Caldo Tlalpeño

Here’s a soup that is right up there with the ever-popular Mexican Tortilla Soup.  A friendly relative recently wanted to know if I had a recipe for Caldo Tlalpeño―apparently a popular Mexican soup made with chicken, garbanzo beans and vegetables. Huh,  I didn’t have a clue; but it  was enough to set off  flashing lights and whistling bells because garbanzos are one of my favorite beans. I cannot get enough of their hearty flavor and texture.  Give me hummus any day; I sprinkle beans onto salads and include them in entrees to replace or extend meat.

Since I had never heard of this soup, I was completely flummoxed, and based on its build-up I was really missing the boat.  This is when the internet becomes invaluable.  Before I could get my soup pot out and heated up I was ready to head back to Mexico and try the real deal.  I quickly learned that one of the signature elements of the soup is adobo, a robust smoky sauce soaked with chipotle peppers.

Caldo Tlalpeño originates from Tlalpan, a highly revered ecological borough in the Federal District of Mexico City.  This heavily forested region has retained much of it provincial charm and is deeply rooted in its Mesoamerican heritage.   Who knew?

After consulting several different sites and recipes, I channeled my Querétaro señora and proceeded.  I started with a rotisserie chicken, the basis of many of my stocks these days.  A note on making a delicious and easy chicken stock: I’ve learned that while the chicken is still warm and moist from the market, the meat will literally fall off the bone and within 3 or 4 minutes it is completely deboned.

For the stock, place the heap of bones in a soup pot, cover with 6 to 8 cups water, and simmer with onion and carrot trimmings left from the pre-prepped soup ingredients.  Add a stalk of celery or about ½ tsp. celery seed, a couple sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, and few grinds of fresh pepper.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about one hour.  Strain the stock and allow it to cool and chill until needed.  When chilled, skim off any unnecessary fat congealed on top of the stock, and proceed.

The soup can be prepared and is ready to eat in about 45 minutes but it is as good or better the next day.  The key ingredient, the adobo, varies greatly according to maker.  The day I made mine, I noticed the sauce was quite mild―primarily a tomato puree flavored with the chipotle.  You will need to bravely taste your adobo and use your judgment.  I’ve learned that in Mexico, the soup can range from mild to extremely hot.  Err on the side of caution the first time that you try a new adobo sauce; you can always add more!  I ended up using 2 chipotle peppers, seeded and chopped plus about 3 tbsp. of the adobo sauce.  My soup was spicy hot, but not a scorcher.  The following day, it was even milder.

As with Tortilla Soup, tableside toppings are part of the fun and add to the full flavor of Caldo Tlalpeño.  A few squirts of fresh lime will brighten it; crumbled or grated cheese such as Cotija or other queso fresco offer a lingering saltiness; and cilantro leaves provide perky citrus and herbal notes.  Enjoy with tortilla chips or crush a few and sprinkle them on top, too.

Caldo Tlalpeño 

Inspired by Gourmet, October 1993, per Epicurious

1 rotisserie chicken deboned, 2 – 3 cups meat, cut up; use the bones for quick stock
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and cut into medium chop
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into medium chop
1 tsp dried oregano
8 cup chicken stock, approximately
1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped
2 drained canned whole chipotle chilies in adobo, seeded and chopped, plus 2-3 Tbsp. sauce
2 cups cooked chick-peas, rinsed and drained
1 ear corn, husk, remove silk and cut into ¾” rounds (optional)
1 zucchini, cut into medium chop
½ tsp. each salt and pepper
Toppings:  1 lime cut into wedges, 1 cup Cotijo, Panela or other crumbled or grated cheese, 1 cup cilantro leaves, 1 avocado, cut up, tortilla chips.
In a large heavy saucepan cook the onion in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is softened, stir in the garlic, carrots and oregano and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the reserved broth to the vegetable mixture with the tomato and the chipotles, adobo sauce, the corn and the garbanzos; simmer the soup for 15-20 minutes.

Add the zucchini, add salt and pepper; adjust seasoning,  and simmer 10 minutes.  The soup may be prepared up to this point 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and add toppings as desired:  lime wedges, cheese, cilantro and serve with tortilla chips.  Yield:  6 servings.

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