"The best tortilla soup I ever had was in the coffee shop of the Valle Grande Hotel in Hermosillo, Mex.," writes William E. Houston of Santa Monica.

"I guessed at a recipe which seemed reasonably close but have since lost my notes. Do you think you could get it? As I remember, it went something like this . . ."

Houston then details the preparation of the soup so thoroughly that it seems nothing could be missing. And a test of his recipe produced a soup as colorful and handsome in presentation as it was satisfying in flavour.

"What initially impressed me about the soup was its very tasty but clear stock and the freshness of the vegetables, plus the fabulous zing of the chipotle chile, which is my favourite chile," Houston says.

Houston's recipe calls for two types of stock and specifies that they be homemade. Vegetable are simmered in the combined stocks until tender-crisp, and the soup is then poured over fried tortilla triangles and cubes of the Mexico-style cheese, queso fresco. A chipotle chile and cilantro sprigs are added to each serving.

The canned chipotle chiles (chipotles adobados) and queso fresco are sold in Mexican markets and in some supermarkets. In one market, we found three brands of canned chipotles. One contained considerable liquid, which could be added to soups and other dishes for flavor and heat.

The chipotle chile "is very, very hot and smoked," as Houston describes it. Even if well drained, the chile will add considerable heat to the soup, so use caution if you do not like "picante" foods.

Another type of tortilla soup combines ham and a little jalapeno chile with chicken broth and cheese. Instead of the variety of vegetables called for in Houston's soup, this one contains only onion and green pepper. Fried tortilla strips and shredded cheddar cheese are stirred in just before the soup is served.

Crisp, fried tortilla strips or triangles can be used ad the garnish for other soups, including sopa de queso , a cheese soup similar in flavor to the popular dip, chile con queso. Or cut corn tortillas into small squares, fry them until crisp and store them in a tightly closed container for use as croutons.



(6 servings) 6 corn tortillas Oil $4 cups homemade chicken stock 4 cups homemade beef stock 1 large onion, sliced 2 carrots, cut in 1 1/2-inch lengths and julienned 1 zucchini or crookneck squash, sliced or diced 1 small potato, peeled and diced (optional) 1 tomato, peeled, chopped and drained (optinnal) Salt, pepper Queso fresco, cut in small cubes Canned chipotle chiles Cilantro sprigs

Cut each tortilla in 8 wedges and fry in oil until crisp. Drain and set aside. Combine chicken and beef stocks and heat to boiling. And onion, carrots, zucchini, potato and tomato and simmer until tender-crisp. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide tortilla chips among 6 large soup plates. Add about 6 cubes queso fresco to each plate. Ladle soup over tortilla chips and cheese and place 1 chipotle chile and several sprigs of cilantro in center of each plate.


(4 servings) 8 corn tortillas Oil 3/4 cup finely chopped onion 1/4 cup chopped green pepper 1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup diced ham 3 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth or 2 cans (13 3/4 ounces) chicken broth 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cut tortillas into strips and fry in oil in saucepan until crisp and slightly browned. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from pan. Add onion and green pepper and cook until tender. Add chile, salt, ham and chicken broth. Bring soup to a boil and stir in tortilla strips. Sprinkle in cheese. Ladle into soup bowls and serve at once.


(4 servings) 1/4 cup butter or margarine 1/2 cup chopped onion 2 large tomatoes, peeled and seeded 1 can (4 ounces) whole green chilles, seeded 1/2 teaspoon salt Dash cumin 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 1/3 cup half and half Avocado slices or tortilla chips for garnish

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and cook until tender. Place tomatoes, chiles, salt, cumin and cooked onion in blender container and blend until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in half and half. Ladle into bowls and garnish with avocado slices or tortilla chips, if desired. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption