10 August 2012

Sopa azteca

I have a semi-infatuous relationship with a restaurant called Mixtec in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC (my old 'hood!). Run by the Montesinos family, it's a no-frills, mom-and-pop kind of place that started as a simple taqueria (taco shop) and grew to become a neighborhood institution. Featuring all the classic Mexican dishes as well as harder to find items like a variety of tortas (sandwiches), tacos el pastor, traditional Oaxacan mole and not to mention killer sangria, you can't go wrong with Mixtec. I used to live just down the street, so would often take a taco platter to go and also religiously gather there every Sunday afternoon with friends to catch up on the week's gossip over a pitcher of margaritas. Even today all the way from Bangkok, a trip to Mixtec is high on the agenda during any DC visit...sometimes it's even the first stop on the way from the airport!

Taco placero vegetariano and mixed fajitas at Mixtec

During one of those raucous Sundays years ago, a friend introduced me to Mixtec's sopa azteca, which was quite possibly the best tortilla soup that I've EVER had. A rich tomato broth with chunks of fresh avocado, fried tortilla strips and queso fresco...pure bliss. It was so simple yet so delectable...pure soul food! It must have been the combination of the tangy broth, the creamy avocado and the crispy tortilla strips. Just superb!

After having a bowl of Mixtec's sopa azteca during our recent trip to DC, I just knew I had to make it on my own after returning to Bangkok. I was thrilled to find this recipe from Mexican cuisine guru Rick Bayless, who serves it as his Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago where it is apparently President Obama's favorite starter. Bayless explains that sopa azteca and other tortilla soups in central Mexico are made with pasilla chilies, whereas anchos or chipotles might be favored elsewhere. The pasilla chile, also known as the chile negro, is basically a dried chilaca chile. It's mild, yet earthy and rich. I picked up some pasillas during our trip home and they quickly found their way into the Bayless recipe. Whereas chicken or chicken broth might be more traditional, I adapted to make a vegetarian version and also omitted the crema fresca/sour cream (Mixtec doesn't use it), substituted epazote with coriander and spiced it up with a little fresh jalapeno (which is luckily easily to find here, since they are grown in Thailand). The result? Not quite as good as Mixtec, but pretty darn close! And even better the next day!

Adapted from Rick Bayless
Serves 5-6

1 large or 2 small pasila chilies (substitute ancho or chipotle if need be)
1 14-ounce (400 grams) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 - 1 jalapeno chili, roughly chopped (and seeded if you want a milder version)
6 cups vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh coriander
Salt, to taste (optional)
1 large avocado, cubed
Handful of tortilla chips, broken into pieces
Crumbled cotija or feta cheese or grated queso fresco, mozzarella or Monterey Jack
Lime wedges, to serve

1. Heat a pan over medium heat and toast the chili(es) for a minute or two on each side. Remove from heat and chop.

2. Puree the tomatoes and chopped chili in the blender.

3. Warm the oil in the same pan in which you toasted the chili. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno and saute until the onion is translucent.

4. Add the sauteed onions, garlic and jalapeno to the blender and blend along the tomato-chile mixture until you get a smooth puree.

5. Pour this puree into a large saucepan and warm to medium-low heat. Stir until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the broth and coriander, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add a bit of salt to taste, if necessary

6. Serve in bowls and add the chopped avocado, tortilla chips and cheese. Serve with lime wedges.

For some other great tortilla soup recipes (yes, I am obsessed with tortilla soup!), check these out:

Sopa de tortilla
Spicy tortilla bisque with pico de gallo


  1. This looks so exotic and delicious my friend :D
    Beautiful name too!

    Choc Chip Uru

  2. This soup sounds delicious! And I'm so excited that my parents are moving to DC next month, because I am totally going to try Mixtec!

  3. This soup sounds so good! I love the pictures! Really great!-Mom

  4. Ymmmm..we picked some fresh epazote on my recent foraging trip in Central Park.