by Betsy DiJulio, The Blooming Platter
I would love Southwestern cuisine even if I didn’t hail from Texas. But I was born in Dallas, so my love affair began almost at birth. Big D is home to the ultra-luxe Mansion on Turtle Creek, where I’ve never so much as darkened the door. Nonetheless, this recipe was inspired by the hotel’s former longtime executive chef, Dean Fearing. Beginning in the 1980s, he built his reputation on elevating Southwestern cooking to haute cuisine.
When I started craving a soup with a corn tortilla base, I turned to my very stained copy of Fearing’s Tortilla Soup recipe, which was published in October 1987. Replacing the chicken stock with veggie stock and omitting the chicken strip and cheese toppings makes the soup vegan. Still, though, I wanted to boost the vitamin quotient and add more flecks of color. Thinking about what fillings I love in burritos and enchiladas, spinach came to mind. And so was born Tortilla-Spinach Soup.
One of the things I love most about Fearing’s recipe is the way he thickened it naturally using cooked-down corn tortillas along with onion and tomato purées. So, I tinkered with the ingredients and proportions just a little, but added big handfuls of fresh chopped spinach. And while Fearing strains his soup, I can’t imagine removing all that lovely texture, so I leave it just as it is.
Vegan Tortilla-Spinach Soup
4 Tbsp. canola or corn oil
8 corn tortillas (not flour), coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. minced fresh epazote (our grocery store stocks it, but if you can’t find it, you can omit it or substitute cilantro and the soup will be delicious with a slightly different flavor)
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup yellow onion purée (about 1/4 of a very large onion—purée in food processor until almost smooth)
1 cup petite diced tomatoes in juice (you can substitute 1 cup fresh tomato purée if tomatoes are in season)
1 Tbsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
6-7 cups vegetable or faux chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 oz. fresh ready-to-eat baby spinach, coarsely chopped (to chop in food processor, divide into about 4 batches, depending on the size of your processor; overloading will result in unevenly chopped spinach)
•Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the tortillas and epazote, stirring very frequently, until soft, seasoning to taste with a little salt.
•Raise the temperature to medium-high and add the onion purée and tomatoes. Bring to a gentle boil.
•Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and stock and bring to a boil again.
•Reduce heat and simmer. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes.
•Just before serving, stir in the spinach and heat through. Serve in bowls and garnish as desired.
Optional: Garnish with vegan sour cream, fresh lime slices, fresh red pepper strips, and toasted pumpkin seeds (I toast them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for just a few minutes).
Makes 6 servings