Tarascan bean soup

La primavera (Spring) has arrived in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. Mornings are still a little chilly, but the days warm up quickly. Soon it will be too warm to think about a hot bowl of soup, but that time has not yet arrived.

This soup is inspired by Tarascan Bean and Tomato Soup, a hearty soup recipe in Diana Kennedy’s book, The Cuisines of Mexico. Mrs. Kennedy writes that the the recipe is from Michoacán, and named after the Tarascan Indians of that state. It looks easy enough to try. I’m all for easy these days. And how can you go wrong combining beans, chiles and tomatoes?

If you already have some cooked pinto beans and fresh tomatoes, Tarascan bean soup comes together fairly quickly. You could use canned tomatoes, but it’s worth taking the time to blister fresh tomatoes over a flame for that incomparable roasted flavor. It only takes minutes. And I hope you have a Mexican stocked fridge and pantry. Some dry chiles, corn tortillas, a cheese that melts, maybe some Mexican crema (but that’s not essential for this soup).

Pinto beans are rarely seen in central and southern Mexico. They are a staple of northern Mexico and the American southwest. After telling friends that pinto beans aren’t found in central Mexico (much to their surprise), I was presented with a bag when they next returned from north of the border. Thoughtful friends. Great soup.

Tarascan Bean Soup Serves 4-6

  • 3 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans, with bean broth
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 2 large plum tomatoes, grilled until the skin starts to blacken, or 1 cup canned cubed tomatoes
  • 2 cups (1/2 l.) chicken or vegetable broth
  • 6 corn tortillas, cut into 1.5″ by 1/4″ strips, fried until crisp
  • 6 pasilla chiles, cut into small strips and fried until crisp (see notes)
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) thick Mexican crema or thinned sour cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese or cubed manchego cheese
  1. Puree the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender.
  2. In a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the tomato mixture and simmer for 5 minutes over high heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Blend the beans with their broth until very smooth.
  4. Add the bean puree and oregano to the tomato mixture, and cook over medium heat for for 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add chicken (or vegetable) broth, adjust for salt, and cook 10 minutes more, stirring every few minutes.
  6. Divide among bowls, and pass tortilla and chile strips, crema and cheese.

Notes ~

~ Diana Kennedy includes instructions for making Mexican style crema for those north of the border. Simply blend 1/2 pint heavy cream with two tablespoon of buttermilk in a glass jar, cover loosely, and allow to set out in a warm kitchen for six hours. Refrigerate overnight and it will thicken. For thin crema, use thin cream, not heavy. If you live in Mexico, crema will be as close as your nearest cremeria or tienda abbarotes. Buttermilk is not to be had for love or money in Mexico, to my knowledge. (If a recipe calls for buttermilk, thin plain yogurt. Or take the longer route: make butter from fresh cream. The liquid pressed out of the butter solids is real buttermilk.)

~ To fry chile strips, cut out the seeds and membrane of pasilla chiles, cut into small strips, and fry in a little vegetable oil for no longer than 15-20 seconds per side. Over-cooking will turn the chile bitter.

~ Pasilla chiles, the fried form of the chilaca chile, add a delightful, almost sweet flavor with very little heat.

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4 thoughts on “Tarascan bean soup

    1. Good question. It is almost impossible to find Greek oregano in Mexico except at specialty or import stores. You can assume that unless marked otherwise, oregano in a Mexican tienda or grocery store will be Mexican oregano.

    1. They are two different plants with their own flavors. Mexican oregano is indigenous to Mexico and is described as being more earthy and woodsy. Greek oregano is in the mint family and described as being more pungent. For authentic Mexican recipes, it is best to use Mexican oregano.
      Thanks for asking!

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