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from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, pp. 117-18.

Continuing on my tear through Mexican cookbooks, I decided to make one more recipe from Bayless’s book before moving on to Diane Kennedy, a cookbook author who has always intimidated me. But I feel ready, now that I have located several markets where I can reliably obtain the ingredients both Bayless and Kennedy call for.

Update, after dinner: Flavors in this soup achieved a balance that I didn’t expect. The chard beautifully complemented the toasted chile- and tomato-based broth. Really delicious.

Let’s start right in:

Makes about 6 cups, servings 4 to 6

4 to 6 corn tortillas, preferably stale store-bought ones

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 to 5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 medium-large round ripe tomato

1 medium white onion, sliced 1/8 thick

6 cups good broth, preferably chicken

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, depending on saltiness of broth

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mexican Chihuahua cheese, or other melting cheese such as brick or Monterey Jack

1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges

4 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced (preferably red) chard leaves (you’ll need about 2/3 of a 12-ounce bunch)

Shadowcook: Two comments here. Mexican cheese comes in various styles. The Cacique brand appears to be ubiquitous. Since I could not find any cheese that hailed from Chihuahua, I settled for Cacique’s Oaxaca style cheese, whose wrapper assures me is suitable for melting. The only other point to make is that I did not shred the chard for the photo above. The image above, I confess, is stage to take advantage of daylight.

1. Getting started. Slice the tortillas into 1/8-inch-wide strips. Heat 1/3 cup of the vegetable oil in a medium-size (8-to-9 inch) skillet over medium-high. When hot, add about 1/3 of the tortilla strips and fry, turning frequently, until they are crisp on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Fry the remaining strips in 2 batches.

Shadowcook: Because I was multi-tasking during this first step, I allowed some of the tortilla strips to turn browner than I should have let them get. Next time, I’ll pay closer attention to them while they fry.

Cut chiles into rough 1-inch squares using kitchen shears. Reduce the heat under the oil to medium-low, let cool a minute, then fry the squares very briefly to toast them, 3 or 4 seconds; immediately remove and drain on paper towels. Place 1/3 of the chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. Set aside the remaining fried chiles.

Shadowcook: The pair of rubber cooking gloves that I keep in my utensil drawer came in handy here.

While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the papery skins.

Roast the tomato on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and blistered on one side, about 6 minutes; flip and broil the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting any juices.

2. Simmering the broth. In a medium-size (4-quart) pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low. Add the onion and fry until brown, about 10 minutes. Place the rehydrated chiles in a food processor or blender along with the roasted garlic, tomato and 1 cup of the broth; puree until smooth. Raise the temperature under the pot to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, press the tomato-chile puree through a medium-mesh strainer into the fried onion. Stir for several minutes as the mixture thickens and darkens. Mix in the remaining 5 cups of broth, then simmer uncovered over medium-low, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt.

Shadowcook: I did not press the puree through any strainer. As was the case in the other Bayless recipe I made, I did not object at all to the texture of the result. But one of these days I’m going to make a concerted effort to find a medium-meshed strainer and see if it makes a difference.

3. Finishing the soup. Set out the garnishes: Make mounds of the fried tortilla strips, fried chiles, cheese and lime on a large platter.  Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the sliced chard and simmer until the chard is tender, 5 or 6 minutes. Ladle into warm soup bowls and pass the garnishes for each guest to use al gusto.

Advance preparation — The soup itself can be prepared several days ahead. The fried tortillas will keep for a day wrapped in foil on the counter. Reheat the broth and set out the garnishes just before serving.

Shadowcook: Bayless has a very appealing variation involving beans and greens, but you’ll have to buy the book to to find it!

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