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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Tortilla soup

As we see the icy images on television of the fierce storms sweeping the US and read of record cold (in Texas of all places!) we’re grateful for our relative warmth in Mexico. Winter still happens here, especially at our elevation of 4,600′ (1402 m). The grass was rimmed with frost this morning, but the morning sky is already brilliant blue. Chilly days call for steaming hot soup, and tortilla soup will warm soul and body on the coldest of days.

In the valley below, tomatoes, chiles and cucumbers are being harvested. Yes, winter is harvest time, and we have a friend, Profesor Pauli, who grows organic tomatoes. Ziploc bags of chopped tomato fill the freezer, enough to keep us supplied until next year’s harvest.

This soup is basically an extremely savory tomato broth with lots of toppings. Slices of avocado, strips of crisp fried tortilla and chile, queso cotija, crema mexicana, and optional chicken pieces, if you wish to make it heartier.

With two chiles — chile pasilla pureed in the broth and chile ancho strips as a topping — you might think tortilla soup would be muy picante. Not at all. These are mild chiles. Chile pasilla literally means “little raisin”, maybe because of its color. Mark Miller, in “The Great Chile Book”, describes the pasilla as tasting of berry, grape, and herbaceous tones with a hint of licorice.

The ancho chile is the queen of chiles in my kitchen. Ground or whole, I can’t get enough of it in soups, chocolate desserts and salsas, even in coffee and hot chocolate. The Great Chile Book describes it as “having a mild fruit flavor with tones of coffee, licorice, tobacco, dried plum and raisin, with a little woodsiness”. My hat is off to Mark if he can detect all those tastes. I can’t say that I can, but that’s probably due to my unimaginative palate. The chiles taste and smell exquisite, despite my lack of original descriptive adjectives.

Traditionally, tortilla soup is not served with chicken, but as with all recipes, creativity is the extra salt that seasons a dish like nothing else. In other words, add whatever you fancy — corn, potato, tofu, shrimp. It may no longer be a traditional tortilla soup, but the broth is so good, it will still be delicious, a customized bowl of soup. I didn’t have an avocado to use for leftovers the next day, so cilantro gave the bowls a touch of green.

Most likely, there are thousands of pots of soup being made today north of the border. For those still under winter’s cold spell, I wish I could deliver bowls of piping hot tortilla soup. Since that isn’t possible, here’s the next best thing, a recipe for one of the most warming, flavorful soups of Mexico. I’m hoping your casa has power and water, that you and yours are warm and dry, and that you are able to enjoy a hot bowl of soup. Provecho!

Tortilla soup 4 servings

  • 4 corn tortillas, preferably a day old
  • 4 ancho chiles
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) neutral tasting oil
  • 2 cups (14 oz/400 g) chopped Roma (plum) tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) chopped onion
  • 2 large cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 2 pasilla chiles, seeds, membranes and stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups (1185 ml) chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed, cooked chicken, well heated (optional)
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 1/2 cup (59 ml) crema mexicana, or sour cream
  • 1/2 cup queso cotija or queso fresco, crumbled
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  1. Stack and cut tortillas into small strips, about 1 1/4″ x 1/4″ (31.75 mm x 6.35 mm). Fry in hot oil in batches in a skillet until crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
  2. Slit open ancho chiles, remove stems, seeds and membanes. Cut into small strips, 1 1/4″ x 1/4″. Fry in hot oil in batches until starting to blister, 10 – 15 seconds per side. Drain on a paper towel.
  3. Puree tomato, onion, garlic, pasilla chile and oregano until very smooth.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add tomato mixture and cook until bubbling. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste.
  6. Divide hot chicken pieces, if using, among 4 bowls. Ladle broth over chicken. Top with avocado, tortilla and chile strips, crumbled cheese and a spoonful of crema mexicana. Serve immediately with wedges of lime.

Notes ~

~ Leftover tortilla soup is deliciosa, but be forewarned that the pasilla chiles have had time to steep their heat into the broth. Más picante, but still so good. We emptied our bowls too soon.

~ Guajillo chiles can be substituted for the chile ancho. North of the border, look for dried chiles online, or in Mexican or import grocery stores.

~ For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

~ This is an anniversary of sorts, the 200th post for Cooking in Mexico. This post also has another distinction. While I was combining recipe, photos and text, the nuts and bolts of blogging, Russ was on the kitchen floor attempting to get the dishwasher doing its thing again. I would be in the process of inserting a photo, and he would ask for a wrench. Then I would start to rewrite a sentence, and he wanted a rag or screwdriver. I finally finished the post for tortilla soup, but he’s still working on the dishwasher. Russ has the harder chore today. He’s my fix-it guy par excellence. He’ll get it done. Or we’ll get a new dishwasher.

