Cooking with EL CHAVO!

How to make Vegetarian Tortilla Soup!
(Or Vegan!)

A major problem with eating out in Los Angeles is that your options for a good soup are limited. Either you can't find any on the menu, it's full of animal bits, or it's some gloopy "veg" soup with more cream than veggies. Get your shit together LA. Thus when I am in the mood for a nice satisfying and warming soup I head to my own kitchen. In this installment of my crappy cooking school I will show you how I throw together a decent tortilla soup, made to my liking.

The appeal of Tortilla soup is in the textures, the crunch of the crispy tortillas, the chunks of silky avocado, and the softening queso panela all melding together in a spicy broth. Its kinda fun to eat.

I like to keep it simple, unlike some of the crazy recipes I've seen online that add corn, bell peppers, beans, chard, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and all manner of spices. For some reason its the vegetarian recipes that are always adding way too much stuff. If you want to do that, go ahead, but I find it unnecessary.

Let's get started with the broth. I tend to use lots of chiles to make it thick and flavorful. As always, adjust to your taste. The above picture is what I used in one pot of soup but it always varies depending on what I have in the pantry. Trust me, it will come out as a decent meal even if you have a little less or you add a little bit more.

You do remember that I'm not a big fan of measurements, right? Usually my broth will consist of:
4-6 dry chiles Guajillos
2-4 dry chile Ancho aka Pasilla
3-5 tomatoes depending on size
1/2 a white onion
a nice handful of garlic cloves
maybe a fresh serrano to brighten the flavor

First we take the seeds and veins out of the dry chiles, that is where most of the heat is stored but we mostly want the flavors.

Then we quickly toast the chiles on a hot comal to release the aromas and oils for about a minute or two on each side, making sure not to burn them. If in doubt, pull it out.

Then you dunk them into a pot with hot water (you can just bring it to a boil and turn it off) and let them soak for about 20 minutes so they soften and will be easy to blend.

While we wait, why not get started on the tortilla strips?

Don't be a lazy bum and use some crappy tortilla chips from a bag, that will just not do. Instead get some real corn tortillas, cut them into strips...

...and fry them in some hot oil. I use corn oil, which seems reasonable since they are corn tortillas. Work in batches. Fry up as many strips as you think you'll need. Drain them on a paper towel lined plate to absorb the excess oil. You are done with the other main part of this soup so let's turn back to the broth.

Now that our chiles have softened I like to add the rest of my ingredients for the broth into the pot: the onion, garlic, serrano, and tomatoes and I turn the heat back on. I will let it boil for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to split.

Once they are cooked like this...

...I put it all in a blender and get it as smooth as possible. I usually do it in about 2 batches also using the water from the pot to make it easier to blend. Usually the water from the pot will be enough for the soup but you can add more if you need to thin it out.

Then we run it through a strainer to keep out all the nasty bits and seeds. It's all about the tasty broth!

You could use the same pot you were soaking the chiles in to cook the soup or just use another one. We add some of the oil into the heating pot.

Then we pour in the strained liquid, and maybe a bit more water if needed. As we bring it to a boil we can add our spices.

Since I didn't use vegetable stock I will add a vegetarian bouilllon cube or two to give it some depth or a similar veggie stock powder available at your local health food store. Here we can also add some extra salt, maybe a tiny dash of ground cumin (seriously, just a little, don't believe those that think all Mexican food is cumin and paprika), maybe a hit of black pepper. I always add some nutritional yeast for the vitamins and for the 'umami' but that's just me. I think that's pretty much covers it. Taste it and adjust accordingly. Bring it to a boil then turn it down and simmer it for about 15-20 minutes until you think its done. How do you know? Taste it fool!

Oh yeah, fry up a few extra chile anchos, these will make a nice topping on the soup. Get a dry chile...

...and cut it into rounds like this. Discard the seeds.

Fry them up quickly as you don't want them to burn. They will puff up right away and they are done. Strain them and put on a paper towel if you want as well.

Get all your toppings together. Here we see the tortilla strips, some cubed queso panela, diced avocados, the chile strips we just made, and some cut lime wedges for garnish. No need to put them into the soup pot, put them into your soup bowl. Obviously if you want it vegan skip the cheese or try a substitute. Let me know if you find a good vegan cheese that works in this.

Then you pour some of the broth over your dry ingredients. Do this at the last minute right before you will eat because the tortillas will start to soften and you want to eat while they are still crispy. I often take leftovers to work, keeping my dry ingredients in a ziplock bag and the soup in a separate container that I can heat up, mixing it all up at the last minute.

It is a very satisfying dish, tasty and comforting. And it is very easy to make. Give it a try.


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