Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile, Fresh Cheese, and Avocado Recipe

If you’ve enjoyed your fair share of cookies and sweet treats, not to mention chips with dip and other snacks this holiday season, a healthy bowl of flavorful soup is probably sounding really good at this point. It’s prime soup-simmering season.

A small bowl of tortilla soup is a great way to begin a meal, but this soup is satisfying enough to be the main attraction. Though both the dried pasilla chile and epazote could be left out, the soup would lack that inimitable Mexican stamp, notes Mexican food expert Rick Bayless, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. Many cooks use dried ancho chile, which is more readily available in the United States than pasilla. Epazote adds a rustic, Mexican flavor, he notes, but you’ll still like the soup made without it. Stay warm!

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile, Fresh Cheese, and Avocado

Serves 6 as a first course, 4 as a light main dish

6 corn tortillas
vegetable oil for frying
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 small white onion, sliced
2 dried pasilla chiles (or 1 dried ancho), stemmed, seeded, and torn into several flat pieces
1 14.5-oz. can whole tomatoes in juice, drained
6 c. chicken broth
1 large sprig fresh epazote, if available
6 oz. Mexican queso fresco, feta, or other crumbly fresh cheese, cut into 12-inch cubes
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 12-inch cubes
1 large lime, cut into wedges

Cut tortillas in half, then into 14-inch strips. In a medium-large saucepan, heat 12 inch of oil over medium heat until shimmering (not smoking). Add half of the tortilla strips. Cook, stirring, until golden-brown and crispy. With a slotted spoon, scoop out tortilla strips and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Pour off all but a thin coating of hot oil from the saucepan and return to heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out garlic and onion, pressing them against side of pan to leave behind as much oil as possible. Transfer garlic and onion to a blender or food processor.

Add chile pieces to pan. Cook, turning quickly, for about 30 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set pan aside.

Add tomatoes to blender or food processor containing garlic and onion, and process to a smooth purée. Set sauce- pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add purée and cook, stirring, until it has thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add broth and epazote (if using), bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, divide cheese and avocado among soup bowls. Ladle broth into each bowl, top with tortilla strips, and crumble on a little toasted chile. Serve with lime wedges.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.