Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Soup-er recipes for Cinco de Mayo

For U.S. cooks, south-of-the-border recipe inspiration is too often relegated just to Tex-Mex cuisine. Nothing wrong with it, but it's cool to note that there's a slew of other food styles and flavors from the Mexican culture.

One thing that's almost universally absent from Mexican menus around here: soups. In the mountains of central and southern Mexico, soups are restaurant staples. Here are some easy soups that, if not from the Mexican countryside, are inspired by it. All of them make four servings:

Avocado Soup
2 large avocados
1 cup whipping cream
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
dash of hot sauce

Cut avocados in half and remove the seed and scoop out the flesh. Put in a blender with about half othe cram and process until smooth. Add rest of the cream.
In a saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the avocado-cream mixture. Season with salt, cilantro, hot sauce, sherry, and then re-heat gently until just warmed through. Do not boil.

Serve topped with a little crushed red pepper.

Bean Soup
6-8 ounces dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
2 cups water
3 cups beef broth
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
pinch of oregano
salt to taste
queso to garnish

Drain beans and rinse under cold water. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and add beans; boil 10 minutes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 2 hours, along with the onion, garlic, salt, cumin and chili powder. About 30 minutes before serving, adjust seasoning. Puree.
To serve, sprinkle each bowl with some of the queso.

Corn Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 ounces frozen, whole kernel corn (unless it's summer and you can get fresh corn to cut from the cob)
pinch of salt
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes (unless it's summer and you can get 3 fresh ones: remove the seeds, peel and chop).
5 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
about 1 cup half and half
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and corn; cook about 5 minutes until the onion starts to get soft (but not browned). Add 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, the tomatoes, chicken broth, bay leaf; bring to a boil, then cover and simmer about 30 minutes over reduced heat.

Remove the bay leaf, then puree the soup. Return to the saucepan and stir in the half and half. Do not boil. To serve, top with remaining cilantro.