All winter I have been dreaming of winter. I know: most of you are ready for it to be done. You’ve had snowmageddons and polar vortices and ice storms and all kinds of ridiculous, frigid, challenging weather. In California, there’s been hardly any winter to speak of, owing to a different kind of ridiculous: our crazy, record-breaking drought. It’s been weird: record strings of dry, warm days that make typically cool and foggy San Francisco feel almost like the perennially warm Los Angeles. Many fruit trees need a dormant period of cold to bear fruit the next summer. Perhaps I am the same. A sense of the seasons makes the passing of time feel right.
That’s part of why I went to Montana: I ached to feel a deep sense of winter in my bones. And I got it in spades. It snowed every day. It was cold, and windy, and snowy, and invigorating. I snowshoed, cross-country skied, explored the snow-packed roads with big winter boots on, took my camera everywhere, witnessed a lot of magnificent wildlife, experimented with gluten-free sourdough (more on that soon!!!), and was really, really happy to have brought this soup along with me, where its flavor increased exponentially with the plummeting temperature. The cold and the challenges of winter bring the little luxuries of our lives into such sharp focus. I like to be reminded of these things.
There’s something lovely in having a period of time dedicated to rest, even if our culture hardly allows for it. I think that’s where winter becomes frustrating: when we have to function at the same level against circumstances that ask us to stay put and to pause. Soups are, I think, a celebration of slowing down, resting, and hibernation. A few weeks back I had a version of this at one of my favorite restaurants, Nopalito, and I was smitten. What I’m most blown away by is the simplicity and richness of the broth: it’s just vegetable or chicken stock in which dried chipotle chiles are soaked, and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes is added for good measure. Caldo Tlalpeño typically has carrots, chickpeas, and green beans, along with chicken and avocado to finish. Nopalito smartly added winter crucifers: cauliflower and brussels sprouts. I followed their lead with an abundance of leafy winter vegetables: magenta-hued orach (a wild spinach cousin), baby rainbow chard leaves, and baby rainbow carrots. Way to bring the color in winter.
Yield: about 6 servings
This soup is a little bit of a mash-up between caldo tlalpeno and sopa de tortilla. (Caldo Tlalpeno doesn’t traditionally have tortilla strips.) It does typically have chicken, but I made this version vegetarian. The framework is so forgiving. This is definitely a kitchen sink kinda soup: throw in the last of whatever’s in the crisper drawer. It’ll likely all taste good in there.
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed and thinly sliced crosswise (or use diced onions)
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4-6 whole dried chipotle chiles
1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried epazote
2 large carrots (or 1 small bunch of petite rainbow carrots), rinsed and sliced 1/2-inch thick on the diagonal
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
4-6 cups winter leafy greens, such as: orach, baby chard, baby kale, spinach, collards, etc
6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips, optional
1 or 2 limes, sliced into wedges
Cotija or Feta cheese
In a large stock pot, melt a little butter or olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so. Add the vegetable broth, chipotle chiles, tomatoes, and epazote. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the carrots and chickpeas, and cook at a simmer until the carrots are cooked through. Add the leafy greens in the last couple minutes of cooking and turn off heat when the greens are soft. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the tortilla strips in a toaster oven at 300 degrees, or in a large pan over medium heat with a little oil, until crisp.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls, garnish with the cheese, cilantro, and tortilla strips. Serve with lime wedges on the side.