Blended Salsa Fresca Tortilla Soup

4 tortillas (6 inch size) cut into 1 inch wide strips
3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried oregano
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp chili flakes

salsa fresco:
1 lb ripe tomatoes
1 fresh jalapeno pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup sweet onions, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
1 ripe lime, washed and sliced into very thin wedges
1 cup finely shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

Pour the oil into a 6 quart pot and heat over high heat. When oil is hot, add the tortilla strips and cook until crispy and browned. Remove to a paper towel covered cooling rack to drain; set aside.
Add the garlic and onion to the pot and cook over medium high heat for 2 minutes, just until garlic is fragrant. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, oregano, chicken broth, and chili flakes; bring to a boil, turn heat down to low, and simmer slowly for 20 to 25 minutes.
As the soup simmers, prepare the salsa fresca. Wash the tomatoes, remove center core, and dice, capturing the juices, then put them into a bowl along with the juice. Rinse and trim the jalapeno, removing all the seeds and veins, then add to the bowl with the tomatoes. Now add the cilantro, 3 tablespoons lime juice, and sweet onion. Gently stir until mixed completely. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Divide salsa fresca in half and put HALF in a blender and puree slightly. Pour the pureed half into the soup simmering in the pot and stir until heated through, then remove soup from heat.
To serve, ladle portions of hot soup into bowls, top with a spoonful of the unblended salsa fresca, several avocado slices, lime slices, cheese, and finally the tortilla strips.

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