Monday, January 17, 2011

Tortilla Soup

My friend, Molly, inspired this simple, lovely recipe.  She is a great cook, and I was lucky enough to eat her tortilla soup recently.  I know I just posted a soup recipe, but January is National Soup Month, and I’ve wanted to make this recipe for a while.  I’m not sure who exactly the qualified authority figure is that delegates these food holidays, but I think it’s a good excuse to inundate my blog with soup recipes.  Plus, avocados make a perfect garnish for tortilla soup, and they just happened to be on an irresistible sale. 

My tortilla soup is very similar to Molly’s soup, the source of its inspiration.  It is made with canned chicken stock, flavored with cumin, onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes.  The soup does not have any meat in it.  Instead, heartiness is added by the creamy texture of black beans and the sweet pop of corn kernels.  Unlike Molly’s recipe, my soup is thickened with white corn tortillas during the cooking process, while she served it with tortilla chips.  Although my method isn’t seen in most recipes, it’s fairly traditional.  The tortillas practically dissolve into the soup, adding body and flavor to the soup.  Once the tortillas hit the hot soup, you can immediately smell the difference, as the corn tortillas heat through and distribute through the pot.  After cooking, some small pieces of tortilla remain, but most disappear into the soup and simply thicken and flavor the soup.
Not only is the soup delicious, but its preparation is very easy.  It only requires some sautéing of vegetables followed by dumping of various ingredients to the pot.  It was a stress-free and relaxing meal to make.  The flavor base is onion, bell pepper, and garlic (I wanted to add a jalapeno, but forgot it in my grocery basket).  After sautéing the vegetables, the majority of the remaining ingredients are essentially dropped into the pot, and the whole thing simmers for a half hour.  This gives you plenty of time to clean up, and prepare the toppings. 
The best part of the soup may actually be the toppings.  Molly served it with a bevy of toppings:  tortilla chips, fresh cilantro, cheese, avocado, and onion.  She even had chopped tomatillos, fresh from her father’s garden.  My toppings were not quite as plentiful, but I followed the same basic idea.  I used fresh cilantro, diced avocado, and cubes of salty feta cheese.  Queso fresco is traditional, but Molly used feta, so I followed her example.  Plus, I love any excuse to eat feta cheese.  This was such an easy and delicious recipe, where the whole somehow exceeds the sum of its parts.  Sometimes, I enjoy cooking dishes that require lots of chopping and preparation, but this making this soup was a relaxing process that made for a hearty and delicious meal on a snowy Sunday night (during National Soup Month, no less).  
Tortilla Soup (serves 4-6)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt, pepper, garlic salt, seasoning salt, to taste
3-14 oz. cans reduced sodium chicken stock
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup frozen corn kernels (no need to thaw)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 corn tortillas, cut in strips
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro.
Possible garnishes: avocado, cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro, lime wedges

-       In a large soup pot, preheat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (I used about a half teaspoon of each), and sauté for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.
-       Add chicken stock, tomatoes, corn, cilantro, cumin, hot pepper flakes, and chili powder.  Increase heat and bring liquid to a boil.  When boiling, reduce heat so that the soup simmers. 
-       Add tortillas and black beans.  Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup starts to thicken and tortillas break down.
-       Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
-       Serve soup and garnish as desired.

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