Monday, March 19, 2012

Mexican Tortilla Soup


I went on a number of family vacations to Mexico growing up, and have developed a fondness for the local cuisine ever since. I've always loved sopa de tortilla: slightly spicy and brimming with the flavor of garlic, tomatoes, and tortillas. Making this soup makes me think of those childhood memories - but this time, without Montezuma's revenge!

The ingredients are all readily available in New York, except for epazote, a fragrant herb long used in Mexican cooking, especially soups. It is available at some Mexican stores, such as La Paloma on W. 100th street. The soup is still great without it, but if you can find it, the epazote adds an extra layer of flavor to the already piquant soup.

Mexican Tortilla Soup

Dried Epazote
1/4 cup cooking oil
6 round corn tortillas, 4 roughly chopped, 2 cut into thin strips
2 onions, chopped
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled (here's how to do it in less than 10 seconds)
2 or more moderately spicy peppers such as jalapeños and/or serranos, seeds and ribs removed, minced (I prefer 1 of each)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds 
2 quarts chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
2 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, crushed or diced (or both), or 4 pounds fresh tomatoes chopped (about 8)
2 sprigs fresh or dried epazote (if you can find it, otherwise skip) 
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/8 inch strips crosswise
1 avocado, diced
1 cup Monterey Jack or similar cheese, grated (about 1/4 pound)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
salt and ground black pepper

Tortilla Soup after straining
1. In a medium to large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-low heat until it sizzles slightly. Add the chopped tortillas, onions, garlic cloves, jalapeño and/or serrano peppers, and cumin and cook until the onions are translucent, around 5-7 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, epazote (if you have it), and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 35-45 minutes.

2. Strain the soup into another pot, pressing the vegetables firmly to squeeze out all of the liquid. It should make around 3 1/2 quarts of liquid so make sure the pot is big enough. Bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat in the new pot. Add the chicken and black pepper and cook the chicken until just done, about a minute or two (no longer!)

3. Fill each bowl with some diced avocado, some of the tortilla strips, and cheese. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top with cilantro leaves.

Total time: about 1 hour

Makes 6-8 servings

Modified from a recipe in Soups and Stews
The avocado, cheese, and tortilla strips in the bowl before the tortilla soup broth is added



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