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Friday, April 18, 2014

*chile relleno soup.

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I promise that this will not become a weather blog, but I do find myself almost literally swinging the way the wind blows during this predictably schizophrenic Alabama spring.

This week it went from 80 degrees to a hard freeze in the span of 24 hours, and even though I heard a lot of lamenting of respiratory illness and lauding of the Farmer's Almanac, I rather relished the opportunity to indulge in one last soup of the season.

(There are people who are chilled-soup people in summer, and I respect them, but I much prefer a piping-hot bowl of goodness when it's cold outside.)

I'm calling this one Chile Relleno Soup because that's what it's inspired by and essentially what it is, but I debated whether to saddle it with that name—there's a restaurant near me that serves what they call "Reuben Soup," and I've often felt that there is something vaguely off-putting about the sound of pureed sandwich.

The bright, tangy, soupy base here is blended until smooth, but there is still lots of hearty chunkiness about it from the beef and beans. The protein here is completely optional and flexible—this could easily be vegetarian or feature chicken or shrimp as the meat; just use whatever you like in your chile rellenos!

In typical fashion, I had no solid sense of where this recipe was going when I arrived at the grocery store, so the tomatillos were an impulse buy. They turned out to be the absolute stars of this flavor profile, though, giving a proper punch of acidity that is even more beautifully brightened if you take the time to spritz your serving with a squeeze of lime. (Save your pennies, if you can; limes are puny and pricey these days.)

This bowl calls for more than a whispery sprinkling of cheese. You want, as Dr. Niles Crane once put it, "a full-throated shout." (I do love Frasier.) My peppers were brilliantly peppery but still mild, so I dusted the cheese with a pinch of cayenne, which gave things a nice heat and prevented the cheese from clumping together in the soup. Half of my DNA comes straight from Wisconsin, so I am not ever picky about cheese, but I do think Monterey Jack is the ideal choice here. It was just perfect.

As an aside, that bunch of cilantro in the background represents something I discovered recently, which is that my herbs last much longer if I put them in a tall, narrow glass with about an inch of water at the bottom and do not refrigerate them. They thrive like cut flowers, which, der I suppose they are. Sure, that seems like the kind of thing it should take a person 34 years to figure out.

Enjoy!

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Chile Relleno Soup
4 poblano peppers
2 serrano peppers
4 tomatillos
1 pound (93%) lean ground beef
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
4 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef broth
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium pinto beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces sour cream
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Ground red pepper (optional)
Lime wedges
Garnish: fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat broiler. Place first 3 ingredients on a baking sheet or broiler pan; broil, turning once, until skins are charred. Remove peppers and tomatillos to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add beef, cumin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through. Remove from Dutch oven with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

3. Remove skins, seeds, and stems from peppers. Return Dutch oven to stove over medium heat; add green onions, peppers, and tomatillos, and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until onions begin to brown. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir in garlic and cilantro leaves, cook 1 more minute.

4. Stir in 2 cups beef broth and ¼ cup pinto beans; puree mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in remaining 2 cups beef broth and remaining beans; whisk in sour cream until fully incorporated. Stir in reserved beef, and simmer until heated through.

5. Toss cheese with red pepper, if desired. Serve soup with cheese and lime wedges; garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

 

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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