Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Quick Riff on Aarón Sánchez's Sopa Seca (Dry Soup) for Cook the Books Feb/March Pick: "Where I Come From"

As usual, I am wildly behind for the month and for my submission for Cook the Books February/March pick, Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef by Aarón Sánchez, hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock. (See the intro post here.) I'd love to tell you that I carefully crafted one of the chef's recipes from the book or on the web. The truth is, I tossed together my dish using shortcuts, and while listening to the last of the audio book, the night before our deadline. 

Lest you think I regret this, I have to say I don't because it turned me on to Sopa Seca, which might just be my new favorite flavorful pasta dish--whether you make your own salsa or not. But first, let's talk about the book.

I have always liked Aarón Sánchez, mostly from his show with Chris Cosentino, Chefs vs. City, where they traveled around to different cities competing with local chefs in food challenges. It only ran two seasons on Food Network, but it was a favorite. I also liked him on Chopped, MasterChef, and The Next Iron Chef. I actually received a copy of his memoir last year as part of #AbramsDinnerParty from Abrams Books. I was a bad participant though because I got behind and never even started it. I was very happy when Claudia selected it for Cook the Books and although I looked into my copy for photos and recipes, I mostly listened to the audio book (read by the author) which popped up as a Audible Daily Deal a while back.

                                         Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef: Sanchez, Aaron:  9781419738029: Books

Where I Come From follows the chef from his childhood with Zarela Martinez, his single mother who was a renowned restaurateur, cookbook author, and authority on Mexican cuisine. He floundered a bit in his teenage years, causing his mother to send him to an Outward Bound-style camp one summer and to apprentice with celebrity Chef Paul Prudhomme. His twin brother was more the scholar and ended up a lawyer but Aarón knew he belonged in the kitchen. The book goes through his early years, his time working in and eventually owning his own restaurants, his personal life and battles with depression, and his celebrity and Food Network years. I liked listening to him tell his story, as his passion for food and family shine through--although the man does like an F-bomb a little too much. 

I found myself more interested in his account of the early Food Network and the early "chefs as celebrities" days and his restaurant experiences than I did his personal life--especially his teenage machismo stories, but he does spin a good story and isn't afraid to give all of the dirty details. He also describes food so well that I spent the book craving really good Mexican food which I wish was closer to where I live. There are about a dozen recipes in the book and they all sounded very good and seemed accessible to the home cook. Overall, I enjoyed the book and it reaffirmed my feeling that Aarón Sánchez is a talented chef and a good guy.  

On to the food. As mentioned, there is plenty in the book. From the included recipes, I was most interested in making the Sautéed Hominy with Pico de Gallo and Oregano, which I will make someday soon with the cans of hominy I like to keep around for soups and such. I decided to move away from the book and find a recipe online that might be quick to make. The recipe that popped up most frequently when I was Googling was a pasta dish called Sopa Seca which translates to "dry soup" and involves toasting pasta and cooking it with salsa and broth on the stove. In the Food Network recipe, Aarón makes a Roasted Tomato-Chile de Arbol Salsa but since I was under the gun for time and cooking after work, I chose a good medium-heat jarred salsa instead, making this dish ready in under 30 minutes. 

Aaron Sánchez says, "Pasta? That's not Mexican, right? Think again. You see it in homes throughout Mexico, one of the many foreign foods that we have welcomed into our cuisine and something I ate growing up. We call this Mexican comfort food, funnily enough, sopa seca, which means "dry soup." 

Sopa Seca
Slightly Adapted from Aarón Sánchez via
(Makes 2 Servings)

1/4 cup canola oil (I used olive oil)
1 cup small shaped pasta such as melon seeds, orzo, or alphabets
1/2 cup salsa (The Chef's Roasted Tomato-Chile de Arbol Salsa, recipe at Food Network, or your favorite jarred or fresh salsa)
2 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
handful of shredded cotija or queso fresco or pecorino, Parmesan, or lightly salty feta cheese
(I added some tiny tomatoes labeled "Sprinkles" from the grocery store)

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium pot over medium-high heat until it ripples. Add the pasta and cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is golden, about 3 minutes.

Scoop out and discard 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the salsa and cook for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time. Pour in the chicken stock and let the liquid come to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook, stirring once in a while, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

Divide the pasta between two bowls and garnish with the cilantro and cheese (and tiny tomatoes).

Notes/Results: I was pleasantly surprised at how good this simple dish is--rich, comforting, satisfying and flavorful. And to think it came from just spending a few minutes toasting the pasta and then stirring in salsa and letter it simmer away. I had no trouble devouring my bowl and plan on eating the leftovers for lunch today and then making it again. I am sure it's even better with the chef's freshly-made salsa, but if you have small pasta and a jar of salsa in the pantry as I usually do, this is a quick and tasty weeknight dish. The fresh cilantro, crumbly (feta in my case) cheese, and the tiny "tomato sprinkles" I added gild the lily, but it is delicious on its own. Sometimes last minute, low effort is a big win. 

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. You can see this week's round up post here.
The deadline for this round is today and Claudia will be rounding up the entries for Cook the Books on the website in a day or two. If you missed this round and you like books and food and foodie books, join us for our April/May pick, Honeysuckle Season by Mary Ellen Taylor, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats




  1. I love your shortcut here. This might actually be dinner tonight because the fridge is a bit bare. I've got some leftover grilled chicken I could top it with, too. I did enjoy the book and would have loved to listen to him read it for an audio book. I thought his style was very conversational. Have a wonderful Wednesday, Deb!

  2. I'm curious to give this one a try. It does sound yummy, as well as adaptable.

  3. This sounds like a great dish. I can't wait to try it . Thanks for sharing Deb.

  4. I'm not familiar with this cookbook author but I certainly like what you prepared!

  5. Some times i wish we lived close, because i would borrow books from you to read. As this is unlikely every to come to a library near me. And the Sopa Seca def. appeals to my stomach.

  6. Oooohhhh, I have to make this. And I just saw "sprinkles" in the store last week. First time I've ever noticed them. I remember liking Sanchez's book.

  7. Dry Soup - how interesting! I always have what we call risoni in our cupboard for a soup we make but I never know what else to make with it! I might try this.

  8. I agree with you that sometimes dishes prepared "under the gun" come out much better than expected. This one is certainly photogenic, particularly with the addition of the small tomatoes (I like the name sprinkles :)


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