I made this recipe the first time I went to West Virginia. Another student and I were selected to be the cooks for a group of photojournalism students at a workshop in Appalachia. Eighteen of us were jam packed into an 1800 square foot historic home with one bathroom, and I am not even sure how that old house didn't just fall down. Aside from cooking, my job was waking everyone up at the first sight of the sun by yelling the word "pancakes" at the top of my lungs. These were the days I wore a flower hairpiece I had crocheted for myself and made all my own clothes. At nineteen, I didn't know much about myself, but I really had no idea how much I loved cooking. When buying sandwich ingredients at the store on that trip, one of the students told me that not everyone loved extra sharp white cheddar, and I was mortified. This was only the beginning of what I did not know. Not to go all Oprah on you, but she wrote a book called What I Know For Sure. I'm going to write one called What I Definitely Do Not Know. Isn't it true that as you get older, the more you realize you don't know?
I made this Vegetarian Tortilla Soup for the group one night, and I've adapted it for years after, tweaking it one serrano at a time. One of the (in retrospect, lovely) workshop leaders tried and failed to get me to make my own broth for this soup. When cooking for 30 people, efficiency is everything, so store bought broth would have to do. Every time I make this recipe I remember that trip and want to tell my younger self so many things. I would tell myself to listen harder, to care more, to stop complaining dammit, and to look around you every once in awhile. There are so many things along the way that I have had to learn the hard way and when I look back, I see so many signs that I ignored that were pointing me in the right direction. But here I am, no worse for the wear, and I still have that tortilla soup recipe to remind me to pay attention when the world shows you something.
This recipe is so easy, so it's great for a weeknight dinner. I also highly recommend topping with avocado to give it some nice texture and a little extra flavor.
VEGETARIAN TORTILLA SOUP RECIPE
6 corn tortillas, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
1 serrano or jalapeno, diced
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 quart vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 four ounce can mild chiles
1 15 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes
cilantro leaves, chopped
tortilla strips or crumbled chips
In a large soup pot, add a little olive oil and heat to medium high heat. Add onion and serrano and saute for five minutes, until translucent. Add all the spices, tortillas, broth, corn, beans, chiles, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and simmer 15 minutes. Serve the soup hot topped with cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips, avocado, and cilantro.