Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup Recipe

Tortilla Soup is as easy to make as it is to love. All it takes is some leftover chips, salsa and chicken broth to make this wonderful, traditional soup. We like to go overboard when it comes to garnishing. Feel free to add diced avocado, a handful of your favorite grated cheese, a spoonful of sour cream and more crisp tortilla chips for that added bit of crunch at the end. Since Tortilla Soup thickens as it sits, you can always thin leftovers with additional stock or water.

Serves 8

1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups Red Tomato Salsa, see recipe below
7 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and seeded (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 pounds fried tortilla chips

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup crema, creme fraiche or sour cream
2 limes, cut into 4 wedges each

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until pale brown and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes longer.

Add the tomato salsa, chicken or vegetable stock, optional chipotle chile and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in the fried tortilla chips and simmer 10 minutes longer, until the chips soften. Remove and discard the whole chipotle chile. Ladle into soup bowls and top each with cilantro, a few avocado chunks, a dollop of crema, creme fraiche or sour cream and a lime wedge. Serve hot.

Red Tomato Salsa

If you’re looking for an easy sauce to keep in the freezer for instant Mexican meals, this is the one. It provides the flavor base for such traditional dishes as tortilla soup, fideo, red rice, and chilaquiles, and can also be served as a sauce for strong, rich foods – like chiles rellenos – that call for something sturdy but not too assertive in the background.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large jalapeño chile, stemmed and sliced
4 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice

Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Sauté onions with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender. Add tomatoes and tomato juice and puree until smooth.

Pour into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Set aside to cool for table salsa or use warm for tortilla soup, red rice, or chilaquiles. Store in refrigerator 2 to 3 days or in freezer for weeks.


Guatemalan Tamales

Guatemalan Tamales

In these succulent Guatemalan tamales, fluffy masa is enriched with raisins, olives, chiles and a generous helping of romesco sauce. Soft, fragrant banana leaves, available in Latin markets, are the typical tamale wrapper in the southern Mexican states and Central America. Add shredded roasted chicken and these tamales would make a delightful holiday meal.

Makes 8 tamales


3 1/2 cups masa harina*
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups water, hot
10 ounces vegetable shortening (by weight), cold
1 cup vegetable broth, cold


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 poblano chiles, roasted, cored, seeded, and cut into strips**
2 red bell peppers, roasted, cored, seeded, and cut into strips**
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced
8 9-inch squares banana leaf, center stalk removed
8 10-inch squares aluminum foil
Romesco Sauce (see recipe below), for serving
Crema or crème fraiche, for serving (optional)

Combine masa harina, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with a paddle. Add hot water and beat on medium speed until the masa mixture is crumbly. Turn the speed up to medium-high and add shortening and vegetable broth a tablespoon at a time, alternating and making sure each spoonful is incorporated before making the next addition. Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, about 15 minutes total. Test for lightless by dropping a tablespoon of masa into cold water. If it floats, mixture is light enough. If not, continue beating at high speed a few minutes longer. Reserve at room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add vegetable broth, raisins, poblano chiles, red bell peppers, and oregano and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in olives. Chill.

To assemble tamales, briefly hold each banana leaf square over a low burner to soften and toast. Place banana leaf squares, shiny side up, on top of aluminum foil squares. Spread a thin layer of masa over the center third of each banana leaf. Top with a heaping tablespoon of filling mixture. Fold over the sides and then the ends of the banana leaf to enclose the filling in the masa and then wrap in aluminum foil square.

Stack tamales in a steamer and cook over simmering water 1 hour, or until the masa is just set and pulls away from the banana leaves. Remove and discard the foil and open the tamales, leaving them in the banana leaves for serving. Top with Romesco Sauce and a drizzle of crema, if desired.

* Maseca, masa harina, or corn masa flour, is a dried, powder version of fresh masa. Fresh masa is a wet dough made from dried corn cooked in limewater, soaked overnight, and stoneground. If it is labeled “prepared”, it is combined with lard and other ingredients, but if you can find “unprepared” masa made with only lime-treated corn, it can be substituted for the masa harina and water in this recipe.

