Tortilla Soup

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 1 hour

Usually cobbled together from leftovers, and truly one of the best uses for stale tortillas, this is delicious and fortifying enough to warrant the limelight. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the soup is at its best 5 or 10 minutes after you add the crisp fried tortillas, when they’re pliable but not yet soft. At this point, they have an inimitable, almost meaty texture.

You could substitute one 28-ounce can of tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes and skip Step 3; out of season it’s probably your best option. The garnishes, you’ll note, are all optional; it’s nice to have all of them, but none is essential

1/2 cup peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

6 corn tortillas (stale are fine), cut into 1/2-inch strips

Salt

2 fresh chiles, preferably poblano, or 2 dried ancho chiles

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

11/2 pounds tomatoes

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch dried oregano or epazote

1 quart water or vegetable stock

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish (optional)

1 cup queso fresco or Monterey Jack, cubed for garnish (optional)

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced for garnish (optional)

1 or 2 radishes, thinly sliced for garnish (optional)

1/2 carrot, grated on the biggest holes of a box grater for garnish (optional)

01 Heat the broiler. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (about 350В°F), begin to fry the tortilla strips in batches until golden brown and crisp, turning after a minute or two, for a total of 2 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels, season each batch with a pinch of salt, and set aside. Wait a minute between batches to let the oil return to 350В°. (If you’re using ancho chiles in the soup, fry them for 30 seconds each in this oil before proceeding to the next step.)

02 Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Turn the heat to medium and cook the garlic and onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and softened, about 10 minutes.

03 Meanwhile, arrange the tomatoes and poblano chiles in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and broil a few inches from the heat until charred on one side, then flip them over with tongs and char the other side, about 5 to 8 minutes total. Skin, stem, and seed the chiles (see Everyday Dried Chiles).

04 Add the tomatoes and chiles to the pan with the onion and garlic and crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of oregano; add the water and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, crushing the tomatoes from time to time. (You can prepare the soup up to this point in advance, then let it sit for a few hours or cover and refrigerate for up to a day before proceeding. Store the tortilla chips in an airtight container if you’re waiting more than 4 or 5 hours.)

05 Cool the soup slightly. Using an immersion blender or an upright blender (be careful to avoid spattering), pure the mixture until smooth. Return to the stove over medium heat, stir in the fried tortillas, and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with any or all of the garnishes and serve.