One stellar member of the wide, wonderful world of Mexican masa-based dishes is the sope, a thin, shallow shell of corn dough that's fried until just crisp on the outside but hot and tender inside, then piled high with any number of meat-based fillings.
'masa' on Serious Eats
Homemade masa dough might sound intimidating, but doesn't have to be: prepackaged masa harina, the coarse flour ground from hominy that's already been slaked with lime in the traditional manner, makes its preparation a snap. Enriched with lard and lightened with baking powder, the dough makes a flavor-packed base for a variety of dishes, including Mexican tacos, gorditas, and sopes, as well as Salvadoran pupusas.
Once you eat a Mexican gordita, your life may never be the same again: Corn cakes made from masa dough are pan-fried to create a crisp exterior and a steamy, tender interior, then stuffed with any number of traditional fillings, from spicy beans, to fresh white cheese and tender shredded meats.
This yellow mole in this recipe from Pati's Mexican Table only takes an hour or so, and almost all the ingredients can be found your average grocery store.
Though I know the idea of a potato filling, like this one from Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy, might seem too boring and starchy, it comes out absolutely delectable. The combination of waxy potatoes and the complex chili sauce comes together quickly and with little effort. It's so good that you could spoon this onto a store-bought tortilla and be done. I wouldn't complain.
Huaraches are flattened ovals of masa that get their name from the Mexican sandal. They are kind of like larger sopes without sides, and can be topped with just about anything. The first ones I encountered were straight-off-the-griddle from a cart in Parque El Llano in Oaxaca, Mexico. The tender huaraches were slightly blackened from the griddle, just like my favorite pizzas, and topped with a fiery salsa balanced by tender mushrooms and cream. I've been dreaming of them lately, so I really couldn't pass up this version of the dish from Rick Bayless's newest cookbook.
This chili-laced soup from Veracruz uses masa as a chewy dumpling—a Mexican version of chicken and dumplings. The heat from the chile and a squeeze of lime keep it refreshing enough even in summer, but I'm also filing this away for my next winter cold.
Tlacoyos are Mexican cornmeal dough pockets similar to Salvadorian pupusas. (Doesn't every culture in the world have some kind of edible pocket stuffed with filling? Calzones? Pork buns?) Working with masa is quick, and so is the filling: a can of beans mashed up with sauteed onion and garlic, and Oaxaca cheese, which is basically a Mexican version of string cheese.
Note: Michael Natkin of the vegetarian blog Herbivoracious drops by every Wednesday to share a delicious recipe and expand our vegetarian repertoire. [Photograph: Michael Natkin] Masa, or corn boiled with mineral lime and ground, is part of a vast family...