** Fresh chiles can be roasted over a gas flame or under the broiler. Keep turning so skin is evenly charred, without burning the flesh. Transfer charred chiles to a closed plastic bag and steam 10 to 15 minutes. Pull off charred skin by hand and dip briefly in water to remove blackened bits. Once peeled, cut away stems, seeds, and veins.

Romesco Sauce

6 piquillo peppers, from a jar or can, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Add piquillo peppers, paprika, and vinegar to a blender and puree. Add almonds, bread crumbs, garlic, and salt and blend until smooth. With motor still running, drizzle in olive oil until a thick sauce forms. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve at room temperature.


Lentil Soup with Plantains

Plantain Lentil Soup

Photo: Lisa Romerein

Lentils, like other beans, are a good vehicle for the kind of strong flavorings we love. When cooking any bean soup, occasionally give it a stir to avoid burning the beans on the bottom.

Serves 8 to 10

2 large onions
11 cloves of garlic
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1 bunch fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
1 gallon vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
3 cups lentils, washed and picked over
6 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
2 ripe plantains, peeled, cut in half, and diced
3 medium carrots, peeled, cut into quarters lengthwise, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 bunches cilantro, chopped

Cut 1 onion into chunks and the other into dice. Mince 6 of the garlic cloves and keep the remaining 5 whole.

Place the onion chunks, whole garlic cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in the center of a medium square of cheesecloth. Tie the ends together to form a package. Place the fresh thyme in another square of cheesecloth and tie the ends together to enclose.

Combine the stock and the spice and herb packages, or dried thyme, in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes. Stir in the lentils and continue cooking until they are cooked through but still firm, 15 minutes. Strain the lentils, reserving the liquid and the thyme bundle.

Heat the olive oil or butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the diced onions until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add the plantains, carrots, and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the plantains are soft and golden, 15 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and allspice and cook about 5 minutes longer, being careful not to scorch the garlic.

Add the lentils, their reserved liquid, and the thyme bundle. Bring to a simmer and cook another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme bundle. Stir in half of the chopped cilantro. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro.


Mexican Beef Brisket

Mexican Beef Brisket

Brisket is easy to cook and great to have on hand for a comforting winter meal. The chipotle chiles add a pleasant mouth-tingling sensation that is not at all overpowering. Serve this beef brisket with smashed potatoes for a special holiday supper. It reheats beautifully for sandwiches and weeknight suppers. For sandwiches, reheat thinly sliced beef brisket in its sauce.

Serves 6

3 1/2 pounds beef brisket
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
flour for dredging
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 medium onions, chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled
3 dried chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 quarts chicken stock or water
5 bay leaves
salt to taste
1 cup Pickled Red Onions, (see recipe below), for garnish
4 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Sprinkle the brisket with coarse salt and pepper. Dredge in flour to coat and shake off any excess.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Sear the meat until browned on all sides, and remove. Reduce the heat to moderate and add the carrots and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes longer. Return the meat to the pan along with all the remaining ingredients except the salt and garnishes. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 2 1/4 hours, or until the meat slips off a fork when pierced.

Lift out the brisket and place on a cutting board. Cover with a damp towel. Pour the broth with the vegetables into a tall container and skim off the layer of fat that rises. Remove and discard the bay leaves and chiles. Pour the broth and vegetables into a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Puree until smooth, add salt to taste and strain. Reheat the sauce.

Slice the brisket against the grain and arrange on a platter. Pour the warm sauce over it, sprinkle with pickled onions and sliced scallions and serve.

Pickled Red Onions

Makes 5 1/2 cups

1 pound red onions, thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon roughly chopped cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 beet, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 8 wedges

Place the onions in a medium saucepan and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and remove from the heat. Strain and set the onions aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes. Add the blanched onions and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a container, cover, and refrigerate at least a day before serving. Pickled onions will keep in the refrigerator up to a month.

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