‘Creamy’ Poblano Soup

After a few days of spring-like weather, I woke up this morning to cold (by my Southern standards) weather. When I started making dinner preparations, I was in the mood for something rich, warm and spicy. I had a bunch of poblano peppers on-hand to make stuffed poblanos, so I decided to try making a roasted poblano soup with some of them. I started with an internet search, and found some recipes that looked really good – and very unhealthy. Most called for butter, heavy cream and cheese. Any of these are fine in moderation, but I set out to see if I could create a healthier version that still had a rich creamy texture. I used chicken broth as part of the base; to make a vegetarian version the only substitution you would have to make is vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth.

I found a recipe for Cream of Poblano Soup that served as the basis for my recipe. One thing I liked about it was that it used ground-up corn tortillas along with flour and spices to form a roux to flavor and thicken the soup. The main changes I made to the original recipe were:

  • increased the spices (as usual)
  • used roasted poblano (not raw), and used a lot more poblano (2 poblanos, compared with 1/2 cup diced)
  • a little more diced onion
  • significantly reduced the butter
  • reduced the amount of chicken broth (the original recipe called for 3 cups, but I had only a 16-ounce can in my cupboard)
  • substituted nonfat evaporated milk for half-and-half (and used more to make up for using less chicken broth) – I make this substitution a lot for half-and-half or heavy cream in recipes; it lends a thick creamy texture to soups and sauces (and if well-chilled can even be whipped into soft peaks).
  • omitted the chicken
  • pureed the soup with an immersion blender
  • reduced the amount of cheese, and substituted manchego cheese – since that has a stronger flavor I didn’t need very much of it.
  • added just a tiny bit of honey (when the soup was done it was missing something and I thought just a touch of good honey would help – the change was subtle but I liked it)
  • garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds instead of corn tortillas strips

To start, roast two poblano peppers until they are charred. You can do this using tongs and holding them over the gas burner on your stove. I prefer to do it in the oven. I pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Turning about every 5 minutes, roast until they are getting brown and charred on all sides. If you take them out too soon it will be hard to peel the translucent skin off of them. After about 30 minutes they should be ready. Remove them from the oven and put in a paper bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 20 minutes or so until they’ve had a chance to steam and are cool enough to handle. Pinch the outer layer of skin and pull it off. You can find a great guide (with pictures) here.

Everything else is pretty straight-forward after this.

Place in bowl of food processor (or in a steep-sided container to use with an immersion blender):

  • 3 corn tortillas, torn into small pieces

Pulse until it forms a fine meal (it will be a little coarser than flour, but shouldn’t have any pieces that are recognizable as a tortilla).  Add to this mixture:

  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (I used ancho chili powder)
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Stir to combine and set aside.

In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed pan, heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

When shimmering, add:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 roasted poblanos (stem and seeds removed), diced

Sautee over medium heat, stirring frequently to be sure the onion doesn’t brown until the onion is translucent (about 10 minutes). Add:

  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter

Continue stirring until the butter is melted and incorporated into the poblano mixture.

Stir in the tortilla/flour mixture. Cook stirring constantly for 7-8 minutes. Judging the timing was a little trickier for me than it usually is when I use a roux. In most cases I judge whether it’s cooked long enough by the desired color (light tan, medium or dark brown) but with the cumin and chili powder that doesn’t work here. Instead, I judged by the smell and cooked it for longer than called for in the original recipe (4-5 minutes). The important thing is to stir constantly so the roux doesn’t burn. If it burns, there’s no salvaging the recipe.

Very gradually add:

  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

It’s important to add just a little bit at a time, stirring well until the liquid is fully incorporated before adding more to ensure that you don’t end up with lumps. Then add, stirring constantly:

  • 1 12-ounce can nonfat evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk!)
  • 1 squeeze of honey, optional (I didn’t measure, but used less than a tablespoon of local honey)

Continue to stir until well-blended. Off-heat, using an immersion blender (or working in batches with a food processor or blender) puree the soup until it is smooth. Return to heat and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until heated through.  Serve in bowls, garnished with:

  • toasted pumpkin seeds
  • a small amount of shredded Manchego cheese
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