Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that one of my favourite souvenirs to bring back from a trip is a recipe of a newly discovered dish. In Mexico over Christmas and New Year, Neil and I worked out way through a lot of soups – many many versions of chicken tortilla soup which we thoroughly enjoyed comparing, then a total standout soup which we enjoyed after a morning exploring the beautiful town of Pátzcuaro. Our guide, Carlos, who we were with the day before at the Monarch butterfly sanctuary, had told us not to eat during our time in Pátzcuaro since he knew “just the place” where we could enjoy a typical Michoacán specialty – soap tarasca. For those of you who are interested, I found a very comprehensive summary of the foods of Michoacán here).
The restaurant in question was located adjacent to a Pemex service station. We were a little dubious, until we entered and just knew that something good was about to happen…
And that soup? Well, like the restaurant, it didn’t look like much…
It’s even kinda ugly, right? (a side note here, some of the most delicious food isn’t the most attractive…). But one spoonful of its smokey, spicy goodness and I was hooked. I knew I had to recreate this at home. Made from a base of white beans and tomatoes, the excitement in this soup comes from the add-ins. That big dark thing? It’s an ancho chili (a dried poblano chili). The murky whiteness? It’s queso fresco. In the soup lurk tortilla chips – fresh corn tortillas fried and tossed in at the last minute to preserve their crispness. It’s what you would call an exciting tomato soup. Soup with texture. Soup with attitude.
I set about researching this soup and found many versions – both with and without the white beans. The soup I had enjoyed was most definitely made with white beans, and I really liked the texture they added to the soup – especially for a winter dish. I would definitely gravitate towards the version without beans for the summer. In the end, I adapted a couple of different recipes to recreate the soup I remembered.
You’ll see I substituted a few ingredients and have suggested other substitutions too, in case you can’t find all the ingredients where you live. Ancho chilis, though available in Toronto, were not within my reach the day I made this and besides, Neil and I are on a bit of a kick to use up the ingredients we already have in our overflowing pantry – so I used dried chipotle peppers. You really want something smokey as opposed to simply spicy…
Queso fresco might not be available in your area but you can probably get a fresh mozzarella. I recommend this over a harder cheese like, say feta, simply because the queso fresco adds some creaminess to the soup as it melts. Mozzarella will definitely add that creaminess without any overpowering flavour like a sharper cheese would.
adapted from The Spiced Life and MexConnect
6 tablespoons oil (I used olive)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium-sized dried ancho or chipotle chilies, soaked in a little boiling water for about 15 minutes, then drained
28 oz (791 mls) diced, canned tomatoes and their juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
4 cups (2 cups dry) cooked white beans and about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
salt to taste
fried corn tortilla strips (or you can use crushed up plain tortilla chips)
fried ancho chilies (again, soaked in boiling water then drained and lightly fried)
queso fresco, feta cheese or fresh mozarella
In a large, heavy saucepan or skillet, heat the oil and dry the onions, garlic and chilies until the onions and garlic are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, beans, stock and paprika and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Puree the soup with an immersion or regular blender. It’s a thicker style soup but it’s best if it is smooth, rather than lumpy.
Ladle the soup into the bowls. Add the cheese, chilies, tortilla and cilantro to taste. If you like you can sprinkle a touch of smoked paprika before serving.
An outstanding success (if I do say so myself LOL!). Creamy without being too rich, smokey and spicy without overpowering your tastebuds and comforting without wiighing you down, this soup tastes fresh and light, yet totally satisfies.
If you liked the gorgeous serving dishes the condiments are served on in this post, I have a great giveaway for you – Restaurantware.com is offering a $100 gift card for one lucky reader. Restaurantware can ship items worldwide!
To enter, simply email me with “My favourite soup” in the subject line and tell me what your favourite soup is. I need inspiration in this cold weather!
Bonus entry: Tweet the following message and send me a separate email letting me know you did:
I just entered to win a $100 gift card from @bambooware and @eatlivtravwrite. You can too! http://bit.ly/hJy9NT
Contest closes on Friday January 28th at 6pm EST.
(update: The contest is now closed – thanks for entering and congrats to Winnie from Healthy Green Kitchen!)