Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup is one of my favorite things to eat.  I love adding the fried tortillas, cheese, chiles and cilantro to the  tomato broth seasoned with onion and garlic.  This is a good, simple version of the soup.  I usually prepare the soup first and have it simmering while I fry the thinly sliced tortilla strips (instead of following the recipe exactly).  Pureeing the onion, garlic and tomatoes in the soup pot with a hand-held blender is so much less messy than using a blender or food processor.   If don’t feel like frying the tortilla strips, sometimes I bake them instead.  I thinly slice the tortillas, arrange them on a baking sheet, spray with cooking spray (like Pam), sprinkle with salt, and bake them in the oven at about 350 degrees, turning often, until golden.  If I’m really lazy or tired, I will forgo frying or baking tortilla strips and just crumble some purchased tortilla chips into the soup.  If I have  fresh pico de gallo, I also add that to the soup before eating.

Tortilla Soup

12 (or more) corn tortillas
Canola oil, for frying
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 white onion, sliced
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, or 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

shredded cheese (queso fresco, farmer cheese, Monterrey Jack, or mild cheddar)
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1 large lime, cut into wedges
serrano or jalapeno chiles, sliced

Cut tortillas in half and then into thin strips. In a medium (2-quart) saucepan, heat 1/2 inch oil over medium flame until the edge of a tortilla strip inserted in oil sizzles vigorously. Fry tortilla strips in small batches until golden brown and crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Pour off all but a thin coating of hot oil. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, press garlic against side of pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, then transfer garlic and onion to a blender or food processor.

Puree tomatoes with garlic mixture in the blender or food processor until smooth. If using fresh tomatoes, strain puree to remove pieces of tomato skin. Heat same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomato puree and stir until thickens to consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium-low heat 30 minutes. Add salt.

To serve: Divide cheese and avocado among warmed soup bowls. Ladle broth into each bowl; top with tortilla strips and a sprinkle of cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and sliced chiles.

Adapted from Rick Bayless’ version in Mexico, One Plate at a Time (Scribner, 2000).


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