Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tomatillo Tortilla Soup

I remember the first time I tasted tortilla soup, in my middle school Spanish class.  The teacher had made a big batch of it in a crock pot (something I appreciate only now that I am a teacher), and I remember being fascinated by the fact that she recommended putting some cheese at the bottom of the bowl before adding the soup, ensuring that there would be a gooey, melty, cheesy treat waiting for you at the bottom of the bowl.

Tortilla soup is still one of my favorite comforting rainy-day soups; the spicy kick from the cayenne pepper, the creamy goodness of the sour cream and cheese, and the hearty acid from the tomatoes.  I've made many different versions over the years; I've used ground beef, shredded chicken, and turkey.  I've used fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and tomato paste.  I've spiced it with cayenne pepper and jalapeƱos.  I've topped it with blue chips, yellow chips, sour cream, cheese, and avocado.

To me, tortilla soup is like the little black dress of soups; a great base for any number of combinations of accessories.

This time around, I used tomatillos.  You may have never used them, or even heard of them.  They're kind of like a tomato and a lime had a few too many margaritas and had a baby.  They're usually green, (though the kind I used were green and purple - thanks to the Sous Chef's heirloom garden) and have a papery husk encasing them.  Here's what they look like on the plant:

...and off:

When buying tomatillos, look for fruit that are bright green and firm.  Also, the greener the husk, the fresher the fruit.  Before cooking them, remove the husks and rinse them off - the husks tend to leave behind a sticky residue.  Tomatillos have a great citrus taste to them, yet the hearty flavor of a tomato.  I used them once before in a turkey tomatillo chili I found in Clean Eating magazine, but this time around I prepared my own concoction.  And it was good.

Tomatillo Tortilla Soup with Ground Bison
(Makes 4 - 6 servings.  Prep time: 15 minutes.  Cook time: 20 minutes)

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground bison (or any other ground meat or meat substitute)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • A dozen tomatillos, de-husked, rinsed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream or Greek yogurt with a splash of lime juice (that's what I always use!)
  • Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, for garnish (plus some on the bottom of your bowl, of course)
  • Tortilla chips, broken
  1. In a soup pot, heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the ground bison, reducing the heat to medium after about two minutes of browning.  Cook through.
  2. Meanwhile, put the tomatillos and about 1 cup of the chicken broth in a blender.  Blend thoroughly, until all of the tomatillos are pureed.
  3. Add the tomatillo mixture to the browned bison.  Add the diced tomatoes, black beans, remaining, chicken broth, and spices.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding either more broth or water as necessary, so it keeps the consistency you want.  Taste it a couple times during the cooking process so you can adjust the seasonings if you want.
  5. To serve, sprinkle a little cheese in the bottom of the bowls, then add the soup, then top with more cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream/Greek yogurt-lime juice mixture.  Enjoy!

Eat well.


  1. Wow that looks amazing! I remember the first time I had it. I was in my late 20s at a restaurant thinking it was the coolest thing I've ever heard of...LOVE IT!

  2. Look so yummy. I love tortilla soup! This is a very interesting take on a traditional - way heartier. Will definitely be trying your recipe