June 12th, 2014
Tortilla Soup is one of my all time favorites. Hearty, with a little bit of spice, and topped with fried tortilla strips, it’s as satisfying as a soup gets. And, I mean, fried tortilla strips. Is there more to say?
I’ve always considered chicken—and, more to the point, deep, rich homemade chicken stock—to be the soul of Tortilla Soup. After all, it’s usually called Chicken Tortilla Soup. And that healing feeling that sweeps over you when you eat a bowl? It could only come from long cooked chicken bones. Right?
Apparently not, because I’ve made a kick ass version that’s completely vegetarian. Vegan, even, if you skip the grated cheese garnish. It turns out that this soup is not about chicken stock, but rather a genius blend of simple ingredients.
(Like so much great Mexican food. I should have known!)
Instead of relying only on sautéed onions, garlic and chile pepper powder as the flavor base of this soup, I fortify it with sweet potato. It adds an earthy depth of flavor that, while not a substitute for chicken broth, lends a similar richness. I blend most of the sweet potato into the soup, which gives it a slightly thicker texture than traditional tortilla soup, but also like to sprinkle sautéed sweet potato and black beans over the top of every bowl similar to the way you add shredded chicken meat to the traditional version.
Then there’s the fixings and, of course, the tortilla strips. For fixings, I like shredded cheddar or jack, diced avocados (a must!), the sweet potato and black beans mentioned above, and a dollop of sour cream. When I make this just for me and the hungry papa, I give the broth extra heat with more chipotle powder. Most times, though, I keep the soup mild and add hot sauce to mine at the end.
The best part for me is, as you’ve probably already guessed, the fried tortilla. You can use tortilla chips but, one day, when you have the time, cut fresh corn tortillas into strips and fry them in a very well oiled pan, flipping them half way between cooking, until they are crispy on both sides.
This soup makes great leftovers, which make great lunches either at home or packed for work or school. And, yes, you’ll want to eat it more than one day in a row.
Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
4 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, divided
1 onion, chopped, divided
4 cloves of garlic, chopped, divided
2 1/2 cups chopped sweet potato (1/2″ dice), divided (from about 1 medium or 1/2 extra large sweet potato, total)
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch-scant 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, optional
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon canned chopped mild green chiles
Fried tortilla strips or tortilla chips
Shredded cheddar or jack cheese
1. Add 2 teaspoons of oil to a large pot set over medium heat. Once hot, add 1/2 of the chopped onion and about 1/4 of the chopped garlic. Sauté until just translucent. Add 1 cup of the chopped potatoes; stir to coat them with oil and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of broth, cover, and cook for 5-8 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are just tender all the way through and much of the broth has cooked off. Be careful not to over cook them or they’ll get mushy. Add the black beans and salt to taste. Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes to bring the flavors together. Remove the beans and potatoes from your pot—this is one of your garnishes—and set aside. Wipe out the pot and return it to medium heat.
2. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Once hot, add remaining onion and garlic; sauté until translucent. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups sweet potato, oregano, cumin, and as much chipotle powder as you like, keeping in mind that even a scant 1/4 teaspoon makes this quite spicy (when I make this with my kids in mind, I literally add a small pinch). Stir to coat and cook for 2 minutes to bring all of the flavors together.
3. Add the tomato sauce, green chiles, and remaining 4 cups of chicken broth. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes or so. (If you’re going to fry fresh tortilla strips, now’s a good time to do it!) Remove pot from heat and carefully blend with an immersion blender until smooth. I like this with a bit of texture but, if you want it silky, you’ll have better results transferring the soup to a high powered blender. Ladle blended soup into bowls and garnish with sweet potatoes and bean that have been set aside and any other garnishes of your choice.
*Note: This is a wonderful food to share with your little eater as young as 6-months-old. Just be careful not to make this spicier than your child can handle. If you want this to be very mild, skip the chipotle powder all together and maybe even reduce the amount of green chiles. Even the mild ones can lend a bit of heat. If your eater is still in the puree stage, serve soup alone or blend in the garnishes. Otherwise, add texture with them.