Michoacán style tortilla soup
Michoacán’s lovely lakeside town of Pátzcuaro is known first and foremost for its colorful Day of the Dead festivities, but it’s also the birthplace of sopa tarasca (Tarascan soup). The story begins with Rafael García Correa, aka “don Rafa,” a cook working in Pátzcuaro’s Gran Hotel in the 1960s.
Don Rafa wanted to create a dish with affordable and accessible ingredients, so he came up with a tomato-based tortilla soup. Little did he know that his concoction would become downright legendary. Nowadays sopa tarasca is a quintessential menu item at markets, diners and even up-market restaurants throughout Michoacán.
Lu Cocina Michoacana, 36 miles northeast of Pátzcuaro in downtown Morelia, does one of the finest Tarascan soups around. More specifically it’s a “conde- style” soup, meaning it’s made with a tomato and pureed bean base to go along with the tortilla strips, pasilla chili pepper, avocado and sour cream. The hot soup base is poured into the bowl right at your table, allowing the fried tortilla to keep its crispy texture.
Don Rafa would have been proud to know that the ingredients that go into the sopa tarasca here have remained the same for more than a decade. “What we’ve been doing is modifying the dish with new techniques,” says Morelia-born head chef Lucero Soto,
“but always doing so with respect for the original elements that go into a sopa tarasca. The recipe has evolved, but the only thing that has really changed over the years is the presentation.”
In addition to its exquisite soup, Lu Cocina Michoacana’s privileged location makes the experience even more memorable. Housed in Hotel Casino, an 18th-century neoclassical building that was once home to a swanky casino, the restaurant lies in the middle of a historic center so well preserved that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
1. Cover the beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and reserve.
2. Cook beans in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, one of the whole garlic cloves and 2 Tbsp. of onion for 40 minutes or until tender. (If using a covered saucepan, it will take approximately two hours.) Remove the garlic and onion when the beans are done.
3. For the broth, add oil to a large pot and then sear the chicken breast, ½ cup of onion, celery, carrot, thyme, marjoram and a sprig of cilantro for 10 minutes. Add the 4¼ cups of water, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes. Strain the broth and set aside. (Save the chicken breast to shred and serve separately atop tostadas or in tacos.)
4. Remove the stem from and devein one of the pasilla peppers, then chop the ¼ onion and the remaining garlic clove. Cut the remaining two peppers lengthwise (creating four half peppers). Set them aside.
5. Fry chopped onion until translucent, and then add garlic and the one deveined pepper and sauté over medium heat, being careful not to burn.
6. In a small pot, cover the whole tomato with water and boil for five minutes or until soft.
7. In a blender, purée the tomato and its broth with 1 cup chicken broth from step 3, the one pasilla pepper, the onion and garlic mixture from step 5, and the cooked beans.
8. Pour this mixture along with 2 tsp. vegetable oil into a pot and sauté for three minutes, then add the remaining chicken broth. Salt to taste and add a sprig of cilantro and a sprig of epazote. Boil for 30 minutes then remove the cilantro and epazote sprigs.
9. Preheat a pan with 1 cup vegetable oil to medium heat, fry the tortilla strips until crispy, then remove from the pan to a paper towel.
10. To serve, pour soup base into a bowl and add tortilla strips, half of a pasilla pepper, several avocado slices, and top with a dollop of sour cream and 1 Tbsp. of crumbled cheese.
Preparation and cooking time: two hours, 20 minutes, not including overnight soaking
7 oz. pinto beans, soaked overnight
3 cups water, to cook the beans
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. onion, cut into large chunks
4 tsp. vegetable oil, for oiling the pot
1 chicken breast with skin
½ cup onion, for the chicken broth, chopped ¼ cup celery, chopped
¼ cup carrot, chopped pinch of thyme pinch of marjoram
1 sprig cilantro, for chicken broth
4¼ cups water, for the chicken broth
3 large pasilla chili peppers
¼ white onion, chopped
1 Roma tomato, whole
2 tsp. vegetable oil, for sautéeing beans & broth salt, to taste
1 sprig cilantro, whole, for beans & broth 1 sprig epazote, whole (optional)
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying tortillas
3 corn tortillas, cut into strips avocado, sliced, to serve
½ cup sour cream, to serve scant ½ cup Cotija cheese (or feta)