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Caldo Tlalpeno // The Year in Food

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.

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

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.

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

Montana Winter // The Year in Food

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.

Caldo Tlalpeno // The Year in Food

Caldo Tlalpeno // The Year in Food

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.

  • Ileana - You make winter look good.

    Those magenta leaves of orach (great word) look positively surreal. Please send to Florida.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Morgan - Wow. I’ve been browsing the internet for a fortifying vegetarian soup and voila, this gorgeous post landed in my inbox. What a gift! I’ll make this for a weekend trip to a winter beach. What’s the spice level of the recipe, as you’ve written it here? I may need to tone it down for my peeps…ReplyCancel

  • Lynda - I am with you in the winter department. At least I can enjoy your lovely photos and imagine…ReplyCancel

  • caroline - i’ve been feeling the exact same way! i live in northern california and it’s so hot and dry all summer that if we don’t get the winter it really makes me crazy! if i wanted this weather i would have moved to los angeles… your snow pictures look perfect. THAT’s what winter is supposed to look like!ReplyCancel

  • sandra - I love your shots of the winter wonderland. Almost makes me want winter to go on and on… almost but not quite. :)ReplyCancel

  • Alison - I love reading the perspective of winter from those that live in warmer climates. By this time, in our Midwestern winter, I am aching for sunshine and warmth. While I love living in a place with such distinct seasons, winter always feels the longest. Your images are a reminder to me that there is beauty in all seasons. Just lovely.ReplyCancel

  • Asha - I really do not like the cold and definitely not going out in it! But your photos make me want to change my mind. Love! :)ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - @Hannah, good question regarding the heat. It really depends on how spicy your dried chipotles are, and that’s wildly variable. Mine were very mild, so I kept adding more and more, and it’s really what made the broth so special. I would start cautiously and hope for a mild batch of chiles.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ WVS - I love the way you love winter, and your photos make me so happy! Also, this soup looks perfect :)ReplyCancel

  • tara - I would love to see that buffalo picture printed super large. If ever you open a print shop, I will be first in line.

    Also, coming from the land of polar vortices, on a day so cold they wouldn’t let my kids play outside at recess, I am in first in line for this soup, too. Well done, pal.ReplyCancel

  • Elisabetta - Your photos are so simple and beautiful!! I’m waiting for the snow to come again here in italy.. even if flowers are already blooming!!ReplyCancel

  • cheri - This soup should help warm anyone up, it’s beautiful. Love your pics, so true about having time to rest, so important.ReplyCancel

  • EL - I live in Montana and we were actually having a nasty mild winter up until about a week ago when we finally hit the jackpot. Winter in spades. I live here for a reason!! Thanks for bringing winter with you.

    And the soup looks good as well.ReplyCancel

  • Eileen - I am definitely on the same page re winter here in Silicon Valley! I’ve always missed winter–the lack of a sense of time passing messes with my head, and I love the cold besides–but this year has been particularly weird. I think a hearty soup like this is a great way to get into a winter frame of mind!ReplyCancel

  • Stacy - I’m so glad you got that wintry experience you were hoping for! I certainly crave the reset of the seasons as well. Even thought I didn’t always relish the cold in Michigan, I appreciated how the seasons made me feel – I miss that. Also – this soup! Looks so warming and delicious.ReplyCancel

  • Kasey - You and me and Nopalito. We just can’t quit it. These pictures are magnificent, lady. xoxoReplyCancel

  • Irina @ wandercrush - Oh these beautiful photos have me missing the snow, too. I was surprised to find that London’s winter has been absolutely mild since I returned from a blizzarding New York… either way, I want this soup! Snow or no snow, smoky is the way to go before Spring officially arrives.ReplyCancel

  • CINDY OWINGS - Love the idea of this soup! And, wondering if you were here in Montana for the BIG STORM, yesterday? Wish I had had the ingredients for your soup while we have been snowbound! Alas, no.We live in the Madison Valley, on the Madison River as it flows north out of Yellowstone Park! Frigid yesterday!ReplyCancel

  • Aubrey - That is one gorgeous bowl of soup. I love the Montana pictures, there’s something magical about that much snow. Then again we’ve had the snowiest winter in years around these parts and I can’t wait until its over. Slogging and clearing the snow for weeks just to get to work does take away some of that magic…ReplyCancel

  • Fawn @ Cowen Park Kitchen - This soup looks gorgeous.
    I wish my Seattle winter looked as glamorous and not-gloomy as your photos. Not that I’m hoping for snow…definitely not that.
    But I know what you mean about too much of the same season. Some contrast is always desirable.ReplyCancel

  • renee anjanette - I applaud you for making this project happen. It is so hard to do this most important work, yet the result is so worth it.
    Not sure who said: “The goal is to create work that is beautiful or meaningful, hopefully both.” You have with your work and I am an admirer:)
    Renee AnjanetteReplyCancel

  • Blake Holman - Que rico! I’m going to try that recipe out this weekend! Soooo good!ReplyCancel

  • Jacqueline Russo - I was so anxious to try this beautiful soup that I decided to leave out the epazote because I was having trouble finding it. I loved it regardless, but I will definitely be trying it again!
    Your photos are exceptional and make me feel like I could make it through a second winter on this soup alone :-)ReplyCancel

  • Aisle24 - This looks really delicious and the addition of the tortilla chips had the perfect salt combination.ReplyCancel

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