Sopa de Hongos y Nopales (Mushroom-Cactus Soup with Roasted Tomatillos)

From Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, by Rick Bayless (Scribner, 1996)
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 4 – 6 Servings


  • 2-3 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 small fresh hot green chile (such as serrano or jalapeno), stem removed
  • 1 small white onion, cut into 3 thick slices
  • 1 small sprig epazote* (or substitute extra cilantro sprigs)
  • ½ small hoja santa leaf** (or substitute 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground anise seed)
  • 4 large sprigs cilantro
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ pound fresh shiitake (or other full-flavored) mushrooms, stems
  • removed, caps sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 medium cactus paddles (nopales), about 8 ounces
  • 2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch strips

  • *Epazote: A strong herb found in Latin markets, most often available dried. Can substitute fresh cilantro.
    ** Hoja Santa leaf: A tropical vine plant with soft, heart-shaped green leaves and an aroma and flavor of fennel. Available dried in some Latin markets and fresh by mail-order.

Lay tomatillos and tomatoes on a baking sheet and place 4 inches below a very hot broiler. Broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until blackened and soft in places. Turn and roast the other side. Remove from broiler and set aside to cool. When cool, peel tomatoes and tomatillos, saving all the juice. Heat an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and the green chile, turning regularly, until blackened in spots and soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. While the garlic and chile are roasting, arrange the onion slices on a small piece of foil and set on the griddle or skillet. Dry-roast until deeply browned and soft, about 5 minutes per side. Let garlic cool, then slip off the papery skins.

Combine all the roasted ingredients in a food processor or blender with the epazote, hoja santa (or anise seed), cilantro and 1 cup of chicken broth. Process to a smooth puree.

In a medium-size saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, add the puree all at once. Stir continually until mixture becomes darker and noticeably thicker, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 3 cups of broth with the mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered. Taste and season with salt.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the cactus. Holding a cactus paddle gingerly between the nodes of the prickly spines, trim off the edge that outlines the paddle, including the blunt end where the paddle was severed from the plant. Slice or scrape off the spiny nodes from both sides. Brush the paddles with the remaining ½ Tablespoon vegetable oil and place on a baking sheet. Set 4 inches below a very hot broiler or on a preheated gas grill and cook, turning the paddles occasionally, until limp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from broiler and cool slightly. Cut nopales in half lengthwise, and then cut each half crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

Heat the oven to 325°F. Spread the pasilla chile strips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes.

To serve:
Just before serving, add the cactus to the soup and bring to a boil. Ladle into warm soup bowls and sprinkle with the toasted pasilla chile strips.

Wine Pairing:
A rich Alsatian Riesling such as the Lucien Albrecht 2002 Riesling