Mexican Twist on American Comfort Classic

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Cinco de Mayo caught me off guard this year.

Normally, I do something festive for the day: Despite having no Mexican ethnicity, I love the country, the culture and, most especially, the food, so I always make an effort to observe it, yet I had to improvise this year.

And why limit yourself to a single day in May anyhow?

Recently, I came up with a Mexican twist on the American classic combo of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, switching it up to a spicy soup and quesadillas. Given the reception the meal received and the simplicity of it, this will definitely join the regular rotation.

We kept things simple with just the salad and the recipes below, but you could get as creative as you like with a variety of salsa, chips and guacamole.

Olé!

Mexican tomato soup with a side of quesadillas and salad
Mexican tomato soup (Keri White)

Mexican Tomato Soup

Serves 6

Depending on your family’s interest in spiciness, consider reducing (or increasing) the amount of jalapeño. Removing the seeds cuts the heat, if you want some, but not a ton of spice.

If you prefer to lighten this up, you can swap milk or yogurt, or a lower fat product for the heavy cream. The consistency of the soup will be a little thinner with milk, and yogurt may “break” giving it a less-smooth texture, but it should not affect flavor.

You can also eliminate the dairy altogether, but some people find the soup a trifle too acidic. To combat this, add a cup of cooked rice or a finely minced potato in the initial stage of prep.

In the hot days of summer, this could also be served chilled, like gazpacho or vichyssoise.

We skipped dessert, but chocolate ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit of chili pepper would continue the Mexican theme nicely. If, come fall, there’s a chill in the air, forego the ice cream, and make hot chocolate with the same flavors. Alternatively, a lime sorbet garnished with cilantro or mint would be a nice way to end this meal.

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, minced very finely
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large (28 ounces) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped finely
  • ¾ cup heavy cream

In a large stock pot, heat the oil and sauté the onion, garlic, jalapeño, salt and cumin. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and the spices are fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and stock, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the heavy cream and cilantro, heat and serve.

Cheese quesadillas
Cheese quesadillas (MSPhotographic / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Quesadillas

Serves 6 as a side dish or 2-3 as a main

I prefer corn tortillas for my quesadillas; they offer more flavor and texture than flour. Plus, with more and more people avoiding wheat and gluten, they are sometimes a safer bet for a crowd. I used grated sharp cheddar for these, but Monterey Jack, mild cheddar, colby or the Mexican cheese blend sold in stores all work fine. If you are serving these to a big group, place a cooking sheet in the oven on 300 degrees to keep the quesadillas warm while you produce the larger batch.

These are great plain or, for this meal, dipped in the tomato soup, but you can also serve them with a variety of salsas to spice things up.

  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 1½ cups grated cheese
  • Cooking spray

Heat a large skillet, and spray it with cooking oil.

Place the tortillas in a skillet, two or three at a time (do not overlap) and place grated cheese on one half of the tortilla. Do not fold until heated and pliant or the tortillas will break.

When the tortillas heat up, fold over the top of the tortilla.

As the cheese melts, flip the tortilla, and continue cooking, flipping occasionally, until the cheese is completely melted and the tortillas are crisp. Serve immediately or keep warm in the oven until the meal is ready.

Mexican Flag Salad

Serves 4

Inspired by the green/red/white of the Mexican flag, I threw this salad together and dressed it with a lime vinaigrette that evoked the flavors of Mexico. Using a vegetable peeler to prepare the cheese delivers longer, larger pieces than a box grater, and this adds more color and texture to the salad. If you can’t get your hands on Cotija cheese, mozzarella or Monterey Jack (pepper or plain) work well.

  • 1 package baby lettuce, or 1 head lettuce, rinsed, spun and torn into small pieces
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • ½ cup cheese “ribbons” cut with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large salad bowl, mix the lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese.

In a small bowl, mix the lime, salt, cayenne, cumin and oil.

Toss the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

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