23 June 2009

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup - An All-Weather Affair

It happened this fall on a cold and blustery evening. Enough was enough. Bastante! I exclaimed. The orange cats scampered from the kitchen as I pounded my fist on the tile counter and vehemently reached toward the mass of cookbooks stacked on the corner shelf.

Vegetarian tortilla soup would be mine.

For years, the tortilla soup craze had gone on around me. I, being a non-chicken eater, was left in the wake. If only I had known it would be darn easy to bridge the gap to a vegetarian version.

Since that night, this spicy, ruddy soup has been a staple in my cocina. The weather hardly matters: This one-pot meal tastes great on a chilly night as well as a sultry summer evening. The bold flavors in the base - tangy tomato and fiery chili pepper - mixed with soothing toppings like sour cream, chunked avocado, and a heap of black beans and rice are atop the near-perfect list for my palate.

My concoction, like so many of my recipes, is an amalgamation of many, joined in the pot. This one calls for a dash of Rachael Ray's 30-minute version, mixed with inspiration from local takeout joint Qdoba, plus a touch of my own cooking style flair. I hope you enjoy.


  • 1 package vegetarian chicken product (Smart Life makes a good option, available in the refrigerator case of many natural grocery stores. I also like Quorn's frozen "chicken tenders" option. Both are pre-chunked and ready to drop in to the pot.)
  • extra virgin olive oil (for sauteing)
  • 1 onion, sliced or diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced
  • 4-6 slices of vegetarian bacon (Morningstar), chopped
  • 32 oz. vegetable stock (I prefer Imagine Organic's "No-chicken" broth)
  • 1 c. (approx; to taste) V8 juice
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 large can stewed, diced, or crushed tomatoes (Mexi flavor if they have it at your store)
  • (optional: if you like very spicy dishes, add 1 Tbsp chopped chipotle in adobo, with a dash of the adobo sauce; if you like some heat - but not the kind where smoke comes out your ears - try a dash of hot sauce)
  • (optional: 2-4 Tbsp chili powder; I add this if I have used plain, rather than Mexican flavored, tomatoes)
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 2-4 Tbsp. (to taste) cilantro, chopped
  • tortilla chips or fresh tortillas (if using fresh tortillas, cut into strips, line onto a baking pan, and toast gently until crunchy)


  • grated cheese (or soy cheese)
  • sour cream
  • avocado, sliced or in chunks
  • diced red onion
  • salsa
  • black beans (warmed and seasoned); one ice cream scoop's worth is great, per bowl
  • cooked rice; again, one ice cream scoop's worth, per bowl
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro


  • If using frozen "chicken," set on counter to start thawing.
  • Put on an apron. This soup can splatter and stain.
  • In a pre-warmed and oiled soup pot, saute onion until translucent; add garlic and cook 2 minutes more. If using vegetarian bacon, add with the garlic and saute together.
  • Pour in the broth, tomato juice, and tomatoes. Add the bay leaves, chili powder (if using), chipotles/hot sauce (if using), salt & pepper. Cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. (At this stage, you can walk away and let this steep. Perhaps, as we do in my house, while "Jeopardy!" is on TV.)
  • Add chicken tenders approx 15-20 minutes before you plan to serve. This gives everything more time to simmer together and flavors to meld.
  • Just before serving, toss chopped cilantro into pot. Let simmer for a couple of minutes - keeping the cilantro a bright green color.
  • Get out your spoon; taste-test and add more salt/pepper/etc as needed.
To serve:
  • Ponder whether you want tortillas on the bottom, or top, of your soup (or both!). Then ladle soup into a large bowl.
  • Add whatever toppings you like. In our house, we like to pile the counter with all the toppings and assemble our own. Get creative!

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