Like many December revelers, we spent the holidays eating rich foods, drinking delicious cocktails, and generally enjoying the season with a little over indulgence. After weeks of all that eating and drinking, first at the Weihnachtsmarktes in Berlin, and then during our wonderful trip to the US, I was ready for a healthy break when we arrived back in Germany. I spent the first week in January drinking plenty of fresh vegetable and fruit juices, a nice kick of vitamins and minerals to reboot my system. And when I started to think about what I wanted to cook this week, this lovely tortilla soup came to mind. It’s one of the recipes I made several times last winter, when it was oh-so-freezing and we didn’t want to leave the house, and really it’s just a jazzed up version of tomato puree.
I love any recipe that combines tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and avocado, and this soup adds an added layer with a smoky flavor thanks to the chipotle spice and a nice roasting of the soup’s base. We’ve thankfully had a wonderfully mild winter so far in Berlin, but even on a cool and rainy day, this soup hits the spot. Just spicy enough, slightly tangy, and refreshing, it’s light but also filling. You’ll be rewarded by using fresh chicken stock—the flavor will be much fuller—but in a pinch, chicken broth will suffice. To make the dish even healthier, forgo the tortilla and crème fraiche topping, and top the soup bowls with bean sprouts and crumbled smoked tofu. For a richer version, blend in a cup of heavy cream to the soup base during the final heating and top the bowls with shredded cheese. But really anything goes: when I reheated the soup for my lunch today, I added some sautéed spinach and a handful of chickpeas, and it was a superb.
Tomato-Chili Tortilla Soup
Adapted loosely from Gourmet magazine
Servings: 4 to 6 bowls
2 small onions, peeled and rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
6 medium sized tomatoes, rough chopped
2 quarts vegetable stock
½ tablespoon bacon fat or lard
2 ancho or pasilla chili peppers, seeds removed and rough chopped
2 chili de arbol peppers, seeds removed and rough chopped
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
½ teaspoon honey
1 large flour or corn tortilla
1 small bunch cilantro, washed and stems removed
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or queso fresco
In a large bowl, combine the onions, garlic, tomatoes, and ½ cup of vegetable stock and puree with a hand blender until well combined and smooth. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, heat the bacon fat and add the chili peppers. Cook until peppers begin to sweat, about 5 minutes, then add peppers to vegetable mixture and puree into mixture with blender. Return pot to heat and add chipotle, heating up spice for 1 to 2 minutes, until toasted. Slowly pour the vegetable mixture into the pot, being careful as it will splatter. Bring to a boil and reduce by half, cooking for about 15 minutes. Add the remaining vegetable stock and combine again with the hand blender until smooth. Bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Season with juice from the lemon, honey, and salt, adjusting to taste.
When the soup is ready, remove from heat. Toast the tortilla in a flat, dry pan. Remove from heat and slice tortilla into thin strips. Cut the avocado into chunks, and divide between 4 to 6 bowls. Fill the bowls with the soup and sprinkle with the tortilla strips and fresh cilantro. Finish soup bowls with a few small spoonfuls of crème fraîche or queso fresco.