When traveling in Mexico or dining out closer to home, I seek out antojitos — those little whims of street snacks and appetizers. My favorites include flavor-packed, handheld chalupas and sopes made from corn masa dough that has been transformed into crispy, crusty golden containers. They are perfect for Cinco de Mayo, but equally delicious any day of the year.
The corn masa shapes can be cooked up to 2 days in advance and stored at room temperature in a closed container. Place on a baking sheet and put into a heated 350-degree oven to reheat and re-crisp before filling, about 10 minutes.
You need 3 to 4 cups filling for the number of masa shapes here. Make or assemble your fillings up to several days in advance, cover and refrigerate. Reheat or bring to room temperature while you prepare the corn masa containers.
- 2 Cups (10 ounces) powdered masa harina, such as Maseca, OR 1 pound fresh masa dough for tortillas
- 2 Tablespoons sunflower, safflower or expeller pressed canola oil, plus more for shallow frying
- 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
- Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
- Salsa, warmed for serving
Step 1: Mix masa harina and 1 1/3 cups very hot water in a medium-size bowl with a spoon until a dough forms. (Alternatively, put fresh masa dough in the bowl without the water.) Add 2 tablespoons oil, salt and baking powder. Use clean hands to work ingredients into dough, then gather dough into a smooth ball. Dribble in teaspoons of water as needed to make a soft dough that isn’t crumbly.
Step 2: Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 10 to 12 equal portions (each about 1 ounce) and roll each into a ball. Cover the balls with a damp towel.
Step 3a: For chalupas, put one dough ball onto a piece of parchment paper. Use clean hands to shape the dough ball into a football about 2 ½ inches long. Use your fingertips to press a slight indentation in the center of the football to form a shallow canoe shape about 2-inches long with thick sides. Place it back under the damp towel while you shape all the balls. (Always keep the dough covered with a moist towel to prevent drying.)
Step 3b: Alternatively, for sopes, flatten the ball into a 2 ½ inch diameter round disk. Use your fingertips to pinch up an edge, about ½ inch in height, to form a shallow cup.
Step 4: Line a baking sheet with a paper towel. Turn on the exhaust fan.
Step 5: Pour oil into a large nonstick skillet to a depth of ¼-inch. Heat over medium until hot but not smoking. Check the oil temperature by dipping an edge of a corn masa shape into the oil; it should sizzle. Add several corn masa shapes (canoes or cups) to the pan without crowding them. Fry until bottoms are beautifully golden, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip to fry the edge of the shapes to golden, about 1 minute. Flip again so they are flat side down and spoon a little of the oil in and around the shapes’ edges. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes to crisp. Carefully remove to prepared baking sheet. Repeat to fry all the shapes.
Step 6: Top each hot, crispy chalupa or sope with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the warmed filling of your choice. Choices include caramelized onion and tofu picadillo (see recipe below), (potato, poblano and chorizo (see recipe below) or shredded chicken with chipotle and avocado (see recipe below). Other easy options include sauteed mushrooms and onion, guacamole, refried black beans and shredded cheese
Step 7: Sprinkle with cilantro. Spoon on salsa as desired. Eat out of hand with plenty of napkins or place on a plate, garnish with a salad and use a fork to enjoy.