Recently, the weather has been sloppy and cold, drizzling, freezing, and then drizzling again. I can’t recall such a miserable winter here at the ranch. But to be honest, I am never miserable, even in our worst weather.
The colors around the ranch turn from iron oxide red to steely blue. In the cold mist outside, the white-tailed deer emerge from the brush, looking for each other, either to fight or love. Cold rain drips from the mesquites, down onto the cactus, and we listen at night for the sound of dripping, vigilant for roof leaks. The wind is still. We huddle indoors with our pets, drinking coffee and stare out the window, hoping to see our usual golden sun in the cold grey sky. It will be back soon.
On days like this, you can find me in the kitchen.. cooking, roasting, boiling, steaming, or baking something. Today it’s Tortilla Soup, the best dish on cold days like today. Made of this and that, the fried strips of tortillas function like a ranch style noodle, crispy until they are dunked in the hot, chile infused broth, becoming hearty and belly warming as we slurp up every spoonful.
If you are lucky enough to have a Vitamix blender, this recipe for Tortilla Soup is made easier in that you don’t have to meticulously strain out all of the chile seeds, and the chewy bits of chile pod skin, as in days of old. Simply remove the stem and seeds from the dried chile, boil until the chile is tender, and then blend with your broth. So incredibly easy, and miles better than canned soup.
If you don’t have a heavy-duty blender, you can simply add chile puree made the old-fashioned way, as explained here. But since I am a modern, busy lady, I’m using my blender to make my Classic Tortilla Soup. My valuable time is needed elsewhere, sitting in my comfy chair, wrapped in a moth-eaten shawl, sipping coffee, and watching the drips as they fall from the grey sky.
12 – 20 tortillas, cut into thin strips
Vegetable Oil for frying
2 dried chile pasilla
2 dried chile ancho
4 quarts defatted chicken broth (4 lt)
4 tomatoes, chopped (about 1 lb/500 gr)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro (4 gr)
Toppings (prepare in advance):
1 lb (500gr) oz pkg queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled
3 – 4 avocados, sliced
1 cup (240 ml) mexican sour cream (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles, and break the chiles into pieces. Set aside.
Heat vegtable oil in a large 10″ skillet. Add the strips of tortillas, and fry over medium heat until crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove from the vegetable oil, and drain the strips on paper toweling. Add the pieces of dried chiles, and fry very briefly, for 5 to 10 seconds. Remove the chiles from the vegetable oil, and place in the container of a blender.
Add 4 cups (1lt) of chicken broth to the container of the blender, along with the tomatoes, onion and garlic. Puree well until smooth, adding as much of the remaining chicken broth needed to facilitate blending. Pour the puree into a 6 qt stock pot, along with any remaining chicken broth. Heat until simmering, salt to taste, and add cilantro. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Fry tortilla strips in vegetable oil, until crispy. Serve soup in individual bowls, or in a large tureen. Serve all toppings and tortilla strips in separate dishes, so that each person can garnish their soup to their liking.
If you have time to make the Tortilla Soup one day in advance, the flavor will be more robust and developed. However, it would be better to fry the tortilla strips right before serving the soup. Simply fry the chiles briefly, remove the vegetable oil from the heat, and leave in the skillet overnight until you are ready to fry the tortilla strips the next day. This is what I do, although some may not like having a skillet of frying oil sitting around the kitchen.
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