Have a spoonful of Tortilla Soup - the flavourful broth loaded with colourful, crunchy, creamy toppings is like a Mexican fiesta in a bowl. (Skip to recipe.)
I've been lolling in the Mexican sunshine.
I don't mean to make you jealous - but, oh . . . it was wonderful. Nothing but beautiful beaches, tropical breezes, and amazing new tastes, sights, and sounds to revel in.
It was a wonderful holiday - I relaxed completely, but also got my fill of new taste experiences and cooking adventures.
During my two weeks in Mexico we stayed with friends at their beautiful condo on the beach in Nuevo Vallarta (Raymond was there with me for the first week, and my mom joined me for the second week). That Mexican sunshine was rejuvenating and warmed up my Canadian, winter-chilled heart. (30°C sunshine for 14 straight days will warm anyone's heart - and tootsies, too!)
The Mexican food is amazing - full of bright colours and highlighting the freshest of flavours, from crisp sunshine-filled vegetables to pristine seafoods and meats. (Those soggy burritos we get in the fast food Mexican joints here in the north don't even come close to the real thing!)
We travelled around the area using local buses and taxis - a couple trips to the neighbouring town of Bucerias to poke around the markets there, a trip up the coast to the colourful surfer's paradise of Sayulita to catch the weekly market and marvel at the boarders on the beach, rattling on the local bus to the beautiful botanical gardens to rhapsodize over the spectacular tropical vegetation, and numerous jaunts around Puerto Vallarta to try out local restaurants, people-watch on the Malecon (boardwalk), or to check out stunning architecture and colourful sights wherever we turned.
One of the highlights of my Mexican trip was a cooking class we took. The lovely instructors, Margarita and her daughter Kathia, came right to the condo and spent the day teaching us how to make some of that amazing Mexican food, including shrimp ceviche, tortilla soup, fish Veracruz style, Mexican flan, and a lesson in how to make tortillas, gorditas, and empanadas.
Oh, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. I cannot say enough how much fun it was to spend the day with friends old and new, cooking with these two great ladies and their fun-loving banter.
Tortilla Soup has become my new favourite! The hunt to try different versions of it in numerous Mexican restaurants became a research mission on my trip. Margarita and Kathia taught us how to make this traditional soup using a broth of mild, dried Guajillo (gwah-hee′-oh) Chiles - so flavourful. However, since those chiles are not always easily available in our part of the world, I've included a version made with tomatoes, which is also very common in Mexico. (Though I did bring home several bags of Guajillos in my suitcase.)
You can make the soup with a base of either:
This recipe is a combination of Margarita's recipe and one given to me from the chef at Ernesto's Good Grub restaurant in Nuevo Vallarta. (My Mexican/German friend Christine also makes hers with a tomato base, so I can attest that it is authentic). Margarita's recipe is simple, with just peppers, garlic, and good chicken broth to flavour it, whereas Ernesto's adds spices and uses chicken Maggi flavouring to make the broth, so I took the best elements from both recipes to make a tortilla soup that's become an instant family favourite (I've made it twice already, and served it to family and friends to rave reviews.)
What makes Tortilla Soup so delicious is the flavourful broth poured over a bowl full of crispy tortilla strips and other fillings.
The broth is savoury, but not spicy. It can be amped up to taste with mild or fiery toppings. Chicken and/or cheese can be added to the bowls, but the soup can also be made simply with crunchy tortilla strips and creamy avocado cubes (as Christine makes it).
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Kitchen Frau Notes: If using the tomato-based version of Tortilla Soup, the broth will not be as intensely red as when using the Guajillo Pepper version, but even though it's paler in colour, it will still taste as delicious. Of course, if you want to make the tomato version, but have Guajillo chiles on hand, you can always add a couple soaked Guajillos to the soup to intensify the colour. (I used the Guajillo chile version in the photo below and at the top of this post.)
You can cook a chicken breast or two right in the broth when making this soup, or use leftover cooked chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken for shredding.
Omit cheese and sour cream topping for dairy-free.
This soup makes a large batch. Use half and freeze the rest for another time - you'll be glad to pull it from the freezer to spice up a rainy day with a little Mexican sunshine!
Mexican Tortilla Soup (Two Ways)
- 7 or 8 Chile Guahillos (2 oz/60gms dried Guahillo chile peppers) OR 10 to 12 Roma tomatoes (2½ lbs/1.15kg) plus ½ a medium onion
- 2 quarts (2 litres) good quality chicken stock
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 6 whole allspice berries
- salt to taste
- ¾ kg (1½lbs) corn tortillas (about 26 tortillas which are 5½ inches/14cm in diameter)
- oil for frying tortillas
for serving the Tortilla Soup:
- fried tortilla strips
- avocado (about ½ of a small avocado per serving of soup)
- shredded cooked chicken breast - optional
- shredded mozzarella cheese (or MexicanOaxaca cheese) - optional
- poblano peppers, blistered, peeled, and cut into strips
- finely diced raw white onion
- Mexican Crema - or sour cream thinned with milk until of drizzling consistency
- lime wedges
- your favourite hot sauce (we like Cholula) or finely diced fresh jalapeno pepper
Before you start, place the chicken stock in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. If you are cooking raw chicken breast to shred for the soup, add it to the stock now so it can cook with the stock. Once the stock comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot to simmer slowly while you prepare the rest of the soup.
