Tortilla soup is something we enjoy any time of year but especially in autumn, when we savor the warmth of chiles and cumin and toasty corn tortillas. This vegan version of the soup also incorporates seasonal ingredients like pumpkin and fall harvest avocados.
One might not expect a meatless tortilla soup to be very hearty, yet this is actually quite satisfying without animal, or even soy, protein. Pumpkin puree (made from scratch or canned) and cubes of avocado add creamy richness and balance the soup's tomatoes and spice. Tortillas appear not only as crispy garnish but they are also cooked into the soup, infusing it with texture and flavor.
Pumpkin Tortilla Soup
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium white onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more sprigs for garnish 1 teaspoon ground cumin Chile pequins, other dried hot peppers, or cayenne pepper to taste* 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained 5 cups unsalted vegetable stock 1/2 teaspoon salt Vegetable oil for deep-frying 1-2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
Cut 6 of the tortillas into 1/2-inch squares.
Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, cilantro, and chopped tortillas and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft.
Add cumin and crushed peppers or cayenne and sauté for another minute.
Add pumpkin, tomatoes, vegetable stock, and salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour.
While the soup is simmering, cut the remaining 6 tortillas in half and then into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Fry tortilla strips in two batches until crisp and light golden (about a minute). Using a slotted spoon, transfer tortilla strips to towels to drain.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, avocado, and cilantro.
*You can tailor the type and amount of hot pepper to your own tastes. We usually make this with a couple of crushed chile pequins but have also used cayenne pepper, which is more readily available. If you're not sure how much to use, start with 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, taste the soup after it has simmered for awhile, and then add more if desired.