When one of my husband's colleagues announced she was retiring after many years of service, we knew there would be many rounds of big parties in her honor. When we asked what we might do as a farewell gesture, she immediately said she would love a small dinner for eight. She even gave me the idea for the menu. Aware that I am always creating and testing recipes, she thoughtfully urged me to try my newest inventions for her soiree.
After several days of debating what to serve, I made my selections. A Chilled Tomato Chipotle Soup I had recently created would begin our fete, followed by a main course of grilled tenderloin steaks topped with an avocado sauce and side dishes of tender little green beans and warm baked polenta wedges. A rich chocolate pecan torte served with Champagne would end our celebration.
The soup turned out to be a perfect opener for a summer supper since it could be prepared a day ahead and needed no last-minute attention. I soaked chipotle chile peppers (smoked and dried jalapenos) in water until softened, then seeded and chopped them. The minced peppers added a robust smoky flavor to a mixture of sauteed onions, garlic and tomatoes that was simmered in both chicken stock and in the reserved soaking liquid. Ground cumin provided a spicy accent. Pureed until smooth, this deep red potage made a striking appearance served in shallow bowls garnished with dollops of sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.
Although I used this soup as a starter for a fairly fancy warm-weather dinner, it could be used in other ways for summer entertaining. You could try it as an entree accompanied by a salad of avocados and mixed greens for a light supper, or serve cups of it along with a favorite sandwich for an easy weekend lunch for out-of-town company. And when the weather turns cool, this soup is delicious served warm or at room temperature.
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Chilled Tomato Chipotle Soup
Serves 6 with a generous cup for each
3 to 4 small dried chipotle chile peppers, about 3 to 4 inches long (see Note)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/4 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
three 14-ounce cans tomatoes, preferably Italian-style plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more if needed
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/3 cup sour cream for garnish
1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish
Place chipotles in a bowl and cover with 3 cups boiling water. Soak until chipotles have softened, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from water. Then, using a fine mesh sieve or strainer lined with a paper towel, strain and reserve water for making soup.
Wearing rubber gloves, halve chipotles lengthwise and scrape out and discard all seeds. (The seeds are what make these chiles hot, so removing them will result in a spicy rather than a fiery hot dish.) Chop the seeded chipotles finely to yield 2 tablespoons. Save any extra for another use.
Heat olive oil in a large, deep-sided pot over medium high heat. When hot, add onion and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add garlic and chopped chipotles and cook and stir a minute more. Add tomatoes, reserved soaking water, chicken stock, salt and cumin. Mix well and bring mixture to a simmer. Then lower heat to medium and cook, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes, until onion is tender and soup thickens. Remove and puree mixture in small batches in a food processor or blender. (Be careful because soup will be quite hot.) When all soup has been pureed, transfer to a large heat-proof and nonreactive bowl. Taste and season with more salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, several hours or overnight.
To serve, ladle soup into 6 soup bowls. Garnish the center of each portion with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle each with some chopped cilantro.
Note: Chipotles (smoked and dried jalapenos) are available dried or in adobo sauce. For this recipe use the dried peppers, found in the produce section of most grocery stores.