Tortilla Soup with Mexican Condiments

Like the beet and cabbage borschts of Eastern Europe and the minestrones of Italy, Mexico’s tortilla soup is a simple nourishing broth made from readily available ingredients. Tomatoes, chilies, onions, and chicken broth along with the ubiquitous tortilla, all play a starring role with a herbal hit of either cilantro or epazote, that pungent herb commonly added to bean dishes.

Leftover tortillas are first cut into matchstick pieces, fried and drained. Alternatively, dried tortillas can just be snapped into manageable pieces, fried or not.

A lone epazote (wormseed) plant has wintered over in my garden, and its time had come to be put to use. Epazote’s pungent aroma has been compared to petroleum and citrus, but I think it smells just like epazote. It grows easily and reseeds itself. I recommend anyone with a taste for Mexican cooking, trying planting some . You can use it in quesadillas, bean dishes and some moles – but I digress.
Ripe tomatoes or a quality canned variety are blended with white onion and garlic, and as with most Mexican recipes, the blended ingredients are then fried in a small amount of oil or lard to cook out any raw taste and to concentrate flavours.
Chicken stock is added, and I should note here, you can glean extra depth by using a roasted chicken stock or by roasting the tomatoes first.
While the soup is simmering with the added sprigs of epazote or cilantro, condiments are prepared to add to the soup before serving – and at table – should a person require extra heat or other flavour enhancement.
Commonly seen ingredients are avocado, chilie and a crumbly cheese, but lime wedges, crema, cilantro, chopped fresh chilies and even chicharron might be brought to the table for those who really want to guild the lily. Please note: there are NO corn niblets!
The version I made uses fried slivers of chilie pasilla. Also known as chilie negro, the chilie is split down the side with stem, veins and seeds removed. For those that don’t know, the veins of fresh or dried chilies contain just as much heat as the seeds.
I like to use scissors to snip the chilie into julienne pieces. Fry quickly in hot oil and drain. Set aside.
If you don’t have access to Mexican cheeses such as queso fresco or anejo, you can substitute feta or even grated parmesan. I like using feta. Lined up for action we have chopped jalapenos, crema, lime, feta, fried chilie pasilla and avocado to be cubed before serving.
Taste the broth, adding salt to taste. Remove the herb sprigs before serving.
To serve, stack tortilla strips and crumbled cheese in the middle of each bowl. Ladle the broth into the bowls. Top with cubed avocado, chilie pasilla and swirl in some crema (or whipped sour cream or creme fraiche).
The tortilla strips absorb the broth but still have some crunch, the avocado and the crema add richness, and the crispy chilie pasilla provide an earthy sweet note. You and your guests can add extras as you deem fit but really, sometimes less is more.
Buen provecho!
ETA: For anyone interested in growing epazote, seeds are available locally through Dig This or Westcoast Seeds.

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