Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tortilla Soup

Everyone should know how to make tortilla soup. (I realized this just as I was finishing the last of it off, which is why the soup bowl is nearly empty.) I mean tortilla soup that is fairly quick to throw together, has a rich broth with a good depth of flavor, and uses ingredients readily available in your kitchen. The first time I followed a recipe for tortilla soup (by Rick Bayless), it felt complicated and tedious. Yesterday, following a different recipe by the same chef, I went from barely deciding what to make to serving dinner in under an hour. That's pretty good for me. Next time, it should be a little faster...closer to 40 minutes.

"What is tortilla soup?" you may ask. Lucky for me, that answer was given several years ago. Mark and I stopped in a Boston Market (oh, back in the day, when they were all over the place) to grab some dinner. Our order was slightly delayed by a frustrated customer who had ordered the tortilla soup. Usually, it came with a small cup of chopped green onions on the side, as well as another cup or bag of tortilla strips. She had returned from her table to complain of the lack of green onions for her soup. "By definition," we distinctly recall her saying, "tortilla soup has green onions." Perhaps the confident tone of voice she used helped to solidify this knowledge in our young minds, but we have never forgotten this culinary lesson.

That is not really all there is to tortilla soup (and many would argue that green onions have nothing to do with it). The soup base has a little chile kick, a little tomato, and chicken broth. Typically, chicken is added once the soup is done along with other toppings, most notably tortilla chips.

I did a small experiment. Yesterday, in making dinner, I made my own tortilla strips chips by chopping up some tortillas, frying them in oil, salting them, and adding them to my bowl of soup. They were delicious. Today, eating the leftovers, I broke some purchased tortilla chips in pieces and placed them in my soup. I liked them even better. So now I know.

The recipe I used called for adding a melting cheese, like Monterey Jack, to the soup as well. I think my kids really liked that part, but it made the soup a bit sloppy for me, so I'd recommend one of three things: a dollop of sour cream, a bit of feta or queso fresco, or leave it out. It's also topped with avocado, which adds plenty of creaminess to the soup, so the cheese is unnecessary. Also, the recipe did not call for topping the soup with green onions, but I added them anyhow, for old time's sake. They were good.

Here's the recipe, adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.

Tortilla Soup

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 dried chiles: guajillo, pasilla, ancho are good (use 2 if it's a milder chile)
1-14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
6 c. chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, chopped into small bite-size
Kosher salt
1 t. dried oregano, preferably Mexican (inexpensive; usually found in packets with other Mexican ingredients in grocery store)
1 large, firm-ripe avocado, chopped into 1/2" cubes
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
lime, halved
queso fresco, feta, or Monterey Jack (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Press the dried chile(s) onto the skillet to toast. Turn and repeat. Add the chile(s) to the blender along with the tomatoes, juice and all, and blend until smooth.

Add the tomato mixture to the saucepan with the onions. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, 5-10 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about 20 minutes to let the flavors combine.

While that's going on, drizzle the chicken with 2-3 T. olive oil, a couple generous pinches of salt, and the oregano. When adding the oregano, crush it by placing it in your palm and rubbing your hands back and forth. This will help to bring out the flavors. With a spoon or clean hands, mix this all together to coat all the chicken with the oil. This will keep it from sticking to each other as the pieces cook.

Heat the skillet over medium high. Add the chicken (unless you have a very large pan, do this in two batches; crowding the pan will leave you with steamed, not sautéed and nicely browned, chicken). Cook for a few minutes, until the edges are white and the white is starting to creep up the top side, then either carefully turn each piece and cook a few minutes more, or stir and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 more minutes, until it's thoroughly (but not over-) done. Remove to a serving dish.

Taste the soup for salt and add a bit as necessary.

Serve. Fill a bowl with broth, then add some chicken, avocado, cilantro, green onions, a squeeze of lime, and cheese, if you're having it. Enjoy!


Di~ said...

Hi Rachel - Thanks for your posts. I enjoy reading and looking. Diane
p.s.Ilovegreenoninons! :)

Rachel said...

Thanks, Diane!

Seth and Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth and Sarah said...

Your recipe is intriguing. Sarah and I first encountered tortilla soup together at the Foundry Grill at Sundance. It was fabulous! And we were left with our soup course being the most memorable part of a delicious meal. Unable to get the recipe, we looked for one that was like what we had tasted. The good news is that we did! It's actually an Emeril recipe, and if you hold any ill will towards him due to over exploitation, put it aside. I'll have to try Rachel's recipe, but this one is truly delicious. I add some diced canned tomato and cook the chicken ahead of time and shred it to be put in at the end. But this is our recipe:

Emeril's Favorite Tortilla Soup

Anonymous said...

hi, im a 12 year old student in VA and my english teacher gave me this website and i have to say that it is soooo great=). im filling my recipe book*i have my own*with all of the recipe's that i find. so i just want to thank you for these. i wouldn't be able to find them as easy anywhere else.
Zoe(prnounced zoey.)

Rachel said...

Zoe, I'm so glad you like the blog! I love sharing my recipes (and keeping track of them for myself). Enjoy!