For Iliana de la Vega, less truly is more. More flavor.

When she opened her restaurant, El Naranjo, in Oaxaca in 1997, her slightly askew nod to traditional cooking made her a trendsetter. Her food was classic, yet a little different, often lighter. Like using less fat, for instance, to allow the natural flavor of each ingredient to shine through.

“If you’re dry roasting ingredients, why cover that up with lard?” says de la Vega, who years later moved to Austin, Texas, and reincarnated the restaurant under the same name.

We love how this approach plays out in her recipe for chileatole, a soup made with fresh green or dried red chilies and thickened with masa harina, a type of corn flour. For her red version, de la Vega dry roasts tomatoes, onion, garlic and red chilies on a comal until charred, a method that delivers rich, deep flavor that is neither muddled nor heavy.

The chilies then are soaked and pureed with the vegetables and toasted cumin seeds in a blender. The puree is cooked in a bit of oil and reduced to further concentrate its flavor before broth is added. The masa thickener, or “atole,” lends just enough natural sweetness from the corn to help balance the chili heat.

Many versions of the soup include slices of corn cobs and fresh kernels, but it’s a template recipe that can be adapted to whatever’s on hand, says de la Vega. She likes the rich meatiness of mixed mushrooms, as well as fresh cilantro and lime wedges to brighten the comforting, balanced and much lighter soup.

“It’s just a very round flavor,” says de la Vega. “You don’t need to add more things like other chilies or tons of herbs. Why try to destroy it?”