Movie of the Week: Tortilla Soup

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Today begins our Cucina Verite Movie of the Week (see our list of upcoming films to watch along with us), and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we start with Tortilla Soup.

First, a little trivia about Maria Ripoli's 2001 film. (1) The beautiful culinary scenes were choreographed by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feninger, the Food Network's "Two Hot Tamales," who run the Border Grill in Santa Monica. (2) Tortilla Soup is a remake of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman (which we'll be watching in future weeks). (3) The studio released a book of recipes for the dishes daddy Martin Naranjo (Hector Elizondo) cooks during the movie, although I can't locate it anywhere. (4) A cultural studies professor from Maine has argued in print that the movie is a "neocolonialist discourse" that "reaffirms hegemonic ideologies about Latinos that privilege whiteness and contain ethnic 'otherness.'"

To which I say, yeah, OK, but the chicas in the movie are really hot.

You get beautiful women and gorgeous food in one package with Tortilla Soup, including a middle-aged Raquel Welch who still has a bod you could burn your fingers on. Guys, be very afraid: This is a chick flick of the highest magnitude, but it's worth watching for the closeups, in vivid technicolor, of Martin, a chef who has lost his sense of taste and smell, chopping, roasting, and simmering the ingredients for the lavish family meals he turns out.

To summarize the plot, TS is classic restoration comedy: Everybody is single at the beginning of the movie and married at the end, with lots of romantic wrong turns along the way. It's a fluffy, no-account romp that never hurt anybody (with apologies to that cultural studies prof), considerably enlivened by three extremely charming and spunky actresses as Martin's daughters -- Elizabeth Pena, Jacqueline Obradors, and Tamara Mello. The opening scenes where you get to watch Martin gathering heirloom tomatoes, gutting fish, skimming the spines off cactus paddles, roasting chili peppers on hot coals, and grinding spices in a molcajete are worth the price of your ticket. I'd give it three spoons out of a possible five for the drama, a perfect score for the cooking scenes, plus five habanero chilies for the female hottitude.

You can order or play the movie instantly from Netflix by clicking here.

And here's a Cinco de Mayo recipe for the tortilla soup Martin cooks, courtesy of Milliken and Feninger:

Tortilla Soup (Makes 10 servings)

5 garlic cloves peeled
10 Roma tomatoes, cored and quartered
3 tbs olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
8 cups chicken stock
1 dried chipolte chili, stemmed and seeded
3/4 lb tortilla chips
1 bunch cilantro
1 avocado peeled, seeded, and diced
1 cup crema (creme fraiche, buy or make your own)
2 limes cut in wedges.

Place the garlic and tomatoes in blender until smooth. Heat olive oil in large stockpot over low heat. Add onion, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until pale brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Pour in the chicken stock and add the chipotle chili. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in the tortilla chips and cook 10 minutes longer until the chips soften. Remove and discard the chili. Serve hot with cilantro, avocado, crema, lime wedges, and extra chips.


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