The summer I lived in LA, I was a total sucker for California Pizza Kitchen. Their Spinach Artichoke Dip and BBQ Chicken Pizza were a surefire way of assimilating into So-Cal culture—discussing the deliciousness of these items provided the same kind of bonding experience as complaining about the subway humidity in New York when the temperature climbed over 90 degrees in June. But while I squandered a good many of my days’ calories on these items at lunchtime, it was the tortilla soup that really became one of my cravings—and the tortilla soup that makes me wish there was a CPK on every corner of Manhattan too.
It’s no secret that apart from food trucks in the outer boroughs, Mexican cuisine in New York leaves us wanting. And it leaves me wanting tortilla soup. I’ll admit that CPK’s version wasn’t the finest LA had to offer, but it was a decent standby, and I have yet to find an adequate replacement in New York outside of my own kitchen.
My tortilla soup may be no more authentic than CPK’s, but this vegetarian version is so easy, it might as well be fast food. Instead of using fresh or canned tomatoes, jalapenos, and plenty of spices, I take a little shortcut by pureeing a jar of my favorite salsa and using that as my rich, zesty tomato base. It’s also an excellent trick for this time of year, as Cinco de Mayo doesn’t exactly coincide with tomato season.
The best thing about tortilla soup (like chili) is that many accouterments can be served alongside it. If there are vegetarians in your crowd, make this soup the centerpiece of your Cinco de Mayo celebration, and fill the table with diced avocado, shredded cheese, and plenty of extra tortilla strips.
From my kitchen, channeling So-Cal CPK love, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
Makes 2-4 servings
This version tastes great with chicken as well. Simply substitute chicken stock for veggie, and add 1 cup shredded chicken when you add the corn. Lime wedges are a classic accompaniment. But the salsa in this version adds a good amount of acid to the soup, so taste before you decide to lime it up.
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 16-ounce jar medium salsa (I like Green Mountain Gringo)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro stems
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
Two 8-inch tortillas, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 avocado, diced (optional)
1/4 cup jack or mild cheddar cheese (optional)
1 limes, cut into wedges (optional)
In a medium Dutch oven, saute the onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the cumin, and saute for another 2 minutes until fragrant.
In the meantime, puree the salsa and cilantro stems in a small food processor. Add to the pan along with the veggie stock and the salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and the beans. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes, until the rice is tender. Stir in the corn and the cilantro, and taste for seasoning.
Preheat the broiler.
Toss the tortillas with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Broil in the oven until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
Ladle the soup into bowls or mugs, and top with the tortilla strips, lime wedges, avocado and cheese (if using). Enjoy!