Jan 18, 2008

Sopa de Lima

I love tortilla-style soup. Rich chicken broth with a bright lime kick. Topped with avocado, it's so clean tasting. Problem? Tortilla soup also usually includes a shot of bright red chile powder. That just muddies up the whole thing for me. I've been looking for a bowl of clear broth with all the trimmmings, here in Austin. I've sampled tortilla soups all over town and usually been disappointed. My friend, Jen, who has traveled all over Mexico, said the soup I'm looking for reminds her of soup she's had in Mexico City. Very fresh, clear chicken broth with lots of lime, but no chile powder.

Heidi Swanson's mention of the Doña Tomás cookbook on her blog, 101Cookbooks, turned me onto a wonderful cookbook and the soup I've been looking for, Sopa de Lima.

Doña Tomás, a Mexican restaurant in Oakland, serves what they call "Cal-Mex" celebrating Oaxaca, Veracruz, and the Yucatan, but without the blandness of California Mexican and also its greasiness.

I got excited by their cookbook because its got all the flavors of Mexico but with more emphasis on freshness and produce than the usual grease and carb-fest you usually think of with Tex-Mex. It's big flavor, but not so heavy.

I did a version of this soup using stock made from our Thanksgiving turkey. But chicken stock will work just as well. I also added avocado on top and some mini sweet peppers for a little more color. When you slice them, their little rings make a tasty confetti.

This is great with their mushroom-asparagus quesadilla on the side. (Recipe soon.)

It turned out to be exactly what I've been looking for. And perfect to warm you on a cold, winter day.

1 1/2 quarts chicken (or turkey) stock
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 white onion, diced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 - 1 jalapeño, chopped, with or without seeds, depending on how hot you like it
2-3 ripe, heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
6 mini or 1 regular-sized orange/yellow/red bell pepper, sliced or chopped
juice of 2 limes
1 bunch cilantro, chopped (I used the stems too)
1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
corn tortilla chips
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks with a shot of lime juice
more lime wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat stock up to a simmer on the back of the stove.

In another pot, heat the oil over high heat, add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add jalapeño, tomatoes and peppers and sauté another few minutes.

Stir in lime juice and half the cilantro. Remove from heat.

Pour the heated broth into the pot of vegetables. Put over high heat until it boils. Add salt to taste, reduce heat to medium and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until flavors come together.

Add the shredded chicken and simmer until chicken is warmed through.

Serve topped with cilantro and avocado, with chips on the side.

Serves approximately 4.

Adapted from the Doña Tomás cookbook.

Postscript from Jen:
After reading this post, Jennifer followed up to say that in Mexico City, tortilla soup was often served alongside a collection of dishes filled with toppings so you could add what you wanted. The broth was in a bowl with the chicken and maybe some garlic and onion. But you decide how much of the crispy tortilla strips, cilantro, crema, lime, more onion, avocado and sometimes, bits of dried chile you want. She said you could "call upon your inner soup artiste" to put it together. Fun.

"The soup there was pure and clean... and clear. When you threw your chunks of avocado in, it was like throwing stones in a stream. You could see them. You could also really, really taste them. You could taste everything both separately, and together - that's what they get wrong most of the time here in Texas."

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