Sunday, 2 May 2010

Mexican-Style Roasted Garlic Soup with Chipotle

My appreciation for Mexican, and Mexican-inspired cooking began originally with my father, who was raised in Texas, brought up nursing bbq ribs and queso covered nachos, the way most babies nurse bottles. My mother, never one to voluntarily reach for the spice, began to coax her tastebuds to adjust and accept the lovingly labled "kick", that so infamously comes with most if not all Texan dishes. Both my parents compromised in marriage by vowing to expand their palettes- my father's began to include things that were crunchy and green, and my mother's the "kick" (perhaps bribed with a stylish pair of calf-high brown leather cowgirl boots that I coveted growing up).

Whenever one of the Texan relatives would darken our mild midwest door, they always brought with them the most amazing bbq (and the only pork ever allowed access to my mothers refrigerator and freezer with open arms), accompanied by the smokey, sweet and tangy bbq sauce that all other sauces since have had to live up to. I am convinced now that it was roasted Mexican chipotle peppers and their sweet heat that gave the Texan bbq sauce its memorable and nearly out-do-able quality.

In my early 20's I left the midwest for the dusty desert of Albuquerque, in the rightfully-named 'Land of Enchantment' New Mexico. Town houses and tudor homes were replaced with adobe style houses, with Spanish-inspired courtyards and Mexican tiles. Vegetable barley soup was replaced with posole, biscuits with sopapillas, and green or red chile (or 'Christmas'- which meant both on one dish) became the common gravy/condiment.

Living in New Mexico was different than anything else I had experienced. With both a large Mexican and a Native American influence, as well as the dramatic climate of the desert and landscape of the Sandia mountains (named the Sandias by the Spanish, who believed the color of the mountains around sunset to resemble that of the sweet pink flesh of a watermelon- a 'sandia' in Spanish) the food in New Mexico cannot help being inspired by the hands that make it and the histories of the people behind it. 'New Mexican food' is a cuisine in itself, combining the heritage of three different peoples (Native American, Hispanic, Anglo-American), the rich, rustic essence of the red earth which surrounds it, and the tiniest hint of the dust which in the desert is as inevitable and unavoidable, no matter how many times a day you sweep.

I decided to pay homage to these flavours by making a version of Rick Bayless's Mexican-Style Sweet Roasted Garlic Soup. We had wonderful friends over for dinner last night and it was a real joy to be able to share these flavours with them. The dish was simple to make, and was clean enough that it could be played with in a variety of ways, as I enjoy doing with any recipe. Here it is, open of course to other interpretations other than my own....

Mexican-Style Sweet Roasted Garlic Soup


1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled, chopped into rough 1/8-inch pieces
6-7 cups good chicken broth (*It depends on how long you're going to let the soup cook down for- more broth for a longer cook time)
4 slices sourdough bread
1 ripe avocado, pitted peeled and cut into 1/2inch dice
3/4 cup Mexican queso fresco, or feta cheese, diced or crumbled
1 large ripe red tomato, diced
4 spring onions/scallions- brushed with left over garlic olive oil and grilled, diagonally sliced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
canned chipotles in adobo paste- amount at your discretion based on heat/spice preferences *(You could use the actual chillies, roasted if you can find them- I however have yet to uncover the 'Mexican' neighborhood, here in England... so I did my best with what Whole Foods had to offer)


1. The Garlic- Heat the olive oil in a small heavy pot over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously until the garlic is very soft and golden- about 15-20 minutes. Note you are not frying the garlic, so the oil should never become too hot. Rather it should appear to be softly simmering. At the end the garlic will be soft and gooey and golden, not crispy and browned.

Set a strainer over a small bowl and pour the oil and garlic over it. Reserve three tablespoons of the garlic-infused oil for your croutons. The rest you can use in other cooking adventures- salads, fish, eggs, meat- whatever you fancy.

Transfer the garlic to a medium sized saucepan and stir in the broth. *Here is where I added more broth than originally recommended, as I wanted to cook my soup for a bit longer and didn't want to risk not having enough.

2. The croutons- Turn the oven to 325F/160C. Spread your cubed bread out onto a baking tray, not making more than 1 layer. Put the baking tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the bread is dried out but not fully toasted. Pour 3 tbsp of your garlic olive oil into a medium/large bowl. When bread cubes are done add them to the bowl and mix until all your bread has been coated in the oil. Return to the oven on a baking tray for just a few minutes, until the croutons are golden. Remove and set aside. You can put these on the soups yourself before serving, or in a bowl for guests to serve themselves (which I think our guests rather enjoyed!)

3. Finishing and serving the soup- When you are ready to serve the soup make sure it is nice and hot (but not boiling) and lightly beat two eggs. Give the soup a good stir to create a 'whirlpool' effect and slowly drizzle in your beaten eggs. They should cook almost immediately, and give the soup a creamier body. I then added about 1/4 cup finely shredded warmed chicken to the bottom of each soup bowl (it's optional of course), poured the soup in, added avocado, tomato, grilled sliced spring onion, and a generous scoop of the chipotle paste to each bowl before serving. (I made the mistake of adding a scoop of creme fraiche to the top, which just seemed to break up, but would use feta next time as suggested). This soup was wonderful, served with slices of sourdough bread for dunking, and the homemade croutons.

Thank you very much to my guests for so eagerly trying my creations, and for the great tip off about the New Mexico feature in the paper today! Who knows, maybe in the near future it won't just be Whole Foods that carries Mexican products (and 'Mexican Food' here will perhaps consist of more than just salsa and sour cream...)!

And here's to the Land of Enchantment- a place I remember fondly with it's watermelon mountains to the East, brick red earth, and it's pleasurable sting of roasted chillies in the air. And of course it's people...

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