Mexican “sopa” with spinach and panela cheese

“Sopa” technically means soup in Spanish, but in Mexico there are two types: sopa seca, which often refers to dry rice or noodles, and sopa aguada, which has a traditional, soupy base.

My mom made the noodle sopa a lot when I was a kid. She’d fried conch shell noodles and onion until they were a deep golden-brown, and then steam the crispy mixture in a mix of tomato puree and water. I always loved the moment when the water hit the hot pan. The pan would hiss loudly — sssssssss! — and I’d stare at the stove, wondering what had caused the dish to become so angry.

When made right, the noodles end up plump and al dente, with bits of tomato sauce clinging to their insides. I love this dish topped with sauteed spinach and crumbles of Mexican panela cheese.


1 200g package of dry conch shells (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 slices of onion
1 210g box tomato sauce, known in Mexico as tomato puree (about 1 cup)
3 cups water
6 to 8 cups spinach leaves
A hunk of panela cheese, or any other mild white cheese, crumbled


In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat a few glugs of canola oil over medium-high heat, until shimmering. Add onion and noodles and cook, stirring almost constantly for 1 to 3 minutes so they don’t burn. Cook the onion-noodle mixture for about five minutes, or until the edges start to turn a deep golden brown. (It’s okay if the onion burns a little, my mom says.)

Working quickly, add your tomato sauce and water to the pan, and salt to taste. Stir to combine. Cover and lower the heat; simmer for about 15 minutes, or until noodles have soaked up all of their sauce. Feel free to take the lid off and peek on it once in awhile, if you’re unsure; it won’t hurt the dish.

When the pasta is done, rinse and spin dry the spinach leaves, and heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, add your leaves and sauté until they’re wilted but still a deep green color. Scrape the hot sautéed spinach into separate bowls, top with few scoops of sopa and the crumbled panela cheese. Serve warm.

7 Responses to “Mexican “sopa” with spinach and panela cheese”
  1. Christi April 22, 2010
  2. Obet April 22, 2010
  3. Don Cuevas April 22, 2010
  4. oaxacasusan April 23, 2010
    • Lesley April 23, 2010
  5. Jason K. July 25, 2011

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