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California Cole Slaw
Shepherd's Pie
Chicken/Bean/Barley Stew
Chili Mac
Sopa Seca
California Chili
Spaghetti Meatballs
Aunt Annie's PepperRelish
Letona's Chess Pie
Kentucky Bourbon Cake

Sopa Seca

(Serves 6)

  • 1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 1 lb chorizo sausage
  • 2 TBS lard or shortening
  • ½ cup minced onion
  • 3 8-oz cans tomato sauce (low-salt)
  • 2 TBS chopped cilantro (fresh coriander or Chinese parsley)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 6 oz Monterey jack cheese, shredded

  1. Boil rigatoni until cooked al dente. Drain. (Other kinds of pasta can be used instead, as long as they are fairly large and tube-shaped.)
  2. Melt lard or shortening in skillet.
  3. Skin the chorizo and sauté in the lard until it's soft. Remove chorizo from skillet and break into pieces.
  4. Cook onion until soft in the melted lard remaining in skillet. Add tomato sauce, cilantro, salt, and pepper; heat mixture until it's bubbling.
  5. Arrange ingredients in a greased 2- to 3-quart casserole dish, in layers, in this order: pasta on bottom, chorizo, sauce mixture, shredded cheese on top.
  6. Bake in 350° oven for 30 minutes.

This is probably the second main-dish recipe I ever cooked, after chili. It's also one of the simplest Mexican main-dish recipes I know. I found the original recipe in the first edition of the Sunset Mexican Cookbook; it's not in later editions, maybe because it is so simple. "Sopa seca" means "dry soup," but this dish is not dry and it's obviously not a soup. If you find sopa seca on the menu at a Mexican restaurant, it probably won't be very similar to this; there are many versions of sopa seca, and I've never come across this one anywhere else.

The Sunset cookbook says you can substitute 1 tsp crumbled oregano for the chopped cilantro, and I've done that sometimes when cilantro was just not available; but cilantro has such a distinctive flavor that I use it if at all possible. (Fresh cilantro is readily available in California. It loses its flavor when dried. When I was living in the Boston area for two years, I tried to find fresh cilantro in the local supermarkets so I could cook sopa seca, but they didn't carry it. In desperation, I called a vegetable wholesaler, who told me nobody in Massachusetts carried it. Then one day I walked into a small Chinese market, and there it was--labeled coriander, but definitely the same thing as cilantro. Ground coriander is not the same thing; it's made from the seeds rather than the leaves, and has quite a different taste.) Chorizo is a Mexican-style sausage, perhaps also more readily available in California than in other parts of the U.S. I prefer Carmelita brand chorizo (either pork or beef), but any brand should work as long as it will get soft when heated. Some chorizos are spicier and some are sweeter than others, but they all make this a very tasty dish. (I serve cole slaw on the side.)

Alan Elms

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