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All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Seven layer bean dip

The Super Bowl deserves something above and beyond the usual guacamole and salsa. Don’t get me wrong. Well prepared, these two standards are always welcome. But since Russ has been looking forward to this game all year (five weeks), something out of the ordinary would be nice. Despite all the typical Mexican elements, Seven Layer Bean Dip is not from Mexico, originating in Texas with one of its first print appearances in Family Circle magazine in 1981. Always called Seven Layer Bean Dip, it turns out that the seventh layer is loosely defined and usually whatever you wish to use as a garnish. Some recipes add cooked ground beef and call that the seventh layer. A garnish of chopped cilantro and red onion works for me. To be honest, it’s more like a six and a half layer dip.

In our part of Mexico, it’s tomato and avocado season. We have a bounty of locally grown, organic tomatoes and avocados. The tomatoes are going into the freezer, and were eating guacamole almost every day to keep up with the rapidly ripening supply. I’ve never frozen tomatoes before, but it sounds easy. Pop into zip-lock bags, and they’re good for a year.

I have a bone to pick with most recipes that give the preparation time as 20 minutes, 30 minutes, when you know darn well it’s going to take at least an hour. Recipes are able to do this is by listing the ingredients as how they are to be prepared. Minced, chopped, peeled, refried, grated. One of the most popular recipes online states preparation time for Seven Layer Dip as 20 minutes. One look at that, and you can be assured that the clock starts once every ingredient is prepped according to the recipe list. But I don’t buy grated cheese, minced onion, sliced olives. Some of you may buy canned refried beans or salsa in a jar. But you have the option, if you have the time, of doing everything from scratch, and ending up with the freshest flavors.

Seven Layer Bean Dip serves 6-8

  • 2.5 cups (16 oz/453 g) refried black beans
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (comino)
  • 4 ounces (113 g) grated cheese (I use half sharp cheddar and half manchego)
  • 1 cup (4 oz/113 g) sliced black or Greek olives
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 serrano or jalapeño chiles
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (237 ml) salsa fresca
  • 3/4 cup (6.5 oz./184 g) sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • Tostadas or tortilla chips
  1. Heat refried beans until starting to bubble. Stir in cumin. Salt to taste.
  2. Grate cheese and set aside.
  3. Slice olives and set aside.
  4. Make a simple guacamole by blending mashed avocado, minced serrano or jalapeño chiles, lime juice and salt.
  5. Make salsa or open your jar.
  6. In a shallow dish (I used a glass 9″/22.86 cm pie plate) spread hot beans. Cover with grated cheese, then sliced olives, guacamole, salsa, sour cream and finally, garnish with chopped cilantro and red onion.
  7. Serve with sturdy tortilla chips.

© 2009-2021 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Chayote con chorizo

Chayote is in season in Mexico. Trellises in local gardens are hanging heavy with this edible gourd, neighbors are giving them away by the dozens (thank you, Lupe), and the fruterias (produce stores) all have piles of green or pale cream colored chayote, smooth or spiney. I prefer the green, smooth variety, though Lupe is generous with her spiney harvest, which requires the use of heavy garden gloves to grasp the gourd without being punctured.

Fruterias sell not only fruit, but almost every vegetable that can be found in Mexico. In fact, fruterias seem to be stocked with more vegetables than fruit. Maybe its just me, but I wonder why they are called fruterias, and not veradurias (vegetable store). That word doesn’t seem to exist in Spanish. This will be my first question if I ever meet a Mexican lexicographer.

There are as many ways to cook chayote as there are to cook zucchini or any other squash. It appears in soups and salads, and fried or stuffed. Chayote is bland on its own and takes well to other seasonings. Chorizo, the uncooked, highly seasoned pork sausage, adds great flavor. Personally, I prefer chicken chorizo, made locally in our little town of Mascota, but pork chorizo would work just as well.

Chayote is between zucchini and winter squash in density, being more firm and taking longer to cook. In the raw state, it really resembles a potato in its hardness.

There are a few wild stories associated with chayote. One involves its regenerative properties, so potent that those who eat a lot of chayote will mummify when deceased. At least that seems to be the case in San Bernardo, Columbia. The other story involves McDonald’s apple pies in Australia, suspected of being made with chayote instead of apples. McDonald’s has debunked this myth, though it is true that chayote was used as a substitute for apples in pies in Australia, because of fruit shortages during the Depression Era and World War II.

