. Gradually add flour, about a 1/2 cup at a time until a soft ball forms. Work with your hands when the dough becomes too thick to stir. Add small handfuls of flour until the dough is soft and not too sticky. Knead dough until smooth. Form into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (I usually let it rise for about an hour, regardless).
Start heating the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Punch dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead briefly until dough is smooth. Pinch off a chunk of dough and roll dough into a circle, about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your work surface if dough sticks. Using a dull knife, cut a line through the center of the circle horizontally and cut a line vertically to give you 4 equal-sized triangles. (The two lines should form a cross.)
Drop one or two triangles into hot oil (about 350º), browning on one side and turning only once. They will puff up but if they don’t, try gently splashing hot oil over the top of the uncooked side once you drop it into the oil. This usually does the trick. Once brown, place warm sopapillas in a paper-towel lined bowl. Serve with honey and enjoy!
Tip: While a few sopapillas are frying, I start rolling out the next batch of dough so they’re ready to go. This recipe should give you about 15-20 sopapillas, depends on the size of triangles you make.