Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

May 19, 2009 at 4:57 pm (A minus, Cruciferous rich, Mexican & S. American, Miso, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, soup)

I’ve tried to make tortilla soup before, and although I don’t know exactly what the chicken-based version tastes like, I know that I’ve never achieved it.  Recently, however, I tried a recipe for tortilla soup from Peter Berley’s cookbook “Fresh Food Fast.”  The key innovation is that he uses a miso broth instead of a simple vegetable broth.  I thought it would be strange–miso soup with lime in it–but it was delicious, and tasted like (what I imagine) tortilla soup is supposed to taste like.  It definitely tasted Mexican rather than Japanese.

  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and smashed
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup coarsely chopped leaves plus the stems for the broth)
  • 6 corn tortillas or ??? corn tortilla chips, crumbled
  • 1 large ripe avocado, sliced
  • 2 limes (1 for juicing and 1 for cutting into wedges)
  • 2 cups bite-sized broccoli florettes
  • 1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced thin on the bias
  • 1 jalepeno pepper (with its seeds), sliced into very thin rings
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup red or white miso

For precise instructions buy the cookbook!

Berley makes a simple broth with a head of garlic (cloves smashed but not peeled), and the stems from a bunch of cilantro.  I tasted the broth and I could definitely taste the garlic, but the cilantro was pretty subtle.  Then vegetables are added to the soup and cooked until crisp-tender, and then the miso and cilantro are mixed in.  Finally, tortilla strips and lime-soaked avocado are spooned into each bowl.

The vegetables cooked in the soup are broccoli, carrots, and jalepeno.  Adding broccoli and carrots to tortilla soup is not traditional, but they both went well with the other flavors.  The jalapeno I had from my mother’s garden was hot but not too hot.  Berley’s recipe says to fry strips of corn tortillas, but we can’t get corn tortillas in Germany so we used wheat tortillas.  They were tasty but pretty rich tasting.  Between the avocado and tortilla chips the soup was quite rich.  I think the soup would be very tasty even without the tortilla chips, and more of an everyday kind of meal, rather than a special-occasion soup.  The second time I made the soup I threw in a few strips of commercial corn chips.  They weren’t as good as freshly-fried corn tortillas, but they added the right corn/oil taste, and were much simpler.

The main problem I have with the recipe is that it calls for 6 cups of water and 1/2 cup of white miso.  Berley says you can substitute red miso to “bring it up a notch.”  I’m not sure how salty white miso is, but 1/2 cup of red miso in that much soup would be unbearably salty.  I added 1/4 cup of red miso to start and the soup was salty but tasty.  More would have definitely made the soup too salty, however.  The second time that we made the soup, we didn’t think 1/4 cup of miso was quite enough, so I had Derek add another 2 Tbs.  On our second try the recipe made about 6 bowls of soup.

If you don’t fry your own tortilla strips, this recipe can definitely be made in other 30 minutes.  Berley includes it in a menu with a medley made from white rice, kidney beans, green peas, and cheese.  The dish was reasonably tasty, but pretty rich and not that exciting.  It’s mildness was a reasonable foil to the intense soup, but both dishes were quite rich.  I would have paired the soup with a lighter bean dish and more vegetables.  I’m not sure I would make the bean dish again, although Derek liked it more than me.  I was impressed that the two dishes together took exactly an hour to make (and mostly clean up from).  If I made the menu again, I could probably do it in under an hour.  The second time I made this soup I paired it with a black bean salad–highly seasoned black beans over a lettuce, tomato, and pepper salad.  It was a reasonable combination but I didn’t get the recipe quite right.  I was trying to recreate the black bean salad at La Feria in Pittsburgh, but I failed.

I’ll definitely make this soup again, especially if I can get my hands on jalepenos, corn tortillas, and ripe avocados.

Rating: A-

Update December 15, 2009:

We made this soup last night, doubled, and I used 1/4 cup red miso and 1/4 cup white miso.  I thought the salt level was perfect.  We had 6 people for dinner and everyone had one smallish-bowl plus a second even smaller bowl, and I ended up with about 3 cups of soup left.  The two avocados I cut up were almost entirely eaten, however.  We used corn chips and they were perfectly fine. Along with the miso soup I served black bean and sweet potato burritos with salsa, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Derek made margaritas and our guests brought two bottles of wine.  It was a lot of food and drink!



  1. Cookbook review: Rancho la Puerta « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] looked nice, but the taste was quite boring.  It just didn’t have any distinctive flavors. Peter Berley’s non-traditional miso tortilla soup is much, much […]

  2. What I’ve been eating lately « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] and served black bean and zucchini quesadillas (one of Derek’s favorites) with a salad and miso tortilla soup (with avocados and lime and […]

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