notes from the mexican kitchen
Mexican Weekend/

Sunday is for Sopa Azteca

tortilla soup 2
There are thick, pureed soups, soups that are like winter blanket—you just want to wrap yourself in them when it starts snowing outside.Mexican Weekend_Logo_POST_170x177

And then there’s tortilla soupsopa Azteca, if you want to be authentic about it. A beautiful broth enriched with chiles, poured over chicken, topped with crunchy tortilla strips and finished with crema. It’s not a winter blanket soup—it’s more like a light jacket. And that makes it perfect for the first weekend—your first Mexican Weekend, if you will—in October.

Tortilla Soup
Recipe from Frontera Grill/Topolobampo

Like guacamole, tortilla soup has a place, I feel, in practically every collection of Mexican recipes.  It’s a filling, flavorful meal that can be made with little effort, but one that sings with an unmistakable Mexican harmony. Earthy dark pasilla chile. The softening crunch of toasty corn tortillas. Soul-satisfying broth.  And creamy-rich avocado and cheese.

A note about pasilla (sometimes called negro) chile:  Its unique flavor defines tortilla soup in central Mexico. In Michoacan, it’s ancho chile. In your kitchen, it might turn out to be another chile, like New Mexico or even a little smoky chipotle (be forewarned that chipotle will make the broth quite spicy). Though for these everyday recipes I’ve relied heavily on the easier-to-use powdered dried chile, finding powdered pasilla (negro) can be harder than finding the whole pod. Should powdered chile be at your finger tips (be it powdered pasilla (negro), ancho or beyond), add about 1 tablespoon to the pan about halfway through the cooking of the onion.

In Mexico, it’s more common to crush toasted chile pods over the soup than to add it to the base. You can follow that lead, or do both as we do in our restaurants.

Servings: 4to 6 people
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Ingredients

  • 1largedried pasilla (negro) chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 115-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 2tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2quarts chicken broth
  • 1largeepazote sprig, if you have one
  • 2cup shredded, cooked rotisserie chicken
  • 1large ripeavocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2cups (6 ounces) shredded Mexican melting cheese (like Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar
  • A generous 4cups (about 6 ounces) roughly broken tortilla chips
  • 1/2cupMexican crema, sour cream or creme fraîche for garnish
  • 1large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving

Instructions

Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.) Break the chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice. (A food processor will work, though it won’t completely puree the chile.)

Heat the oil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the blender. Process until smooth.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth and epazote, if using. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).

Just before serving, add the chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the avocado, cheese and tortilla chips between serving bowls. When the chicken is done, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Garnish with the crema. Pass the lime separately.

 

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Comments

  1. Looks great excellent explanation. Had it at a restaurant the other day. I can’t wait to make it. Where can one find the Mexican spices and chilis?

    1. A well stocked supermarket will have these – Whole Foods does have a selection of dried chiles – but your best bet will be finding a local Mexican market.

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