Monday, April 4, 2011

Tortilla Soup

This may sound ridiculous to all you adventurous eaters out there, but I credit the beginning of my love for cooking and food to the California Pizza Kitchen.  That's right...  Not a semester with a family in the hills of France.  Not a backpacking trip through Asia.  Not a jovial Paula Deen-esque grandmother who cooked all the classics.  Nope, for me it was my three year stint as a waitress at CPK.  Corporate, chain-ey, California Pizza Kitchen.  You see, when you're waiting tables, you don't stop for meal breaks (at least we didn't).  You pilfer ends of loaves of bread from the slicer, grab a few gulps of water out of conical paper cups (having a water bottle in the kitchen was a health code violation), and if the kitchen makes a mistake, like chicken on a pizza when the guest said, "no chicken", you eat that mistake as fast as you possibly can.  So I discovered lots of deliciousness like balsamic vinaigrette, pesto sauce, and the insanely delicious wonder known as peanut sauce.


Oh.  And this soup.  At CPK, cups of soup were one of the few items that didn't have to be entered into a computer (and paid for).  So we'd all fill up on tortilla soup before a shift started, loading it up with crispy tortilla strips and lots of Cholula.  It's one of those food memories that instantly takes me back to those superhuman nights when I could work a 9 hour shift on my feet, and then close the bar next door with my cute coworker.

When I left the restaurant, I went on a tortilla soup mission, and was often disappointed.  It seems there are two camps when it comes to tortilla soup.  Some is thick, orange, and pureed, with little chunks of tomato, corn, and chile.  Some is more brothy, with bigger chunks of vegetables, and sometimes shredded chicken.  I sit squarely on team puree, and nearly jumped out of my skin when I found this recipe in Ann Gentry's Real Food Daily Cookbook.  It's the undisputed winner, rich and velvety in texture, with lots of corn, tomato, and onion flavor, served with the holy garnish trinity of tortilla strips, avocado, and cilantro.  Oh and don't forget the Cholula!

Taco night hasn't been the same since.  Oh and don't hesitate to make the whole batch.  It holds up really well in the fridge, and we've always finished the entire recipe.

Tortilla Soup
 Adapted just slightly from The Real Food Daily Cookbook by Ann Gentry

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups vegetable stock or water
1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
10 corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
1/4 finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup fried tortilla strips for garnish
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

Heat the oil in a heavy stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.  Add the jalapeno chile, tamari, cumin, salt, oregano, and pepper, and saute 1 minute longer.  Stir in the stock, tomatoes, and tomato paste.  Cover and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender.  Add the tortillas and simmer 10 minutes longer, until the tortillas are falling apart.

Using a handheld immersion blender, blend the soup in the pot until smooth.  Alternatively, working in batches, puree in a regular blender.  Stir in the cilantro.

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Garnish with the tortilla strips, avocado, cilantro, and serve with a generous splash of Cholula.


  1. I love that place myself, this looks so good and tasty.

  2. I've had many meals there. No shame in that! And, heck, you learned to love food there. I'm sure there are no regrets. Lovely recipe! xo

  3. great story, and now i want some soup :0)


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