This soup hurts my eyes. It’s so very red! That’s just one of several reasons why you should not make this soup. Also problematic: it’s expensive. Organic bell peppers are not cheap and you’ll need quite a few of them for this recipe (unless you are growing bell peppers now, in which case, goldmine! I’m so jealous.).
Furthermore, roasting and peeling bell peppers is no fun. The process ranks pretty highly on my mental “least favorite things to do” list. It’s time consuming, tedious and makes my fingers burn because I never learn my lesson and wear gloves (clearly a personal problem). Lastly, this soup takes a full hour or longer to make, so it’s definitely not an I’m-starving-where’s-dinner kind of option.
Why should you make this soup, then? It’s outrageously delicious, that’s why! Hands down the best red pepper soup I’ve ever tasted.
This soup’s bold color is matched by bold flavor—smoked paprika reinforces the freshly roasted peppers and cumin takes it up a notch. It’s also exceptionally creamy thanks to some optional arrowroot starch (cornstarch should work just as well). The starch transforms an already creamy puréed soup into luscious, I can’t-believe-there’s-no-cream-in-that territory. I topped it all off with some of my favorite south of the border garnishes—crispy tortilla strips, creamy avocado, salty feta and freshly chopped cilantro.
Final verdict? If you have the time and the resources, I highly recommend making this soup. Do it quick, while bell peppers are still in season!
- 7 medium to large red bell peppers (around 3 1/2 pounds), halved, seeded, membranes removed
- 6 cloves garlic, in peel
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, skip if you're sensitive to spice)
- 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable stock with peppers
- 1/2 cup water (optional)
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch (optional but recommended for super creamy soup)
- 3 corn tortillas, sliced into thin, 2-inch long strips
- 1 avocado, pitted and diced
- Handful cilantro leaves, chopped
- Feta, crumbled (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Roast the peppers: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the upper third and lower third of the oven. Arrange your halved peppers, cut side down, in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet (use two sheets if necessary). Place the whole cloves of garlic in between the peppers. Roast on the upper rack (and lower rack, if you're using two baking sheets) until peppers are blackened across the top, around 20 minutes.
- Steam and peel the peppers: Once the peppers are deeply blackened, remove them from the oven and use kitchen tongs to transfer the peppers to a medium-sized bowl and cover (or transfer them to a plastic bag and seal). Let the peppers steam for at least 10 minutes. Remove the cover and let them cool until they are manageable. Use your fingers to peel off the charred top layer of skin and discard (you may want to wear kitchen gloves for this). Peel the skin off the garlic, too.
- In a 3 1/2 quart or larger Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add the chopped onion, peeled whole garlic cloves and a sprinkle of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and turning translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes.
- Cook the soup: Add the tomato paste, cumin, paprika, salt and optional cayenne pepper and cook for one minute, while stirring constantly. Add the peeled red peppers and vegetable stock and stir. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, make your crispy tortilla strips: Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once warmed, add the tortilla strips and a dash of salt. Stir to coat the strips, then arrange them in roughly an even layer in the pan and let them cook, stirring occasionally, until both sides are golden and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate linked with a paper towel to cool.
- Optional but recommended step (yields super creamy soup): Whisk together 1/2 cup water with arrowroot or cornstarch until thoroughly blended. During the last minute of soup cooking time, pour the water/starch mixture into the soup and stir to blend. Once your soup is done cooking, remove it from heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
- Blend the soup (two options): For the creamiest soup, transfer soup to a stand blender in batches (do NOT fill your blender over halfway, soup will go everywhere!) and cover the top of the blender with a thick layer of kitchen towel (so the steam doesn't burn your hands). Transfer puréed soup to another pot or a bowl and continue until all of the soup is blended. Or, use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If you did not add the 1/2 cup water and starch mixture earlier, taste your soup and decide if you want to stretch out the soup with 1/2 cup water (in which case, stir it in now) or leave it as is.
- If necessary, transfer soup back to your cooking pot and rewarm gently on the stove. Divide soup into individual bowls. Top with crispy tortilla strips, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, optional crumbled feta and a light sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. Serve!
Preparation tips: If you'd like to save time later when it comes to cooking the soup, you can roast and peel the peppers and garlic in advance. Store them in a bowl in the fridge, covered.
Why buy organic? Conventionally grown bell peppers are treated with lots of pesticides, so it's best to buy organic. Womp.
Make it vegan/dairy free: Skip the feta.
Make it gluten free: Make sure to use certified gluten-free tortillas.
Serving suggestions: I've been enjoying this soup as a meal in itself, but I think it would go great with my feta fiesta kale salad (feel free to make a simplified version) or any of my other Mexican recipes, really.
Storage suggestions: This soup should keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for several days, or freeze it in individual portions for later (like this). Top with fresh garnishes just before serving.
If you love this recipe: You'll also love my vegetarian tortilla soup, black bean enchiladas with roasted red pepper sauce and red pepper pesto with roasted cauliflower.