Vegetarian tortilla soup with miso

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


I’ve tried to make vegetarian 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 more Mexican than Japanese. Everyone in our family really likes this soup, including five-year-old Alma.

I’ve been making this recipe for over ten years now, and over the years I’ve altered the original recipe a bit. I no longer remove the garlic cloves from the broth–they’re one of our favorite parts! I also add more veggies to bulk the soup up a bit. Still, the soup is not super filling, so I usually serve it with something starchy and bland like brown rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and smashed
  • 3 to 4 cups bite-sized broccoli florets (originally 2 cups florets, but I typically use one ~500g head)
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup coarsely chopped leaves plus the stems for the broth)
  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced thin on the bias (originally 1 medium carrot)
  • 6 corn tortillas or (an unknown amount of) corn tortilla chips, crumbled
  • 1 large ripe avocado, sliced
  • 2 limes (1 for juicing and 1 for cutting into wedges)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (with its seeds), sliced into very thin rings
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup white miso (use a bit less if you’re using red miso)

Instructions:

  1. Smash and peel the garlic cloves and cut up the broccoli. Wash your cilantro and cut off the stems.
  2. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, combine 6 cups of water, the smashed garlic cloves, and the cilantro stems. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. While the broth is simmering, slice your carrot and jalapeño. Slide your avocado and put it in a small bowl. Juice 1 lime and toss the avocado pieces with the lime juice. Divide the avocado among 4 soup bowls.
  4. When the broth is done simmering, remove the cilantro stems (and the garlic cloves if you want, but I say leave them in!). Add the carrot and simmer for 1 minute, then add the broccoli and jalapeño and simmer over medium heat for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp-tender. (The jalapeños lose most of their heat in the soup, but if you have an extremely spice-averse family member, you can instead put the jalapeños in a small bowl and pour a little hot broth over them. The hot broth will most of the spice out of them, and just leave the flavor.)
  5. While the veggies are cooking, place 1/3 cup of miso in a small bowl. Add a little of the hot soup broth and stir with a spoon until the miso becomes creamy and all the lumps have dissolved. When the veggies are done, take the pot off the heat and transfer the miso to the soup. Taste and add more miso if needed.
  6. Ladle the soup into the 4 soup bowls (with avocado in them) and garnish with cilantro. Sprinkle crispy fried tortilla strips over the bowls (or corn chips if like us you don’t have access to fresh corn tortillas). Serve immediately, with extra lime wedges.

My detailed notes:

The broth: 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.  I’m not sure it actually adds much. But since you need the leaves for the soup, you might as well throw the stems in the broth I guess. Berley says to remove the garlic from the broth and discard, but we think the whole garlic cloves are very tasty. Leave them in the soup!

The veggies: The vegetables cooked in the soup are broccoli, carrots, and jalapeño.  Adding broccoli and carrots to tortilla soup is not traditional, but they both went well with the other flavors.

Tortilla chips: Berley has you fry fresh corn tortilla strips in oil until crisp. He says it should take about 5 minutes, and then has you drain them on paper towels and then lightly season them with salt. I can’t get corn tortillas, here in Germany so I have never tried the recipe that way. I did once try the recipe using wheat tortillas.  The homemade tortilla strips were tasty but pretty rich tasting.  Normally I throw in a few strips of commercial corn chips.  Between the avocado and tortilla chips the soup tastes quite rich.  The corn chips aren’t as good as freshly-fried corn tortillas, but they add the right corn/oil taste, and are much simpler. 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.

Miso type and amount: Berley calls for 6 cups of water and 1/2 cup of white miso, but says you can substitute red miso to “bring it up a notch.” Personally, I find 1/2 cup of red miso to be unbearably salty. I usually use about 1/3 cup of red miso and 1/2 cup of white miso.

Servings: I find that this recipe makes about 6 bowls of soup. If you make only 4 bowls out of the 6 cups of broth they are *large* meal-sized bowls.

Timing: If you don’t fry your own tortilla strips, this recipe can definitely be made in under 30 minutes.

Kid-friendliness: Alma always calls this soup “taco soup,” which always cracks me up. When we add tortilla chips to salad we call it “taco salad”, so I guess it makes sense, but it just sounds so funny to me. She’s always happy when I make “taco soup” for dinner. I was a bit surprised that she liked it so much. I think it helped that she already knew and loved regular Japanese miso soup, she eats both carrots and broccoli happily, and she loves tortilla chips. (She doesn’t yet eat the garlic, jalapeño, or cilantro. She picks the garlic cloves out and doles them out to us.)

Menu suggestions: Berley includes this soup in a menu with a medley made from white rice, kidney beans, green peas, and cheese.  The rice and beans dish was reasonably tasty, but pretty rich and not that exciting.  It’s mildness was a reasonable foil to the flavorful 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. For a quick weeknight dinner, I usually serve this soup with just brown rice, and sometimes a side of black beans or refries, if I have some cooked already. I’m still trying to figure out the optimal menu to go with this soup, both for an everyday kind of weekday dinner and for a fancier, having-guests-over-on-the-weekend kind of meal.

Notes from original attempt, May 2009:

I liked this soup a lot. I’d definitely make it again.

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!

Update July 18, 2020:

I made this soup tonight for Alma for the first time, and at first she was very upset that I wasn’t making “normal” miso soup with seaweed, tofu, and scallions. She said she wouldn’t eat it. She saw the bowl with avocado and tortilla chips in it and ran away with it, so I wouldn’t add soup to it. So I served her soup separately, and didn’t add any jalapeños or cilantro to her bowl. She ended up putting the avocado and chips into her bowl, but added the chips one at a time so they wouldn’t get so soggy. It was a good strategy, especially given how slow she eats. In the end she was happy with the soup, despite her initial reservations. I think I will add it to our regular meal rotation.

2 Comments

  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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