Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good Garnish

While I grew up in a Mexican-American family, Tortilla Soup was never on menu at my house. I first had it at the chain restaurant El Torito. And I’ve liked it ever since. I found a great recipe for it in the Los Angeles Times, but lost it years ago. So when I was craving a rich, steaming bowl of tortilla soup I had to develop my own recipe.

I know red bell peppers aren’t in season, but I was able to make good use of the Persephone Farm onions, shallot and garlic I had in the “root cellar.” Plus, I had some delicious corn tortillas freshly made at the Mexican bakery in my neighborhood. Nothing beats a good fresh corn tortilla. When I was little my dad would only eat tortillas from La Central bakery. Sometimes my Aunt Esther would make them at home and that was even better. So I never ate the pale imitations of corn tortillas sold at the grocery store until I was an adult and didn’t make the extra trip to the panadería. I’m so happy I live close to one now!

The ingredients that make this soup subtly smoky are the roasted red peppers, cumin and pimentón — a specialty Spanish paprika. It’s so flavorful you only need a little. Don’t try to swap it for regular paprika; it just won’t taste the same.

The fun of tortilla soup is the garnishes. I love to add Cotija cheese (a crumbly cow’s milk cheese) for the saltiness, avocado for it’s silky texture, tortilla chips for crunch, and cilantro for a hit of freshness. But you can play around and add other toppers such as sour cream or leftover roast chicken.

Tortilla Soup
Serves 6 or more

2 red bell peppers, roasted with blackened skin, seeds and stem removed (see link below for instructions)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ cup shallot, chopped
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon pimentón, Spanish smoked paprika (I used sweet pimentón)
1 14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes
6 cups homemade chicken stock
4 corn tortillas, torn into pieces

Optional garnishes
Cotija cheese, crumbled
Tortilla chips, store bought or homemade
Cilantro, chopped
Avocado, sliced
Sour cream

Heat olive oil in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic, shallot, onions and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add cumin, oregano and pimentón, stirring for about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, roasted red peppers and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Stir in tortillas. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Fish out the bay leaf and discard. Allow to cool just slightly, and then use an immersion blender to blend soup until it is smooth. Return pot to heat to bring back to desired temperature.

Garnish each serving with your choice of toppings. Enjoy!

How to Roast Red Peppers


  1. I wish we were still next door neighbors.

  2. I remember your "tasting" it at the El Torito Restaurant and then you came home and replicated it! Wow, what a taste memory.