Our honeymoon, which seems like a lifetime ago, was easily the best week of my life. We left for Puerto Vallarta two days after our wedding, in the middle of July.
Mexico? In the summer? Yep.
It was hot, humid and rained every day. But the rain was usually over by noon, and we were busy waking up slow and drinking our coffee until around then, anyway.
We spent afternoons on walks or horseback rides through the jungle. Early evenings were for margaritas, consumed at the swim-up bar. (It was on this trip that Pepe, the caretaker of the family villa, taught me how to get my friends stinking drunk on a concoction that deceptively tastes like it contains very little alcohol. I warn them, I always warn them, but they suck down the first one and beg for more. I’m a good hostess. I comply. I’m called evil the next day.)
Because Ed’s parents paid for our groceries and our lodging was free, we decided that when we ate out, we were going to eat fabulously. And we did. One of our favorite meals was at La Palapa, in the romantic district.
I don’t remember my entree because the soup overshadowed everything. It was my virgin tortilla soup voyage, so I had no idea that they can be heavy, overspiced affairs. This one was light, refreshing and vegetarian.
When I got home, I spent hours scouring the Internet for a recipe close to what we’d tasted. Turns out, it was the most simple one I found, with just a few ingredients, that brought me to that place, that humid, breezy hut that smelled of seawater and chili peppers.
In the summer, I like it just the way La Palapa serves it, with a light vegetable broth and without meat. But this weekend, being that it’s still cold in this godforsaken tundra, I used chicken stock and some shredded chicken to make it a little more hearty. Tortilla soup must be served with plenty of accoutrements, like sliced ripe avocados, chopped cilantro and crema or sour cream. And of course, crispy tortilla strips. I bake them, which admittedly isn’t that authentic, but it’s easier than spattering oil all over my kitchen and more healthful. And I think they add the required crunch to the soup.
One more thing — you MUST make your own stock or broth for this soup to work. It’s just not worth it to use the canned variety, no matter how high-quality it is.
Kick-Ass Tortilla Soup
6 – 6 inch corn tortillas
2-3 tsp chili powder (I prefer Ancho, but to each their own. Just please use pure powder.)
1 large poblano chili
1 tsp cumin
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups vegetable broth (or chicken stock if you’re making chicken version)
2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes
juice of one lime
Tortilla strips you make below; sliced ripe avocado; sour cream or mexican crema; chopped cilantro; cotija cheese. (Use whichever ones you like — it’s a customizeable thing.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 4 tortillas into matchstick-size strips. Arrange on baking pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt; toss. Bake 15 minutes, or until crisp.
Char poblano over gas stovetop or under broiler until black. Put that beautiful little sucker in a plastic bag for about 10 minutes. Take it out and peel. Seed and chop it into 1/2 inch pieces.
Cut 4 tortillas into 1 inch pieces. Heat oil. DO NOT SKIMP ON OIL. Cook tortillas until crips and golden, stirring occassionally, about 15 minutes. Add poblano, onion and garlic, saute 2 minutes, or until onions are soft. Add cumin and remaining chili powder to taste. Sautee another minute. Add broth and tomatoes. Bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add chicken, if using, and lime juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.
Stare into the eyes of your dining companion, certain that you’ve found true love.