When it comes to Mexican soups, you're likely familiar with common dinner menu items like black bean soup or tortilla soup, both of which we have recipes for here at Salon Food. But you may not yet know a more traditional dish, which also just happens to be my family's favorite: caldo tlalpeño.
Looking back, I can't believe how lucky I was to have grown up on caldo tlalpeño instead of chicken and noodle soup. The hearty flavor of this chicken and vegetable dish is achieved by slow-cooking chickpeas and chipotle peppers in chicken stock. The creamy and nutty taste of the chickpeas perfectly cuts the spicy and smoky flavor of the chipotle chiles, and the result is one truly bold flavor pairing.
My abuela immigrated from Mérida, the capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatán, to the U.S. in high school. The caldo she prepared for me growing up contains carrots and onions. It's similar to the one you'll find on the menu at any Sanborn's in Mexico. But Raúl, my roommate who hails from the mountain city of Monterrey, grew up eating squash in his caldo. Green beans are also a common ingredient in other parts of the country.
In addition to being cheap and easy to make, another plus of this dish is that substitutions are simple. You can add green beans or zucchini to the recipe if you prefer to up your vegetable game. You can skip the chicken altogether and substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock if you are looking for a vegetarian or vegan option. If you want to serve the soup with cheese, my abuela discovered a salty mozzarella to be a good substitute when she first moved to the states, but now it's easier to find queso fresco or Oaxaca cheese. Likewise, if you can't find epazote, you can skip the sprig.
Depending on your comfort level with spicy foods, you can also adjust the amount of chipotle you add to your broth. The recipe calls for two chiles with the seeds removed, but my abuela only uses half of a chile when she cooks for my grandfather. When I cook for Raúl, I don't bother to take out the seeds. Either way, an ice cold Mexican beer will further bring out the flavor of the soup and balance the heat of the peppers.
Looking for tips for Taco Tuesday or a Sunday supper? New York Times food editor Sam Sifton's shared tips for cooking tacos for a crowd during a recent appearance on "Salon Talks. You can watch my full interview with Sam Sifton below.
Recipe: Elena's Caldo Tlalpeño
From the kitchen of Elena Narvaez Neese
Yields 2 1/2 quarts
For the soup:
- 1 hearty chicken breast
- 6 cups of chicken stock
- 1 cup of chickpeas (or about 1 can)
- 1 tablespoon of crushed garlic (or about three large cloves)
- 2/3 cup of carrots (thinly-sliced)
- 1/2 cup of Spanish onions (diced)
- 2 chipotle chiles (seeds removed)
- 2 tablespoons of cilantro (diced)
- 1 epazote sprig
- Olive oil
- 1 cup of white rice (cooked)
- 1 avocado, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 lemon (sliced)
- 1 tomato (diced)
- Mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1. Put the chicken stock, the chickpeas and the garlic into a large pot and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to medium, cover and boil for 20 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked.
3. Carefully remove the chicken, shred the meat and put it aside on a plate.
4. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan. Add the carrots and onion, and sauté the vegetables for three minutes. (Do not overcook them.)
5. Add the vegetables to the broth, along with the chipotle, epazote and salt. Cover the broth with a lid and slowly cook it for 30 more minutes. Add the cilantro when done, and taste for salt.
6. Divide the shredded chicken and a few slice of avocado among each soup bowl before adding broth to them.
7. Serve the cheese, lemons, rice and tomatoes on the side, and guests can garnish and flavor their bowl of soup as they desire.
Reminder: Be careful when handling the chipotle peppers, as they are very hot. Wear gloves and/or wash your hands well after handling them.