Recipe: Chaia’s Mexican Veggie Soup Is Pure Comfort

Plus it’s healthy and easy to make.

Photograph by Scott Suchman

Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon—owners of Chaia, two vegetarian taquerias in DC—spontaneously decided to bring their families on a New Year’s Day hike along the Billy Goat Trail. Simon threw together what she had on hand in the larder—cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, leeks, fennel—to make a soup for the journey. The simple combination proved so delicious and nourishing that it has made its way onto the taquerias’ menu.

We love the homemade chili oil they drizzle on top—it brings the bowl to life, and you can add chopped fresh herbs and an optional baguette for mopping. Don’t want to make it? We like a few dashes of hot sauce, too.


Serves 6 to 8

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 fennel bulbs, stalks removed and bulbs sliced
  • 4 medium red or yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into quarter-size florets
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Hot chili oil (recipe follows), as needed
  • Cilantro, as needed (optional)
  • Chopped jalapeño, as needed (optional)
  • Fresh chives, as needed (optional)
  • Baguette, optional


Add olive oil to a stockpot and set over low heat. Add onion, garlic, leeks, and fennel; cover and cook about 15 minutes until softened.

Add potatoes and cauliflower to the pot with 5½ cups of water and the tablespoon of salt. Water should just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the potatoes are knife-tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of chili oil along with the chopped herbs and jalapeño, if using.

Make the chili oil:

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced into rings
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain and discard solids. Store the oil in the refrigerator until ready to use.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.