Recipe: Mexican Squash & Tortilla Soup

Corn tortillas are a staple food in Mexico – in every neighbourhood in every town or city you will find a tortilleria, a shop or sometimes just a local house where the tortilla makers will be soaking and grinding the corn to make masa and then transforming the masa into fresh corn tortillas. Customers buy dozens fresh every day, as they feature in almost every meal. Masa (the ground corn dough) and tortillas are considered so important to the stability of Mexico that the price of both is controlled by the Government. 

Yesterday’s leftover corn tortillas are often revived from stale cardboardiness by being deep fried into chips for dipping or, like here, as an alternative to croutons to garnish and add crispiness to a soup.

The butternut squash and red pepper add sweetness to this soup, the chilli adds heat and the cumin and bay earthiness. All delicious with the punchy sourness of the lime sour cream.

Serves 4:

For the soup:

600g butternut squash, cut into 2cm cubes

1 large red pepper, cut into strips (about 200g)

Rapeseed oil

Salt & pepper

2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 large onion, roughly chopped (about 200g)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

1/2 – 1 dried red chilli, preferably  an arbol chilli

1 litre vegetable stock (homemade or bouillon is also fine)

For the Lime Sour Cream:

150ml sour cream

Zest of 1/2 lime

Juice of 1/2 lime

To Garnish:

4 – 6 corn tortillas, cut into 1 cm strips – I buy tortillas online from Cool Chile or Mexgrocer or make my own using masa harina (‘corn’ flour) and hot water.

Sunflower oil for frying

Fresh coriander

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (180 degrees for a fan oven).

Peel and chop the butternut squash into 2cm squares. Put the butternut squash on a baking tray and drizzle with rapeseed oil, salt and pepper and the cumin seeds. Roast for 25 minutes until soft and crispy at the edges.

Chop the red pepper into strips and drizzle with oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes until cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a large pan or heavy-bottomed casserole dish, heat one tablespoon of oil over a medium heat. once hot add the chopped onions and turn the heat down to low. Season the onions well and add the turmeric and ground cumin. Cook the onions until soft and translucent (about 15 minutes). Then add the crushed garlic, bay leaves and dried chilli and cook for another couple of minutes. I used 1/2 a dried arbol chilli which I brought back from Mexico and are super spicy, if you have milder chillies use more as you prefer.

Add the roasted butternut squash and red pepper. Make sure to scrape in the roasted cumin seeds. Then add the hot vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the squash is very soft.

Meanwhile, heat the sunflower oil (either deep frying or shallow frying) in a wok or frying pan to 180 degrees Celsius. Once hot fry the tortilla strips in batches for about 1 minute until crispy and golden. Drain the fried tortilla strips on some kitchen roll.

To make the lime sour cream combine the sour cream, lime zest and lime juice and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Back to the soup. Fish out the bay leaves and dried chilli and then puree the soup using a stick blender or a regular blender until it is smooth and velvety. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Serve the soup in warm bowls with a dollop of lime sour cream, fresh coriander leaves and a generous helping of crispy corn tortilla strips.

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