Mexican “sopa” with spinach and panela cheese


April 22, 2010Recipes7 Comments

“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.

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7 Responses to “Mexican “sopa” with spinach and panela cheese”
  1. Christi

    I grew up in Mexico, but since we were American, I never had homecooked Mexican food. Our nanny, Marta, makes this exact sopa the way you describe, toasting the pasta and adding the tomatoes. She is slowly showing me the ropes on Mexican cookery.

    I like your blog. Makes me miss Mexico even more than I already do. Buen día:)

  2. Obet

    This is a Mom’s dish by definition

  3. Don Cuevas

    Thanks. Good idea for tomorrow’s lunch, using some homemade tomato sauce, short pasta whatevers, plus, we have some acelgas (chard) already cooked.

    I’ll probably use some Knorr-Suiza Tomate and water to make up the shortage of tomato sauce. No panela cheese here at present; I shall have to substitute something.

    Don Cuevas

  4. oaxacasusan

    Hi Lesley:

    This isn’t exactly that right place for this, but I know you like ice cream. So, you may want to try this.

    Two cups crema (regular Lala crema de vaca acidifico) and two cups of any fruit. Add sugar to taste (between 1/2 and 1 cup). Depending on the fruit, I might add a little vanilla, canela or ginger. Freeze in your ice cream maker and that’s it. Mamay or banana are two really good combinations. My personal favorite is kiwi.

    I love your blog. And I don’t say that about most blogs. If you ever want to come to Oaxaca, I’d be happy to take you on a food tour.


    • Lesley

      Thanks Susan — I appreciate the kind words. And I’ve been wanting to use crema in ice cream. As soon as Sunday comes around, I’m buying some mamey and banana from the tianguis. Will let you know how it goes! And I’d *love* to do a food tour with you in Oaxaca. My husband and I haven’t gone yet. As soon as we plan our trip, I’ll give you a heads up.

  5. Jason K.

    Thank you for this!

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