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Monday, August 22, 2011

My favorite TORTILLA SOUP + the results of my Tortilla Soup Quest

My favorite Tortilla Soup
Ummmmm.  I seem to be right back where I started.  In my eleventh post (over two and a half years ago), I shared tortilla soup.  The only version of tortilla soup that I'd tried up to that point.  The only version I needed.  Until, that is, I discovered that there were many other versions floating around out there.  Yes, of course I should have realized that there were more.  It's just that I wasn't looking.  "My" version brought us endless joy.  You think I'm exaggerating, right?  I promise you, I'm not.  However, once I did start seeing some other versions around, I decided that I needed to go on a quest to try as many different versions as I could in a year.  I knew I'd find more if I asked you to come along on my adventure.  There were some fantastic discoveries along the way.  I found many that I liked, a few that I loved, and some that were not all that great.  Wanna know the funny thing?  Even after all of the tasting and first favorite remains my current favorite.  This will always be the tortilla soup that all other tortilla soups must measure up to.  What can I say? 
So.  This is how I like it.  Three main components:
1. the broth:  I prefer it brothy, not thick.  This is such a simple broth, but it's packed with flavor that just keeps getting better as it sits.  Sometimes, the simplest things really are the best.

2. the tortillas:  I prefer them fried.  The cut doesn't necessarily matter.  While I do usually cut the tortillas in half, then in thin strips- I like the occasional square or triangle, as well.  I think that frying helps them hold their shape and crunch better than baking does.  If a recipe calls for five tortillas, you can bet that I will at least double that amount.  I like to keep adding them as I eat.  I want tortillas in every bite of my tortilla soup.

3. the toppings: I prefer the chunks in my tortilla soup to be in the toppings, not the soup itself.  And I prefer less.  Less is more.  Other than the tortilla strips, I want avocados cut into fairly large chunks for a smooth, creamy delight in each bite.  I want queso fresco...and I prefer it cubed.  In cubes, it holds up well to the hot broth. The broth soaks into the cheese and tastes salty and delicious.  I want some toasted chile for a bit of chewy texture and heat.  And I want limes for squeezing over the whole shebang.

That's it, folks.  That's the way I like my tortilla soup.
My favorite Tortilla Soup

My favorite version of tortilla soup feautures a flavorful broth filled with loads of toppings.
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by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Keywords: soup/stew tortillas stock Mexican

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
  • 10 corn tortillas (+ a little oil for frying)
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small onion, peeled & sliced
  • 2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded & torn into several pieces
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained
  • 6 cups chicken broth or stock
  • sea salt
  • queso fresco (I usually use one 12 ounce disk), cut into squares
  • avocado (1 or 2), diced large
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
I usually begin by cutting the tortillas in half, and then into strips that are ~¼" wide. Heat about a half an inch of oil in my Dutch oven. When it's hot and shimmering, fry the strips, in batches if necessary, until crisp and golden. Lift out onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Set aside.

Drain off all but a thin film of oil, return the pan to the heat, and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to turn golden, ~7 minutes. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, pressing against the side of the pot to leave behind any oil and transfer to a blender jar. Add torn chiles to oil and fry/toast, turning, until they scent the kitchen with that deep, rich, inviting scent...only about 30 seconds in all. Remove them to the paper towel-lined plate, as well.

Add the tomatoes to the blender jar with the onions and garlic. Purée until smooth. Set the pot over medium-high and add purée, stirring often until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, 5-10 minutes (careful, it splatters...I usually put the lid or splatter guard on partially when I'm not stirring). Add chicken broth, cover partially and lower heat. Simmer gently for ~30 minutes. Season and add salt, to taste. How much you add will depend on the saltiness of your broth or stock...start with ~½ tsp.

To serve, fill bowls generously with chunks of avocado and cubes of queso fresco. Ladle the hot soup over that. Put a big handful of crispy tortilla strips on top. Crumble some of the now-crispy toasted chile over the top. Finish by squeezing a wedge or more of lime over the bowl.

As with most soups, this gets even better when it's had time to sit and relax in the fridge for up to a few days. Just don't cut the avocado until right before serving. Re-heat and serve later, if you wish. If you're like me, you'll make a double-batch almost every time.

-adapted from Rick Bayless' Mexico One Plate at a Time

Now, let's check out the results of my Tortilla Soup Challenge/Quest!
all-around WINNER - for its ability to make me compare all other versions of tortilla soup to this, it was my never forget your first.
My favorite Tortilla Soup

1st runner-up - for flavor, originality (green!), visual appeal, and simplicity: (Quick and Easy) Green Tortilla Soup
Quick and Easy Green Tortilla Soup

2nd runner-up - for its ability to make your nose run, sweat bead up on your forehead, and possibly bring a tear to your eye and yet still be packed with so much goodness and flavor that you can't put down your spoon: Ten-Minute Shrimp and Tortilla Soup
Ten-Minute Shrimp and Tortilla Soup

3rd runner-up - for its ability to please anybody with it's mild, full-flavor...even spice lovers were clamoring for a second helping: Good Neighbor Chicken Tortilla Soup
"Good Neighbor" Chicken Tortilla Soup

...and last, but not least is the 4th runner-up - for its ability to surprise me...I thought I didn't care for thicker, creamier versions of this soup, but somehow this one draws me in with a slow, seductive heat that seems to emanate from the depths of your belly: Creamy Tortilla Soup w/ Chicken & Corn
Creamy Tortilla Soup

So, while my "official" quest has ended, there's no way I'm going to stop trying new versions of the most glorious soup on the face of this planet.  Although my favorite may never be nudged out of the number one spot, I will always be on the look out for runners-up.