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August, 2011

Smoked Tomato Soup with Black Garlic Basil and Goat Cheese

By Heidi Allison

This modern, upscale rendition of Tortilla Soup pays homage to its Latin culinary roots by using classical ingredients and techniques
.

Organic Tomatoes

Vine-ripened Roma tomatoes and sweet, yellow onions, which form this soup’s foundation, are initially grilled to intensify their flavor, add sweetness and mellow any acidic or “biting” edge. What takes this Mexican starter course to the next level is lightly smoking the sweet, grilled tomatoes over hickory chips, which you can make in your own kitchen. This step imparts an intriguing, smoky grace note to the soup. Modern vegetarian cuisine—with an edge!

You can smoke the tomatoes on an outdoor grill, or, do it indoors using a stovetop smoker. And, if you don’t have a commercial stovetop smoker, you can get great results using a wok, foil and a metal, vegetable steamer basket: Line the top of the wok and metal vegetable steamer basket with foil. Spread one heaping tablespoon of dry, small hickory smoking chips over the bottom of the wok and heat on medium heat until smoke appears. Place grilled tomatoes on the foil-lined, metal steamer basket and inset over the chips. Cover the wok with foil, leaving one inch open at an end. And, smoke for six minutes only—any longer than that and the tomatoes over smoke— turning bitter. It’s also crucial that you line the metal Black Garlicsteamer basket with foil, which covers its perforated holes. This step prevents the tomatoes from coming in direct contact with the smoke and turning acrid (Functions like a drip pan in a commercial stovetop smoker).

While roasted garlic can certainly be substituted for black garlic, this secret ingredient is what will differentiate this vegetarian fare from being merely “good” and “great”! Touted as the next “it” ingredient by culinary trendsetters, black garlic has the mild flavor and soft texture of roasted garlic, but with slightly sweet, molasses-like undertones. Moreover, black garlic has no smell and contains twice the amount of healthy antioxidants in comparison to raw garlic. With the addition of the soul-satisfying flavor of fried corn tortilla strips and melting goat cheese, this soup will satisfy vegetarians and carnivores alike!

Smoked Tomato Soup with Black Garlic, Basil and Goat Cheese
Serves: 2 as an entrée; 4 as an appetizer
Smoked Tomato Soup with Black Garlic, Basil and Goat Cheese
Cashew Crème
Makes: 3 cups

16 oz. raw cashews (about 4 cups) 3 cups hot water

Preparation:
Place nuts and hot water in plastic container. Cover and let rest for 5 hours. Drain water and rinse nuts. Place 1/3 of the nuts in a food processor and cover with 1 inch of fresh water. Purée until “milk” appears and nuts are reduced to a fine grind—about 1 minute. Pour nut/milk mixture into a large bowl through a fine, metal mesh sieve (or double thickness cheese cloth) to remove any nut particles. Repeat this process for the remaining 2 batches. Cashew crème should have the color and consistency of whole (cow) milk.

Soup Ingredients:
2 pounds of ripe, organic Roma tomatoes (about 10 large tomatoes)
1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher flake salt
1 tsp. hickory-smoked salt
Zest of 1 small lemon
6 cloves black garlic (can substitute with roasted garlic)
15 fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 corn tortilla, cut into 1/4-inch strips, then fried until crisp

Soup Preparation:
Charring tomatoes and caramelizing onions: Heat oven to 350°F degrees. Pour olive oil over onion slices and toss until evenly coated. Place onions in a single layer on a foil-lined metal tray and sprinkle with flake Kosher salt. Heat seasoned onion slices until soft and golden brown—about 25 minutes. Remove and set aside. Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium high heat until smoking. Add tomatoes and sear, moving tomatoes with tongs, until skins are split and charred on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Smoking Tomatoes:
Prepare the indoor smoker: Line a large wok with foil and place one heaping tablespoon of small hickory wood chips (dry) into wok. Line a metal vegetable steamer basket with foil (top side) and place in wok. Heat on medium-high heat until smoke appears. Place charred tomatoes on foil-lined vegetable basket and cover wok with foil, leaving a one-inch opening on one side. Smoke for six minutes only; then remove from heat. Place tomatoes in a bowl and set aside.

Soup Assembly:
Place half the amount of smoked tomatoes in a single layer in a food processor, and then place half of the onions over tomatoes. Pulse vegetable mixture until a chunky purée is achieved. Add remainder of tomatoes, onions, lemon zest, black garlic and basil leaves and purée until a thick—about ten pulses. Add one cup of cashew crème and pulse lightly until incorporated. Pour tomato mixture into a pot and heat on medium heat until warm. Ladle soup into a bowl and add one ounce of goat cheese per serving; then top with tortilla strips. Serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:
Save the extra cashew crème (and ground cashews) for use in other vegetarian dishes. Both freeze well.