Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

The first time I tried tortilla soup, I was working a crumby job that happened to be within walking distance from only one other business - a teeny Mexican restaurant about the size of a Rally's. Its parking lot seemed to be ten times larger than the place itself, yet I hardly saw a single car parked. One summer day, having forgotten my lunch, I decided to visit this mysterious food trailer. I approached the screen door, fingers crossed, hoping that they'd have something vegetarian, but hungry enough to close my eyes and eat whatever they gave me anyway.

The Mexican girl at the counter, maybe she was 12. She wore a Hello Kitty tank top and what appeared to be boys' swimming trunks. I didn't see anyone else, and I imagined her to be the youngest taco mogul in the world, spending all of her fortune on stickers and ring pops and glitter nail polish. Vegetarian? She stared vacantly, her mouth always open. Tortilla soup, she pointed at a chalkboard, totally unimpressed by me. I held out three dollars while she paused to press her greasy bangs against her head, securing them with a frog hair clip with hot-glued googly eyes. Tortilla soup was the special. I bought a soup and sat on the curb drinking my molten salsa from a styrofoam bowl. It was salty and thick from soggy chips. I ate it all. I liked it a lot.

I cooked this soup today. Here is the recipe I used:

Tortilla Soup (vegetarian version)

1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 can diced tomatoes (with juice)
2 cups frozen corn or three fresh ears of corn
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 small jalapeno
1 quart vegetable stock
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
kosher salt
lime juice

Things to float in soup:
sliced avocado
shredded cheese
baked tortilla chips

Heat a large soup pot to medium heat. Add oil, then onion, garlic, carrot, peppers and spices and cook until soft for about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, canned tomatoes and corn and stir for 2 minutes. Add vegetable stock and bring the pot to a simmer - about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Done.

While your soup is simmering, you can prepare your garnishes. I like sliced avocado, shredded cheese and of course, tortilla chips. For the chips, I brush small corn tortillas with safflower oil, cut them into 1/4 inch strips and arranged them on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle on coarse salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 3-4 minutes, until the chips are crispy and golden. I promise, these make the best nachos. Bagged tortilla chips are for the birds.

For the soup pictured, I attempted to make my own tortillas from scratch. I think I can get it right with practice, but this was my fist try and although tasty, they were a bit thick and baked into a crumbly, crackery chip instead of a flaky and crispy one.


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