Chayote con Chorizo serves 4

  1. 1/2 large onion, quartered lengthwise, then sliced
  2. 1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 8 oz./228 grams chorizo, removed from casing
  5. 2 large chayote, about 2 lbs/907 grams, peeled, quartered lengthwise, seed carved out, and sliced 1/4″/.74 cm thick
  6. 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh, finely minced
  7. 1/2 cup (118 ml) crema or crème fraîche (or sour cream)
  8. salt and ground pepper to taste
  9. 2 oz/57 grams crumbled cotija cheese
  1. In a large, oven-proof skillet, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent and tender, adding garlic for final 2 minutes of cooking. Remove from pan.
  2. Saute chayote in 1 tablespoon of oil, adding 2 tablespoons of water and oregano. Cover and steam until tender, about 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Don’t allow to cook until mushy. Remove from pan.
  3. Cook crumbled chorizo in same pan, adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil if using chicken chorizo. If using pork chorizo, no oil is needed. When cooked, remove from pan.
  4. Return onion and chayote to pan and mix with chorizo.
  5. Stir in crema or sour cream. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Top with crumbled cotija cheese.
  7. Broil 6 – 8 minutes, or until cheese is melting and starting to brown.
  8. Serve hot.

Notes ~

~ In the US, chayote is available at Mexican grocery stores or at large supermarkets. Zucchini or potato can be substituted for chayote. If using zucchini or potato, cooking time will vary.

~ Grated parmesan cheese can be substituted for cotija cheese, also found at Mexican grocery stores or large supermarkets.

~ Top leftovers with a lightly fried egg for a delicious and unusual breakfast.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Capomo

Caffeine and I parted ways a number of years ago. I’m one of those people who can wake up, raring to go without any extra stimulus. But it is still nice to have a hot cup of something first thing in the morning. For years, it was Pero, the coffee substitute made from roasted grain. Every summer, when I make my annual trip north of the border, I bring back Pero. At least that was the plan until this year when covid upended everyone’s travel. I had tried capomo before, and didn’t really like it, but now I had no choice. Maybe I just bought a poor quality. Now I really like its mocha flavor with a hint of chocolate. I don’t miss Pero. In fact, I now prefer capomo.

Capomo is ground from a dried, tropical fruit in the fig family, Brosimum alicastrum, and makes a satisfying, hot morning beverage. It can also be served over ice and used in a variety of recipes, like smoothies, baked goods and ice cream.

Capomo is also known as breadnut or Maya nut, and by the Spanish name ramon, and the indigenous names ojite, ojushte, ujushte in Mexico, and ojoche in Costa Rica. It is not a true nut, but a drupe harvested from the Brosimum alicastrum tree, which grows in southern Mexico, in our state of Jalisco, and is also found in tropical regions of Central America and the Amazon. It is known throughout Mesoamerica as a nutritious food source, where it has been stewed and roasted by indigenous people for millennia.

Making a cup of capomo is as easy as making coffee. The ground, roasted “nut”, resembling ground coffee, can be simmered in water or steeped in a French press. I multi-tasked a milk foamer into a French press, as it has a very fine screen with a plunger. I’m not even a week into this, and I’m already looking forward to my morning capomo routine. A soothing way to start the day.

French Press Capomo

  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 rounded tablespoons (25 g) capomo
  1. Add capomo to French press.
  2. Bring water to a boil.
  3. Pour water into French press and stir a few times.
  4. Put plunger on French press, but don’t press down. Allow to steep for 4 minutes.
  5. Slowly push plunger down.
  6. Pour capomo into cup, and add milk or sweetener of choice if desired.

Alternate methods: use a drip coffee maker; or add capomo to a tea ball and steep in hot water; or steep capomo in a saucepan of hot water, then strain. Use the same proportion of water to capomo as given for French press method, adjusting for the strength preferred.

Notes ​~

​~ I bought a 500 gram bag (just over one pound) of Caffiana Capomo from Pepe’s, our local tienda de abarrotes (grocery store) in Mascota, for 126 pesos, about $6.00 USD. Caffiana doesn’t have an internet presence, so it’s possible their market is local in Jalisco.

​~ If your local grocery store doesn’t carry capomo, order online in Mexico from Wayak Táanil, which also sells capomo flour for baking. Farmacia San Pablo, Chedraui supermarkets, City Market (Mexico City), natural food stores, and the Wayak Táanil office in Roma Norte, Mexico City, sell Wayak Táanil organic capomo. wayaktaanil.com

​~ Outside of Mexico, capomo can be ordered online.