The Food Section of the Los Angeles Times this week had a feature on tortilla soups, so inspiring that I risked the dreaded too spicy complaint from my kids, and made one for dinner tonight. This recipe comes from the Café Verde in Pasadena -- in this version, the tortillas are sautéed with the tomatoes and other ingredients and puréed, so that the roasted-corn flavor becomes more subtle, part of the soup itself, instead of a crunchy base.
I've modified the recipe very slightly, leaving out the roasted ancho chilies, and reducing the salt and pepper. I used 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and ancho chili powder (which is also called pasillo), and it seemed plenty to me. It still has a gentle bit of heat from the ground chilies, but not enough to frighten off the kids, and the richness of the vegetables and the bay leaf have a chance to shine.
Laura said, "What are we having?" "Tortilla soup." "Smells good," she said, sounding surprised. Both of the girls enjoyed it, and Laura even had seconds.
Café Verde Tortilla Soup
2 Roma tomatoes
1/2 large white onion, peeled
8 whole corn tortillas, divided use
2 dried ancho chilies (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 cups tomato juice
1 cup vegetable stock
1 quart water
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground dried ancho chilies, or to taste
sour cream, for garnish
Cut 2 of the tortillas into thin strips, and cut the strips into manageable lengths as you like. In a medium frying pan, heat about 1/4 inch of oil, and fry the tortilla strips until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels, lightly salt them if desired, and set aside.
On a grill or rack over an open stovetop flame, roast the tomatoes, onion, and 6 tortillas until lightly browned, in batches as necessary. (You can also put the tomatoes and onion in a roasting dish under the oven broiler, and the tortillas directly on the oven rack. Check the tortillas fairly frequently, as they will not need as long as the tomatoes and onion.) Roast the chilies, if you are using them, for a few seconds, being careful not to burn them. Let the kids break the tortillas, into a large dish to catch the pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic cloves, and sauté over medium-low heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and break them up with a wooden spoon. Add the onion, tortilla pieces, bay leaf, and cilantro, and the chilies if you are using them. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring now and then to keep from sticking.
Add the tomato juice, vegetable stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, and purée the soup in a blender, in batches, until smooth. (Be sure to remove the center section from the blender lid, as otherwise the heated air inside will cause the lid to explode. You may want to take the precaution of placing a folded kitchen towel over the ventilated lid anyway.) Strain the soup through a sieve, pressing it through with a wooden spoon, and discard the solids.
Rinse out the cooking pan. Return the soup to the pan, and season with salt, white pepper, and ground chile to taste. Rewarm the soup, if necessary.
Garnish with the fried tortilla strips and a dollop of sour cream.
Makes about 5 servings. Active work time, about 1 1/2 hours.