Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Love in a Bowl: Tortilla Soup

I made this tortilla soup for dinner last night and wow, yum, delicious – I loved it! The broth is beautiful and rich, but really, it’s all about the condiments: crisp tortilla chips, mellow avocado, smoky dried peppers, sharp cheese, sour cream, lime juice, and cilantro. You must include tortilla chips in your soup to make it "tortilla" soup, I suppose, and I can’t imagine going without the avocado or the cheese. But the other toppings are optional and may be used in any combination you like. I like to add, lime juice and crushed pasilla chile in addition to the tortilla chips, avocado, and cheese.

I so enjoyed the process of making this soup. In the blender, the raw ingredients transform into a gorgeous, deep brown purée. And the aroma that fills the house while the soup is simmering and the flavors are concentrating is simply intoxicating – warm and smoky. Even the kids said it smelled "really good!" Of course, they didn't even try the soup as they were afraid of the chile pepper, which indeed, probably would have been too much for them. They had cheese quesadillas for dinner instead.

If you're up for it, you can make your own fried tortilla strips. Personally, I have an aversion to deep-frying things (though not to eating deep-fried things). I hate dealing with all that oil. It’s a mess, and I never know what to do with the used oil when I’m done. For this soup, I just bought some really good, crispy, salty, slightly greasy tortilla chips and broke them up into smallish pieces.

I like to use a medium to sharp cheddar cheese, but a Mexican cheese such as cotija would be more authentic. The dried chiles are easy to find in the Mexican/Hispanic section of most grocery stores, and all the other ingredients are every-day items. One note of caution: Be careful not to over-salt the broth. It’s tempting, but your toppings, especially the cheese and tortilla chips, will add a lot of saltiness and flavor, so you don’t need that extra salt in the broth.


4 dried pasilla chiles - stemmed, and seeded
2 dried chiles de árbol - stemmed
1/2 Lb. tomatoes – cut into wedges
1 large white onion - coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves - chopped
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
kosher salt

2 cups crisp tortilla strips
1 large avocado - cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lime – cut into 6 wedges
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 pasilla chile – toasted & crumbled (see below)

1. Toast chiles in a dry heavy skillet (not nonstick) over medium to high heat, turning until slightly smoky. Coarsely crumble 1 pasilla chile and set aside to use as a topping.

2. Purée tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles de árbol, and 3 pasilla chiles with 1/2 cup broth in a blender. You'll probably need to poke it a couple times with a wooden spoon to get it going, but don't leave the top off the blender or you could end up with a big mess.

3. Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add purée and bring just to boil. Turn heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in oregano, 1 tsp salt, remaining 4-1/2 cups broth, and 3 cups water. Bring just to boil, then turn heat to low and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. While it simmers, you can prepare your toppings. After 45 minutes, add approximately 2 to 3 tsp salt to taste.

5. Place avocado pieces in six soup bowls and ladle in soup. Add additional toppings at the table as desired.