With an aromatic base of peppers and onions simmered together in a savory, spiced broth, Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup) has an extraordinary flavor. It tastes richly savory with sharp acidic notes. It's one of the most delicious dishes of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. And even better? It's easy to make, too.
What is Sopa de Lima?
Akin to tortilla soup, Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup) is a culinary specialty of Yucatán. It features a slow-simmered broth typically made from turkey or chicken and a vibrant sofrito made with sweet peppers and onion. Fresh lime brings a pleasant touch of acidity to the soup, which you dress at the table with thin strips of fried corn tortillas, plenty of fresh cilantro, chopped chilies, and, occasionally, ripe avocado.
Why this recipe works
Lime soup is vibrant with complex flavors. There's a gorgeous salty broth, a deeply fragrant sofrito, and a hint of lime. Together, they produce a beautiful depth of flavor.
It's easy to adjust the soup based on your preferences. You garnish the soup at the table, and that makes it easy to adjust the flavor with herbs, hot chilies, or lime wedges, depending on what suits you.
Wholesome chicken broth, fresh herbs, sweet peppers, and chilies provide powerful, deep nutrition. It's a wholesome and nourishing meal that's packed with flavor.
- Broth is the foundation of the recipe. In Yucatàn, it's often made from turkey or chicken carcasses. This homemade chicken broth recipe is a good start. Vegetable broth also works, but lacks the depth of flavor you'd find in real broth.
- Sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes make the sofrito, or the base that gives the broth its flavor and depth. We use orange and red bell peppers for their sweeter flavor, but Hungarian wax peppers or mild green chiles make a good substitute.
- Onions give the sofrito depth. I prefer white onion for its pleasant bite, but you can easily substitute yellow or red onion if that's what you have on hand.
- Tomatoes give the soup a little body and loads of flavor. Opt for meaty plum or Roma tomatoes if you can find them, as they tend to hold up well to soup-making and are less watery.
- Shredded chicken breasts are added to the broth along with the sofrito. It gives it a good boost of protein and makes it a little more filling.
- Spices for the broth include cinnamon, allspice, black peppercorns, whole cloves, and bay leaves. Cinnamon is a popular spice in Mexican cooking, and allspice is indigenous to Yucatán, where it's commonly used in its traditional cookery.
- Lime gives the soup its acidity. In Yucatán, lima agria or key limes are widely used. They're less widely available in the United States, and you can substitute the larger limes you find at the grocery store.
- Lard is traditionally used in many traditional Mexican recipes. It's perfect for frying the tortilla strips or cooking down the sofrito. Choose pasture-raised lard as it is rich in vitamin D and monounsaturated fat. It's an excellent alternative to vegetable oil for frying.
- Garnishes include fried tortilla strips, lime slices, fresh cilantro, and chopped chilies. You can add serrano or jalapeño peppers, but we favor habañero for its intense heat and subtle floral notes.
- If you're making a larger batch of soup, consider making the broth yourself by simmering a whole chicken in a large soup pot. Then strain and reserve the broth and shred the chicken.
- Many traditional recipes are made with turkey rather than chicken. If you happen to have leftovers from a slow-roasted turkey, this is a great way to use them.
- Cook the sofrito until it's very soft and begins to break down. It will release its flavor into the broth more effectively.
- Keep a plate lined with paper towels on hand to drain the fried tortillas so that they're less greasy when you add them to the soup.
- Charring the onions, cloves of garlic, and spices before simmering the broth amplifies their flavor and gives the broth a beautiful depth of flavor.
- Use gloves when slicing the hot chilies. It'll prevent you from burning your skin from the pepper's capsaicin.
We love to serve this soup on its own, with plenty of garnishes at the table. Loads of fried tortilla strips, plenty of chopped fresh chilies, fresh lime, and plenty of cilantro. Some people also serve the soup with a bit of sour cream, but it's an unorthodox (although tasty) addition.
It's particularly delicious when you serve it with an icy glass of tepache or after an appetizer of tortilla chips, fresh guacamole, and salsa. We're partial to this fermented salsa which has a pleasant complex acidity.
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Variations + Substitutions
Pasture-raised lard is an excellent cooking fat that works particularly well in this recipe. If you prefer, you can use avocado, olive, or coconut oil, but they may impart a different flavor.
While it's not a traditional addition, many people like to add a little extra heat by including a little chili powder in the sofrito. You can also use green peppers in place of the red and yellow peppers, if you prefer.
Lime zest is delicious when you incorporate it into the broth toward the end of cooking. But, if you add it too early, it may impart a bitter flavor.
Key limes are perfect for this recipe thanks to their floral, sweet quality. In addition, their acidity is less harsh that standard limes you find at the grocery store. Key limes are closer to the varietal you'll find in Yucatec cookery.
While a bit unorthodox, some cooks prefer to use a few tablespoons of grapefruit juice instead of lime in attempt to mimic the floral sweetness of limas agrias.
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How long does it keep?
Lime soup keeps in the fridge for about 5 days. Store the soup in an airtight container in the fridge, and store the tortilla strips in an airtight container at room temperature.
Can your freeze it?
Yes. Lime soup freezes particularly well since it's just broth, vegetables and shredded chicken. Pour it into a freezer-proof container and freeze for up to 6 months. If you're using a glass container, allow at least 2 inches of headspace to allow the broth to expand as it freezes.
Can I make lime soup with a whole chicken?
This lime soup recipe makes enough for a meal for a small family - about 6 servings. If you're making a large batch, you can simmer a whole chicken in broth with spices and shred the meat for soup. Then double the ingredients for the sofrito.