Adapted from Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time (Scribner, 2000) by Mexican food authority, Chicago chef-restaurateur and cookbook author Rick Bayless, this unusual stew of tomatoe-y broth with spicy shrimp skewers calls for ingredients that are easy to find but deliver lusty, authentic flavor.
The tomatoes and spice in this dish call for a wine with pronounced acidity, such as a Mencía from Bierzo, Spain; recommended producers include Descendientes de J. Palacios, Dominio de Tares and Luna Beberide.
1 small white onion, cut in 1/4-inch slices
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 pounds (9 to 12 medium plum or 3 medium-large round) tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing or spraying the shrimp and vegetables
6 cups chicken broth
1 to 2 large sprigs fresh epazote (or a small handful fresh cilantro or parsley)
2 pounds (about 48) medium-large shrimp
12 (7-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes and drained
About 2 tablespoons pure ground ancho or guajillo chilies
3 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) sweet potatoes (or the purple-skinned Mexican sweet potatoes called camotes morados), peeled and sliced ½ inch thickFresh herb sprigs, for garnish (optional)
For the flavored stew base: In a blender or food processor, combine the onion and garlic with the tomatoes. Process to a smooth purée.
In a medium (4- to 5-quart) Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When it’s hot enough to make a drop of the purée sizzle, add the tomato mixture all at once and stir continually until it darkens in color and cooks down to the consistency of tomato paste, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and the epazote (or one of its stand-ins). Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.
To prepare the shrimp: While the broth is simmering, peel the shrimp, leaving their final joint and tail intact. Devein the shrimp and thread them on the skewers (4per skewer), being careful not to bunch them too tightly. Lay them out flat on a tray and sprinkle them on both sides with salt and the ground chile.
To finish the dish: Heat a gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with gray ash and medium-hot. Taste the broth and season it with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon; keep warm, covered, over low heat. Generously brush or spray the sliced sweet potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle both sides of each piece with salt, and grill, turning occasionally, until soft through, 10 to 15 minutes. Divide evenly among soup bowls.
Lightly brush or spray the shrimp skewers with olive oil and lay on the grill. Cook until just pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Ladle the steaming broth over the vegetables in each soup bowl. Lay one (or two) skewers in each bowl (they’ll rise from the broth). Garnish each serving with an herb sprig, if desired, and serve.