While reviewing my recipes, I realized that I have not shared one for the all-time Mexican classic that is sopa de tortilla – Tortilla Soup. This soup is perfect as a first course, and also great on its own, nourishing enough as a hearty lunch. Prepping takes time, but once all the elements are ready, it is just a matter of keeping the broth hot, and fixing a fresh bowl takes only seconds; this makes sopa de tortilla a staple on many restaurant menus in Mexico:
As the name indicates, the base of this soup is corn tortillas. They have to be cold, at least from the day before, sliced into bite-size pieces and deep-fried in vegetable oil. I have a detailed post about fried vs baked tortilla chips, and I generally choose not to fry, but in this case, I thought it was necessary, to reproduce the true flavour of this soup, emblematic of Mexican cuisine. Each corn tortilla, cut into 16 rectangular pieces (photo below, left) will produce about one cup of tortilla chips. Fry in a pot with vegetable oil over medium-high heat, in batches, until they turn golden brown and very crispy, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels (photo below, right):
It is hard to reproduce the texture, flavour and colour of these homemade tortilla chips (photo below, left) but, as a last resource, good quality commercial tortilla chips may be used instead, broken into bite-size pieces (photo below, right):
Pasilla peppers (photo below, left) add their smoky and mellow flavour to this soup. If not available, use other dry red peppers, such as ancho or New Mexico. Epazote leaves (photo below, right) provide a definitely distinctive touch; it is an herb that grows wildly in Mexico, but generally hard to find fresh anywhere else. I grow my own, and preserve washed leaves rolled into a log in the freezer, to slice and use in soups and stews all year round. A sprig of cilantro may be used instead, but I think it might be better to just omit altogether for this recipe, if epazote is not available.
Many recipes call for chicken broth, and a few even for cooked chicken breast as a topping; in this vegetarian version, plain water is used instead of broth, with enough flavour, energy and protein provided by the corn, veggies and dairy toppings.
Tortilla Soup (Vegetarian) –
Sopa de tortilla (vegetariana)
Ingredients (for four portions)
6-8 cups corn tortilla chips (bite-size homemade, or store-bought, broken into pieces)
1 pasilla pepper; wiped clean
2 tomatoes; washed
¼ onion; peeled
1 clove garlic; peeled
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp epazote leaves; washed
5 cups water
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 avocado; washed, flesh cut into small cubes
¼ lb (115 g) fresh cheese, such as panela or light Feta; cut into small cubes
¼ cup Mexican cream (or sour cream diluted with a little milk)
Prep the pasilla peppers: Using kitchen shears, slice the pepper into strips/rings (photo below, left); remove and discard seeds and stem. Reserve about one tablespoon of the smallest bits of pepper. Fry the strips/rings in a couple of tablespoons of oil, or deep fry if oil leftover from preparing tortilla chips (photo below, centre), just for a few seconds, until crispy. Transfer promptly onto a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt while hot (photo below, right):
Reserve as a topping.
Set ingredients for the broth: Slice tomatoes in half, and remove stem spot; cut onion into chunks; measure tomato paste; chop epazote; mince garlic; and chop reserved pasilla pepper bits:
In a pot, add two tablespoons of oil leftover from frying peppers; warm up over medium heat, then add onions and sauté until translucent. Add pasilla pepper bits and garlic, and cook for just fifteen to twenty seconds, stirring to prevent them from burning (photo below, left). Pour in two cups of water, and continue stirring to deglaze the bottom of the pot (photo below, right):
Bring to a boil, then place tomato halves on top, cut side facing down. After a few minutes, the tomato skins will become lose; pinch and remove with tongs (photo below, left). Discard skins, and break up peeled tomatoes in the pot into chunks, with the back of a spoon; cover pot and continue cooking at medium heat (photo below, right):
After ten minutes, uncover pot, and remove from heat, allowing to cool down for a few minutes.
Pour one more cup of water (at room temperature) in a blender jar, add the contents of the pot, including liquid, and process until very smooth. Return pot to medium heat, and pour sauce back in (photo below, left). Add tomato paste, which enhances the flavour and adds lots of colour (photo below, right):
Stir to dissolve tomato paste, then add two more cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a rolling simmer for another ten minutes. Add chopped epazote (photo below, left), and season with salt and pepper, to taste. This broth may be kept simmering, until it is time to serve the soup. To plate, place a generous portion of tortilla chips in a bowl, then fill with hot broth (photo below, right):
Top with avocado and cheese cubes, drizzle some cream and finish with fried pasilla strips/rings:
The tortilla chips thicken the broth as they soak, and are just the right size to fit in a spoonful of flavourful soup:
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I am sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #473, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. Special thanks to Pam for featuring my recipe for Unfried Churros at her party here.