This comforting and tasty soup named after the Tarascos, also called Purepechas, is perfect for the cold weather months. It has a smooth and earthy pinto bean base, and a combination of fresh and crispy garnishes that make it fun to eat. Moreover, it can be suited to all preferences once at the table.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound pinto beans (about 4 cups cooked beans with 2 cups cooking liquid to make 6 cups bean puree)
4 quarts (16 cups) water (not needed if buying precooked or pureed beans)
1 pound ripe plum tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1 ancho chili, about 1 ounce, stem and seeds removed (optional)
1/2 cup white onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt (or more to taste)
4 corn tortillas, cut in half and into strips, fried until lightly golden or toasted*
1/2 cup cotija cheese, crumbled (farmers cheese, ricotta salata, mild feta or queso fresco or shredded mozzarella cheese may be substituted)**
1/2 cup fresh Mexican cream (heavy cream or creme fraiche may be substituted)***
1 ancho chili, stem and seeds removed, cut into thin strips, flash fried (optional)****
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, flesh scooped out and diced (optional)
Rinse and place beans in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are cooked and soft. Add a teaspoon of salt an hour after they started simmering, and stir. Once beans are cooked and soft, let them cool and place them in a blender or food processor with the cooking liquid (add enough water to have 2 cups liquid). Puree in batches until smooth. Set aside. You may also use 4 cups precooked canned beans with their liquid or already pureed canned beans.
Place tomatoes, garlic, and seeded and stemmed ancho chili in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer over medium high heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until tomatoes are completely cooked through. Once tomato mix cools down, place it in a blender or food processor with a cup of the cooking liquid, raw white onion and the other teaspoon of salt, and puree until smooth.
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add tomato puree and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it darkens in color and thickens in consistency. Reduce heat to medium, stir in the bean puree and broth or water, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the soup has seasoned and has a creamy consistency. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Turn off the heat, as it thickens quickly.
The soup without the garnishes added may be cooled, stored in a closed container and refrigerated for up to 4 days. Because it thickens a bit as it cools, you may need to add some chicken broth or water to thin it out when you reheat it.
Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with a tablespoon each of cream and cheese, a handful of tortilla strips, a few fried chili strips and some diced avocado. You can also place garnishes in bowls on the table to let your guests garnish to their liking.
*To prepare tortilla crisps, you may fry or bake them.
Fry: Pour 1/4 inch of corn or vegetable oil in a skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add tortilla strips. Fry for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or until they achieve a light golden color and crisp texture. Transfer to a plate covered with paper towels. You may sprinkle a bit of salt on top.
Bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tortilla strips on a baking sheet, spray them with a light coat of oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in oven for about 20 minutes, turning them from time to time, until they are crisp and tanned.
**Cotija cheese is a fresh farm-style cheese that has a salty and tangy taste. It typically comes shaped in a round or square mold and can be easily crumbled. Sometimes it can be found already grated in a bag. It is available in some large supermarkets, and Latino or international stores.
***Mexican cream, very similar to what is called Latin or Salvadoran style cream, is available in large supermarkets, and in Latino and international stores. Mexican cream has a darker color, a heavier feel and more piquant and salty notes than normal heavy cream.
****To prepare chili crisps, use the same oil in the same skillet you used for the tortillas if you fried them. Once the oil is hot, add chili strips and flash fry for 3 to 4 seconds, until crisp but not burnt, stirring constantly. Be careful because they can burn easily and taste bitter. Transfer to a plate covered with paper towel.