Sometimes folkloric, often apocryphal and always colourful, there is a story behind every recipe and how it came into being. I make it a point to collect these tales as side dishes to the dish itself, to render the recipe more than it is in the moment it's prepared or eaten.
Somewhat of an oddity then, that a dish as famous and ubiquitous as Sopa Azteca leaves me completely clueless as to its true origin. Some attribute the dish to Tlaxacala, not too far out of Mexico City, while others take it's lack of confirmed history to indicate that Sopa Azteca is a pretty recent invention.
The most frequently mentioned bit of information you are likely to find in an internet search, is that Sopa Azteca is Obama's favorite Mexican first course. We can speculate from this that it nourishes the body sufficiently to sink some pretty nice three pointers, but we can't know for sure. What we can know is that this is a sublime dish. The rich broth, smoky Pasilla chile, tender chicken, crisp tortillas and smooth avocado all help to explain it's prominence on Mexican menus the world over.
Sopa Azteca | serves 4
vegetable oil for shallow frying
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1/2 small white onion, sliced
4 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 cups caldo de pollo
3 corn tortillas, cut into strips
6 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded then pressed flat
200g shredded chicken thigh*
80g queso fresco, diced (or a young cow's milk feta)
1 large ripe avocado,Diced
2 limes, halved
Onion, finely diced
- Fill a wide-base pan with enough oil to create a depth of around 1cm, and heat on a medium flame. The oil is hot enough when the corner of a tortilla strip sizzles when introduced. At this point, add half the tortilla strips to the oil and gently fry until crisp and lightly golden. Remove and drain on paper towel, then repeat the process with the remaining tortilla.
- In the same oil, fry the chile Pasilla briefly until it changes colour and puffs up. Be sure not to fry any longer than required: 5 seconds on each side will do, much more make the chile bitter.
- Reduce the heat slightly, then add the onion and garlic and fry gently for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Remove, let cool slightly then place in the blender with the chopped tomatoes and process to a smooth paste.
- Take a small amount of the oil from the pan (about 2 tablespoons), and heat it in a medium size pot. When hot, add the pureed tomato paste and fry, stirring all the while. When the paste has has reduced to half, add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 10 minutes.
- To serve, fill each bowl with the prepared garnishes of tortilla, chicken, chile Pasilla, queso fresco and avocado. Prepare a plate of lime, chopped coriander and finely diced onion for the table. Pour equal portions of soup into each bowl and serve immediately.