Tortilla Soup for 24 - june 2, 2010

Deborah Madison's tortilla soup recipe is a longtime favorite of mine. We meet up, the soup and I, from time to time, like childhood friends and reminisce about the old days. Back before my husband, way before the kids. Long ago when tortilla soup's cookbook cover was new and shiny and its pages white and pristine. 

When this year's first bunch of tomatoes appeared in the CSA box last week, along with avocados and some cilantro. I knew it was time to get together again. Soup is perfect for a big group on a cool evening, so with a little multiplication and extra tomatoes I made a small vat for our Memorial day camping trip, where our family was responsible for one third of two different meals for twenty-four people. 

Half of the people were children, all under the age of eight, I believe, so this was really more a kids camping trip than a relaxing romp in the woods for grown-ups. But the beautiful thing about camping with a large group of children is that they entertain themselves. They broke into two bands of roaming beasts, the four and five year old girls, and the seven and eight year old boys, and conquered the campsites. 

There was a stream, with roaring rapids and horsetails, freshly stocked with trout. There was lots of dirt, for digging and throwing and rolling in. There was a stretch of road and a few bikes, for riding and arguing over. And lots of gold, oh so much gold. We were all rich! 

As parents, we spent most of our time by the fire pit, where our weekend kitchen lay. There were lots of food centric people gathered together - a former caterer, a past restaurant cook, software geeks and a writer, all of whom liked to cook for their families. We got the fire going and feasted for three days.

We had a log of foie gras freshly smuggled from Paris. Quinoa salad and chicken grilled over the fire. Oatmeal and yogurt and crepes with a line of children reaching to the moon. Hummus (nearly entirely eaten by my son), polenta and more sausages than I've ever encountered before. And, of course, steaming bowls of tortilla soup.

Tortilla Soup: (adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

This recipe is more involved than what I usually cook, so I like to think of it as a labor of love. I actually managed to whip the whole thing up, times four, in about two and a half hours last friday morning, so it doesn't really take that long. This recipe serves four.

For the broth:

6 cups Red Stock (see recipe below)

2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (canola is my favorite)

1 1/2 onions, sliced into half inch rounds

2 jalapeno chilies

1 teaspoon chipotle chile (the dried, ground kind)


For garnishing the soup:

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 avocado, diced

tortilla chips

crumbled queso fresco cheese

1 lime, quartered

Start by making the red stock. You can prepare everything else while the stock simmers.

Preheat the broiler. Use half of the oil to toss the tomatoes, onions, garlic cloves and chilies. Put them on a cookie sheet and broil four to five inches below the heat. When the onions brown, turn them over and brown the other side. Remove the garlic when browned, and peel. Turn the tomatoes several times so that the skins pucker and brown. Remove vegetables as they finish cooking. When they are all done, puree them in a food processor -  remember to leave the top slot open so that it doesn't get too hot, explode and make a huge mess. This is why I don't like to use a blender for this - I'd rather not wait for the veggies to cool down before pureeing.

Heat the rest of the oil in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add the vegetable puree and cook, stirring until it thickens, about five minutes. Add the strained stock and simmer, partially covered, for thirty minutes. Stir in the chipotle chile and taste for salt, add more if needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls, then add the avocado, tortilla chips, and crumbled cheese. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with a lime wedge for squeezing into the soup.


Red Stock: (adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, sliced

2 celery ribs, sliced

2 carrots, sliced

5 white mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

6 garlic cloves

6 outer lettuce leaves

stems from 1 bunch cilantro

1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley

2 teaspoons salt

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned, about ten minutes. Add the tomato paste and mush it around the pan for a bit, then add the rest of the ingredients and two quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Strain the stock when finished.


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