Tortilla Soup & Red Tomato Salsa
This is a beautiful version of a classic dish, with a distinct clarity of flavor. Unlike many other renditions, this one is meatless, so the creamy white cubes of panela bob among the green avocado and cilantro in a red broth, lightly smoked with chipotle and brightened with lime. If you can, make your own chicken broth. It’s worth it.
Prepare the Red Tomato Salsa. Set aside.
THE SOUP: Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until golden brown and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes longer.
Add 3 cups of the Red Tomato Salsa, the chicken broth, chipotle chili, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in the fried tortilla chips and simmer about 10 minutes longer, or just until the chips soften. Remove and discard the whole chipotle chili.
TO FINISH: Ladle soup into bowls and top each with some of the garnishes: chopped cilantro, a few chunks of avocado and panela, a dollop of crema fresca, and a lime wedge. Serve hot.
Red Tomato Salsa
MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cups diced, canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice
2 cloves garlic
1 large jalapeño chili, stemmed and seeded (if you like a
little heat, leave a few seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
Heat the canola oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Cook the onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor fitted with the metal blade or a blender.
Add the remaining ingredients and puree, in batches if you are using a blender, until smooth. Pour into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, 20 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Salsa can be stored in the refrigerator 2 to 3 days, or in the freezer for weeks.
CHEATS: For a speedy version, use a fresh tomato-rich salsa (found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket) as a stand in for the Red Tomato Salsa.
DO-AHEAD: The chips should be added minutes before serving, but the rest of the soup can be prepared a day or two ahead and kept refrigerate. Remove the chipotle pepper before storing the soup.
By Susan Feniger, Border Grill, Los Angeles