Earlier in the week, when we went grocery shopping, I thought I would make a tortilla soup. By the time it got to be yesterday, though, I was no longer very excited about the idea. How could I make a corn-and-tomato soup more interesting? I thought. I knew onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn and cilantro would be involved. Into the fridge. Earlier in the week, Chimp made a Thai curry – the other half of the can of coconut milk he had opened was still in there.
That sounded like a good idea. After all, there are Indian and Thai tomato soups made with coconut milk; the Indian versions use cumin as an aromatic, a spice shared by Mexican cooking, and Thai versions are sharpened with kaffir leaves or lemongrass where Mexican cooking might place lime juice. Coconut makes its way into Mexican beverages and desserts, at least, to my knowledge – and coconut milk is so rich, you can hardly go wrong adding it to something.
This was a success. I would have had to fight Chimp for the last of this if I was the fighting type.
This soup has a certain familiarity to it; it reminds me of a mulligatawny that I used to get at Gulshan, my beloved and long-defunct Indian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in NYC. There’s one by the same name on 6th St.; who knows if it’s the same one? (If it did still exist and I went back there, I would probably not think it was great now, based on all the restaurants I have eaten at in the past dozen years, but it was great to me then – and really cheap, which was of paramount importance at the time.)
I’ve tried to reproduce that soup many, many times over the years, and I think I am finally getting close. I’ll likely try a version of this without corn and with carrots soon to see if that gets even closer. If I made this as is again, I’d probably increase the amount of corn; it ended up playing an almost imperceptible background role.
I even measured the amounts on this, for once.
Oil for the pan
1 c. onion, finely chopped
1 t. cumin seeds
1/2 t. chili flakes
1 t. oregano
1 t. paprika
1 chipotle chili, minced
3 t. garlic, minced
1 – 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 c. corn (frozen or fresh)
salt and pepper
1/2 c. coconut milk
2 T. minced cilantro
1 avocado, spooned into four servings
Heat oil in a large saucepan. When hot but not smoking, add cumin seeds. Cook until slightly darkened in color and aromatic. Add chili flakes, oregano, and paprika, and allow to release their flavors into the oil. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until wilted and browning slightly, about 10 minutes. Add chipotle chili and garlic and sauté briefly until aromatic, then add the tomatoes and corn. Cover, bring to a simmer, and allow to cook for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have lost their raw acidity. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Turn the mixture into a blender or food processor and process until very smooth. Add a small amount of water if necessary to process. Return to a clean pan, and reheat if necessary. Add coconut milk and stir until combined. Warm slightly if necessary, but do not allow to boil.
To serve, divide among four small bowls. Place avocado and then cilantro atop each serving.