If using Guajillo Chiles - Place the dried Guajillo peppers into a bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let them soak for 15 minutes, pushing down on them occasionally with a spoon to make sure all parts get soaked, or place a smaller bowl on top of the peppers to keep them weighted under the water. Place a strainer in the kitchen sink under the tap. In the stream of running water (or in a large bowl of water), pull the stems out of each pepper, tear open the pepper and remove and discard all the seeds and membranes. Place the torn and cleaned pieces of the Guajillo peppers into a blender canister with 2 cups water. Proceed with Soup Instructions.
If using Roma (plum) tomatoes - Core the tomatoes and dice them into large chunks. Dice the onion half. Place the diced tomatoes and onion into a large saucepan with ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and lower the heat a bit. Boil the tomatoes for 10 minutes, removing the lid to stir them every couple minutes. Pour the cooked tomatoes and onion, and all their juices into a blender container. Proceed with Soup Instructions.
To either the soaked guajillo peppers and water or the cooked tomato mixture in the blender, add the garlic cloves, bay leaves, cumin seeds, oregano, marjoram, peppercorns, and allspice berries. Blend until finely ground (in a Vitamix blender this will take 30 to 45 seconds, in a regular blender it can take up to 3 to 4 minutes).
Strain the blended mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into the hot chicken broth in the stock pot. (Don't use a coarse-meshed sieve, or it will all go through). Don't wash the blender canister yet. Use a silicone spatula to stir the mixture in the sieve and push against the solids left in the sieve until you've extracted as much of the juice as possible. If using the Guajillo peppers, you should only have 2 to 3 tablespoons pulp left in the sieve to discard, and if using the tomatoes and onion, you should only have about ½ cup of pulp left in the sieve to discard. If using the tomatoes, you can pour several ladles of the hot broth over the pulp left in the sieve to rinse more of the flavour out of it, and strain and press the pulp a second time.
Bring the tortilla soup back to a boil. Taste the broth and add salt if it needs it. The broth should be well salted, taking into account that the add-ins and toppings aren't very salty.
Tear 5 or 6 of the corn tortillas into pieces and put them into the blender canister. Scoop several ladlefuls of soup from the stock pot and add them to the torn tortillas. Puree the tortillas and soup until smooth, and return the mixture to the stock pot. The pureed tortillas will add body to the stock, but it should still be quite thin. Bring to a boil again. Remove the cooked chicken breast (if using) and let cool slightly, then shred it into strips using two forks.
Keep the soup warm and covered while making the tortilla chips. (You can also prepare the tortilla chips up to a a week before, keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature.)
In a skillet heat about ¼ to ½ inch of frying oil (I like to use palm oil shortening) over medium high heat.
Stack 4 or 5 tortillas on a cutting board. Cut them in half, then cut each pile of halves into ½-inch (1cm) strips crosswise. Place one strip into the oil to see if it is hot enough. Bubbles should form instantly around the tortilla strip if the oil is ready. Add a small handful of strips to the oil. Fry the tortilla strips in batches in the hot oil, until they are crispy and golden. Bubbles will form furiously around the strips when you first place them into the oil, then subside as the moisture is cooked out of the tortilla strips. They are ready when they feel and sound crispy in the oil as you gently stir them. Remove the fried strips from the hot oil with a slotted spoon or spider as they are finished, and drain them on paper towels. I keep stacking a layer of paper towel on top of each batch on a platter to drain.
Alternately, you can crisp up the tortillas in a 450°F oven in a single layer on baking sheets, until golden (5 to 10 minutes). I find they don't stay crispy as long in the soup this way, but they are still good, too.
To serve the soup: Set out small bowls with toppings of your choice. Into each soup bowl, place a handful of crispy tortilla strips at the bottom, top with about ½ of a small avocado, diced. Add a small handful of shredded chicken (if using) and a handful of shredded cheese (if using).
Ladle the hot soup over top and serve immediately. Guests can garnish the soup with whatever toppings they like, though a squeeze of lime juice should be added to each bowl for fresh zing. A bottle of your favourite hot sauce can add heat for whoever would like it spicier.
Makes 10 to 12 meal-sized servings, or more as appetizer-sized servings. The prepared broth also freezes well.
Buen Provecho and Guten Appetit!
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