Simple summer meals: Chef and MasterChef winner Aaron Brunet’s easy tortilla soup

Eating more plant-rich food is one of the best ways to improve health while being kind to the planet, Aaron reckons. Photo / Jenny Ling

As the lazy, hazy days of summer holidays begin, thinking about what to eat can be a challenge especially if you have unexpected guests. We asked various chefs from around the region what their go-to recipe is and what the 10 staples you should always have in your kitchen are.

MasterChef winner and passionate foodie Aaron Brunet was bought up vegetarian. His love for food stemmed from an appreciation of his mother’s Italian heritage.

In his teen years he discovered a range of foods, but Brunet told the Advocate after winning Masterchef in 2013 and going through a separation, he reassessed his life, and part of that “soul searching” was changing his diet to plant-based


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“I thought if I changed my diet it would make a difference to the environment, and my daughter was concerned about the future,” he said.

The past eight years have been a journey of Brunet, discovering new favourites and enjoying all the things that make a meal great.

Brunet is a believer in the details that make a meal special.


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He thinks texture, crunchy edges, charred bits and a mixture of flavours all contribute to a great dish, and once you’ve got all that, it doesn’t matter whether there’s meat or not.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re eating as long as you’re getting that experience,” he said.

Brunet runs plant-based food workshops which he has been offering for around five years.

He also has had several cookbooks published, and currently runs a stall ‘Mexi Corner’, every Saturday during the summer at the Kerikeri Packhouse Markets with his daughter.

He said part of that venture is to give people an experience “as a gentle way to give them a realisation you can eat differently and really enjoy it.”


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Brunet loves to cook dishes that focus on “how to make a simple thing the best it can be.”

His message for people who are getting back into the kitchen is “finding the joy in simplicity.”

“I would suggest treating it as an opportunity to have fun rather than a job,” he said.

Aaron Brunet's easy tortilla soup. Photo / Aaron Brunet
Aaron Brunet’s easy tortilla soup. Photo / Aaron Brunet

Aaron Brunet’s Easy Tortilla Soup

Summer is the time for fresh sweetcorn and it naturally goes well with corn chips. This soup is an extra-easy version which uses smoked paprika and green peppers to add flavour to the tomato and bean base.

I’ve used Massel stock cubes from the supermarket for extra depth of flavour but you can substitute with salt.


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It’s great when parts of the chips get soft and soak up the flavours of the soup, a lovely different texture to enjoy (the savoury version of a bowl of cornflakes going soft from the milk but still with crunchy edges!).

This recipe is mildly spiced so you can add whatever extra zing of chilli suits you.


4 tbsp olive oil

1 green capsicum chopped

1 cob of fresh sweetcorn, kernels sliced off


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1 onion, thinly chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

½ tsp black pepper, ground

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 can chopped tomatoes/tomato polpa


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1 can kidney or black beans, with their juice

2 tbsp juice from jar of sliced jalapeno (or whatever form of chilli suits you)

2 Massel beef-style stock cubes (or use 2 tsp salt)

4 cups hot water

¼ cup orange juice, fresh squeezed



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Add olive oil to a really hot pot with green capsicum and corn kernels. Cook 2-3 mins without stirring to let them get brown and develop flavour. Lower heat to medium then add onions and garlic, cook for 3 more mins to soften and sweeten.

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil then simmer for 15 mins.

Take out 4 cups of the soup and blend smooth then add back to the pot and simmer another 5 mins.

To serve, place a small handful of tortilla chips into a bowl then ladle soup over the top. Top with vegan aioli, a drizzle of good olive oil, chopped coriander and your favourite chilli seasoning to taste.

Ten staples for a plant-based summer pantry

Fresh sweetcorn – make the most while it’s in season + google “sweetcorn mexico” for tasty ideas

Lemons + limes – easiest salad dressing is a pinch of salt, a squeeze of citrus and a drizzle of olive oil


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Ripe tomatoes – in salads, on pasta, grilled, in wraps, with fresh basil and tasty olive oil.

Fresh chillies – easy to grow, get a mature plant from the garden centre and just have in a pot in a sunny spot

Fresh turmeric – packed with nutrition and flavour for smoothies, juices, stir fries and curries

Coriander – use lots! essential for Mexican, South East Asian, and Indian meals

Luisa + Black Doris plums – hopefully from a friend’s tree, great in fruit salad, baked in oven, frozen for tangy cold smoothies

Frozen banana -for icy cold smoothies, and yum nice-cream with passion-fruit + maple syrup dressing


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Vegan aioli – on grilled sweetcorn, grilled sweet peppers, baked potato, flame-charred wraps

Seasoned salt – perfect for BBQ. Make your own with fennel seed, coriander seed, black pepper, chilli flakes, dried grated orange zest

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