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Making Tortilla Soup Taste Like Home

Chef Pati Jinich makes tortilla soup for her family because it bridges the gap between her native Mexico and their lives in America.

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Tortilla soup, complete with all the garnishes.

"My family is crazy for chiles in adobo," says Chef Pati Jinich, and it's a good thing, because she put a heaping spoonful of them into her tortilla soup.

Monday, The Plate had the pleasure of joining Jinich, host of PBS' Pati's Mexican Table, in her kitchen to talk about our photo assignment with the National Geographic Your Shot team on Facebook live.

Jinich, who grew up in Mexico City and now lives in Maryland, tells us one of her family's favorite dishes is a simple tortilla soup because it tastes like Mexico and the U.S. at the same time. "I think that tortilla soup is one of those crossover foods that's very nurturing. It's packed with flavor, and it's really fun for the family because they can customize it with all the garnishes."

There are many tortilla soups in Mexico and in America, but all are made from just a few key ingredients—tomatoes, garlic, and onion, she says. By broiling them for about five minutes, "you're bringing out that hidden personality," she says. But don't forget the chiles. Jinich's family prefers chipotle chiles in adobo, a complex-tasting sauce of ripe jalopenos dried, smoked, then pickled, but you can add deeply wrinkled anchos or simple guajillo chiles.

As Jinich pulled together the ingredients for our Facebook Live chat, National Geographer Becky Hale discussed the importance of shooting ingredients and embracing the process of cooking as part of a photographic story, not just the beautiful finished product.

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Charring tomatoes, onion, and garlic brings out their deep, rich flavor, and shooting the cooked v. raw side by side makes for a dramatic food photo.

One of the challenges of photographing food is to make the food look central, so photographers often try shooting ingredients from above. But there's a trick. "Make sure they're straight," Hale says. "If you have photos from above that are not perfectly symmertrial, it can feel accidental." Also, avoid shadows by turning off overhead lights.

The full recipe follows, and can also be found in Jinich's new cookbook, Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens, and on her website.

We invite you to take on our assignment, Taste Like Home, and show us how your kitchen, your table, and your food tell the story of you. Remember to write a great caption that can help us get right inside the shot. The assignment is open through December 27.

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Nothing like the steam rising from a bowl of hot tortilla soup to make your mouth water.

Tortilla Soup

Sopa de Tortilla

Recipe courtesy Pati Jinich

Serves 6

3 guajillo chiles stemmed and seeded

1 pound ripe tomatoes

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup roughly chopped white onion

1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt or to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 cups chicken broth

1 sprig fresh parsley

12 corn tortillas cut into 1- to 2-inch strips

1 ancho or pasilla chile stemmed, seeded, cut into 1-inch strips and quickly fried (optional, for garnish)

Vegetable oil for frying

8 ounces queso fresco diced

1/2 cup Mexican style cream crème fraiche or sour cream

1 ripe Mexican avocado halved, pitted, meat scooped out and diced

Set a comal or skillet over medium heat. Once it is hot, toast the guajillo chiles for about a minute per side.

In a medium saucepan, place the toasted guajillos, tomatoes, and garlic clove and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer anywhere from 12 to 15 minutes, until tomatoes are fully cooked and mushy, and the guajillos have rehydrated and plumped up.

Place the guajillos, tomatoes, garlic and onion in a blender, along with 1 cup of the simmering liquid and salt. Puree until completely smooth.

In a large soup pot, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, but not smoking, pour in the tomato puree. It will sizzle, make noise and smoke. Partially cover with a lid, if you need to. Let the puree cook, season and thicken, changing from a bright red to a darker red and thicker consistency, for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the chicken broth, add the parsley sprig and once it comes to a simmer, continue simmering for another 10 minutes. Before serving, remove the parsley sprig.

To prepare the garnishes: Fry or bake the tortilla strips. Flash fry the ancho or pasilla chile strips, literally 5 seconds in already hot oil in a skillet set over medium heat, drain in a paper towel.

Serve in soup bowls. Add a handful of tortilla crisps, and let people decide how much cream, queso fresco, chile crisps and avocado to add to their bowls. Or, if you don’t want to give anyone a choice, place all the garnishes in the soup plates, and pour the hot soup into the bowls at the table.