Jacques Pépin's best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak, came up with this version of a favorite local dish. The soup can be made with anchos or even guajillo chiles, but Jean-Claude prefers pasillas for their complex, earthy flavor and aromatic notes of chocolate and tobacco. The avocado and crème fraîche toppings here are key to mellowing the intense pure chile taste.
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3 large dried pasilla chiles
1 quart hot water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large tomato, cut into 1-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 cup 1/2-inch dice of country bread or baguette
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 Hass avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
How to Make It
In a large bowl, cover the chiles with the hot water; set a small plate over the chiles to keep them submerged. Let soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid. Stem, seed and coarsely chop the chiles.
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped chiles and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato, oregano, a pinch of salt and the strained chile soaking liquid and bring to a boil. Cover the soup and simmer gently over low heat for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a cake pan, toss the diced baguette with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread in an even layer. Bake until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the saucepan, bring to a simmer and season with salt. Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with the crème fraîche, avocado, cilantro leaves and croutons and serve.
Dried purple-black pasillas give this soup a chocolaty note, ideal with a rich, mocha-inflected red from the south of France. The Costières de Nîmes region, just south of the Rhône Valley, is known for its robust red blends with Syrah and Grenache.
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