Tortilla soup is one of the most popular Mexican soups. Google it, and you can easily get tons of “classic” recipes and even more variations. The base is always the same — dry red chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, tortilla chips, cilantro, and lime. In some recipes tortilla chips are used to thicken the soup, in other, they are the topping. In central Mexico, this soup flavor is defined by pungent and tangy thin fleshed pasilla, in Michoacan region it’s a fruity and mild ancho, in Puebla a smokey chipotle takes the place. There are also a variety of additional toppings from cooked meat and poultry to avocado, cheese, and cream. Every local chef or home cook features the best regional ingredients in this soup. I often joke comparing tortilla soup in Mexican cuisine to borsch in Ukrainian.
Train Your Taste Buds
Control the Heat
I remember my first bowl of tortilla soup in the U.S. It was so picante, so spicy hot for my completely untrained palate, I could not breathe. I also could not recognize any flavors at all. So, I chose Michoacan variation of the soup with ancho and sort of diluted the chili heat with some sweet red peppers, charred and peeled. It worked! I like combining my tree favorite Mexican chili peppers — ancho, chipotle meco, and pasilla — in this soup. I still add sweet red peppers and tomatoes, both charred and peeled for more complexity. There is no cheese or cream in my version of the soup. Instead, I add cooked corn kernels and pomegranate seeds for sweet and sour crunchy texture. If I don’t fry my homemade tortilla chips, I choose my favorite Xochitl Totopos de Maíz made of blue corn, crushed.
Control the Flavor
There are parts of the chili peppers that are bitter. If you enjoy bitter notes in your food, use the whole pods. If you’d like to exclude bitterness, your first step in preparing dry peppers for using in any dish is to remove seeds and membranes. The second step is to cut them into smaller pieces. Then you have a choice to rehydrate them as is or dry toast them in a hot skillet or an oven for the third step. A few seconds of toasting will contribute more chili flavor into the final taste of your dish, make it more dramatic. Try both ways and choose your favorite. Finally, rehydrate peppers in hot water for 20-30 minutes to extract their flavor in full.
This recipe is part of Local Flavors: Mexican/Tex-Mex — Block 3, Soups cooking class.