WITH TORTILLA LATTICE CRUSTS
OK, so I just rewatched that movie Tortilla Soup a couple days ago. After 15 years… crazy! You gotta put that movie in your queue if you’re anything like me, a person who hunts obsessively for feel-good food movies. It’s a rich, sensory film that inspired me all over again to get creative in the kitchen and recreate some flavors from the past.
Truth is, I started off misunderstanding good Mexican food. Thinking its range ended after enchiladas and burritos. I still kick myself now, but I was never big on Mexican food as a kid….until I moved to Texas in 2012. And even then it took me a whole year and a half before I agreed to start eating TEX-MEX consistently. Andddd even then, it wasn’t until I moved to Boston, a place where good Mexican cuisine is a challenge to come by, that I started to desperately crave both Tex-Mex and Mexican food. (You always miss it after it’s gone.)
Along with those endless Texas Tex-Mex outings, there were some great MesoAmerican restaurants around the city that exposed me to the classics like mole and sopa Azteca. And when I visited Mexico last summer, I was even more blown away by the brightness of flavors in many of the dishes I tried. Mexican cuisine is an incredibly complicated cuisine. And I say “complicated” to mean “multifaceted”. There’s a lush range of ingredients within the region and many outside cultural influences that have contributed to the country’s cuisine during wars and trading. And the variations you find within the different areas of the country are the result of environmental accessibility/what’s available based on climate, terrain, and other things. I appreciate this cuisine even more because many of the dishes aren’t structured around meat and rely on vegetables and starches instead to pack on the flavor, since meat was something introduced by the Europeans.
Anyways, I started off playing with a mole sauce, and wound up in a totally different direction with this personal spin on a tortilla soup/casserole (which I don’t regret at all, obviously). It’s packed with dried chiles and sweet seasonal butternut squash. I plan to start cooking with more dried Mexican chillies in the future after playing here with them, because they offer a bomb of flavor that give such a nice smoky undercurrent of heat which I find myself searching for in so many other savory dishes.
Here’s how I made these inspired, but mostly off-the-cuff, mash-up pot pies:
- Olive oil for sautéing
- 1 large leek, cleaned thoroughly and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can whole San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed
- 2 dried Mexican chilies, torn into small pieces (preferably, Pasilla de Oaxaca)
- 1 cup lightly crushed plain corn tortilla (preferably not Tostitos but a good brand)
- 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 cups raw shredded butternut squash
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup masa harina
- 1 cup warm water
- pinch of salt
- Sliced Avocado
- Lime wedges
- Arugula!! (Wilted Arugula with this is amazing)
Equipment: Large skillet pan, 4 French onion soup bowls, medium mixing bowl, Ziplock bag cut on one side, heavy book or something flat to weigh down the tortillas
Prep: Peel the squash, cut off base and save for another time. Take the top of the squash and cut in 4 long pieces, and shred.
Make the Filling: In a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the leeks until tender. Add the garlic and the torn pieces of chili and sauté until fragrant. Add crushed tortilla chips and toast adding more olive oil if necessary. Add the tomatoes and crush with the back of your spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until tomatoes turn to soup. Add the vegetable stock and shredded squash, season again and transfer to the ramekins.
Make the Crust:
In a mixing bowl, combine the masa harina and salt. Add the warm water and combine. Roll 2-inch balls in your palm, and then place them inside the cut Ziploc bag. Press down with a heavy book or cast iron skillet Then remove from Ziploc and cut ¾ inch strips. Interweave the strips on top of the soup bowls to create a lattice design. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake at 375 until browned on top and bubbly. Serve with fresh sliced avocado, cilantro, and lime wedges!
This meal tastes even better the next day! I just flip the casserole out of the soup pot into a airtight container–this puts the crust on the bottom. As the crust absorbs more of sauce from the casserole and the flavor is even more intense! ENJOY!