Monday, December 8, 2008

Sopa Azteca (Mexican Tortilla Soup)

Not a week goes by where we don’t talk about Mexico. Places we went to, people we met, food that we ate. Memories of that amazing country have been branded onto our hearts, and we long always to get back there.

The most beautiful dishes we ate there have been hard to recreate back in Melbourne for reasons involving both ingredients and equipment. One thing we are quite happy with though, is our version of Sopa de Tortilla, also known as the infinitely more exotic 'Sopa Azteca'. This soup is often served as the small first course of the comida corrida (the set lunch menu offered at restaurants all over Mexico) and there are about as many versions as there are restaurants. At its most basic, it is a rich and earthy chicken broth poured over fried strips of tortilla and anything from chunked avocado, to cubed cheese is added to garnish. We loved it so much that we eat it now in a bigger version as a main meal, like a kind of Mexican incarnation of those big Vietnamese noodle soups with the best of every version we encountered. It's the ultimate use of leftovers if you’ve had roast chicken for dinner the night before or if you’ve got a couple dry tortillas hanging about. But it is so good, it is totally worth making from scratch – and we often do.

Sopa Azteca
This will make 4 entrée-sized soups or 2 large bowls.

2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
3 – 4 corn tortillas, cut into strips
1/3 cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
1 medium-sized brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock, flavoured with clove, thyme and allspice
Salt and pepper
Chiles chipotles en adobo (1 chile for each serve)*
1 avocado
½ - 1 cup of shredded cooked chicken
½ cup roughly chopped coriander leaves
Fresh lime

Place tomatoes in a cast iron frying pan or grill pan on medium heat for 12 – 15 minutes until skin blackens and begins to split. The tomatoes should also have softened a little. Remove and when cool enough to handle, remove skins and puree in blender.

Heat oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add tortilla strips and fry, turning, until all strips are crispy and lightly golden. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.

Tip remaining oil into a large saucepan (or stockpot) and add onion. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the garlic and then the tomato puree and fry for around 10 minutes to thicken and concentrate.

Add the chicken stock, bring to boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes, then season to taste.

Divide tortilla strips, chicken, avocado, chicken and coriander into serving bowls. Add one chile per bowl. Ladle hot broth over the mixture and add lime juice to taste.

*Chiles chipotles en adobo are smoked Mexican jalapeños in special chile sauce. They are available canned from Casa Iberica in Fitzroy or online from U.S.A. Foods.

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