Like guacamole, tortilla soup has a place, I feel, in practically every collection of Mexican recipes, especially everyday recipes. It's a filling, flavorful meal that can be made with little effort, but one that sings with an unmistakable Mexican harmony: earthy dark pasilla chile, the softening crunch of toasty corn tortillas, soul-satisfying broth, and creamy-rich avocado and cheese.
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Cook's Note: A food processor will work, though it won't completely puree the chile.
To make the soup: In a medium saucepan (about 3- to 4-quart) over medium-high heat, add oil and heat 1 minute. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion and garlic pressing the mixture against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer onion-garlic mixture to the blender. Blend until smooth.
Increase the heat under the saucepan to medium-high for 1 minute. Add the onion puree and stir constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the chicken broth and epazote sprig. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and season the soup with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).
Just before serving, add the chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the avocado, cheese and tortilla chips among 6 serving bowls. When the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls.
Vegetarian tortilla soup: Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and omit the chicken. Or replace the chicken with 1/2-inch cubes of firm tofu (I like to cut half-inch slices, sear them in my grill pan, and then cut them into cubes before adding to the soup).
Tortilla soup with greens: Add a couple handfuls of sliced chard leaves (or practically any other green) to the soup along with the chicken. Hearty greens like collards and kale should be added before the chicken; soft greens like spinach or arugula should go in when the chicken is half done.
Contemporary riffs on the tortilla soup theme: Goat cheese can replace the melting cheese. Rotisserie or grilled chicken and grilled duck breast or confit-style legs may be substituted for raw chicken breast (add it at the last second). Blue corn tortilla chips are delicious, though perhaps not as pretty.