As of today, I have made an executive decision to start featuring recipes on this blog. I haven’t been writing about this much, but I love to cook. My little brother (age 24) recently graduated from college and I compiled our family’s favorite recipes, which got me thinking, “Well, maybe some other folks might like to use these as well.” In general, I will only share the recipes that I’ve been using for quite a while or about which I have particularly strong feelings. With that approach, the recipes readily fit into the California focus of this blog as my “family recipes,” are a combination of favorites from Sunset magazine (the western cook’s Bible), some Oklahoma faves from my mother, a handful of wine country favorites picked up in Sonoma, and recipes from Mexico and Asia, an eminently Californian mix, if you ask me.
To kick this off, I would like to share Diana Kennedy’s recipe for tortilla soup. I credit her, but this recipe is best characterized as Mexican patrimony, not so much a recipe as a Platonic ideal passed down through generations of Mexican mothers. It’s so delicious because it’s so simple – the perfect trifecta of tomatoes, corn and onions with the punch of cilantro. And you get to load on tons of delicious toppings.
For those who aren’t familiar with her, Diana Kennedy is to Mexico what Julia Childs is to France, in a way. The wife of a correspondent for the New York Times, she lived in Mexico for many years, going on to collect a huge compendium of traditional recipes from every nook and cranny of Mexico, an undertaking which vaulted her to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, an honor the Mexican government reserves for foreigners who give great service to the country. Many of the recipes in her books are so authentic, you’d be hard-pressed to readily duplicate them in your American kitchen, but I love trying anyway.
Here is her recipe, with some of my notes:
5 large ripe tomatoes or two 14 1/2 ounce cans of whole tomatoes, drained
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
6 springs cilantro
1/4 c. canola oil
2 quarts of chicken broth
2 cups of frozen corn kernels
Broil the tomatoes in the oven – I have done this with both fresh and canned tomatoes. Broil them until there are some burned patches, turning them a couple of times. This does wonders for enhancing the flavor and is a step you should not skip!! Toss the onion, cilantro and garlic in the blend. Drop in the tomatoes and blend until well-mixed but still with some rough texture. Heat the canola oil in your pot. Dump the tomato mixture on top – it will sizzle! Once it has darkened slightly, add the chicken broth and corn. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes and serve.
The toppings are key! I am a huge fan of the pasilla chiles, which are not terribly spicy and give an incredible rich flavor to the broth. **To make the tortilla strips, take corn tortillas (not flour) and cut them into 1/4 inch strips, laying them out on a flat cookie tin. Stick this in the broiler and keep a close eye on it, toasting for a few minutes until light brown and crispy. Flip the strips and toast for just a minute more. Careful- I’ve burned many batches of these. Alternately, you can crumble tortilla ships in the soup, but the strips are SO much better.
Crema (or sour cream)
Dried pasilla chiles, cut into strips