There is a crispness in the air, trees are beginning to display their autumn splendor, and days are getting cooler. This time of year, there is nothing more satisfying than a soothing bowl of warm soup. For me, however, the weather isn’t cold enough yet for a heavy soup. I much prefer serving Chicken Tortilla Soup during the early days of Fall.
While the origin of tortilla soup is debated, many food historians believe this delicious dish was born in the state of Tlaxcala, near Mexico City. In the language of Nahuatl, Tlaxcala means “the land of the corn” or “the place where tortillas abound.” Tlaxcala is one of the first places in Mexico where the Spaniards settled, and tortilla soup is considered a fusion of Prehispanic and Spanish cuisine. This may be one reason tortilla soup is sometimes called Aztec soup. Tortilla soup is one of the most beloved dishes in Mexico. If you have traveled much in Mexico, you know the recipes for tortilla soup vary from state to state, region to region. All the variations consist of a tasty chicken broth mixed with tomatoes and dried chiles and topped with crispy tortilla strips, but the spices used in the broth as well as the garnishes can vary greatly. That is what I love so much about making chicken tortilla soup—you can use a variety of ingredients and toppings. Each cook can add their own personal touch to this dish and serve it with a variety of toppings, allowing those they invite to their table to customize their individual bowl of soup. Typical Mexican garnishes include, of course, crispy tortilla strips, avocado, sour cream, Mexican Crema, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, a variety of cheeses, including crumbled queso, and pork rinds. Tips on making this recipe: Following is my favorite recipe for tortilla soup—it is spicier than most presentations. I love cooking with Kroger’s® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes Salsa Style. If you don’t like spicy food or have access to this brand, substitute two (14.5-ounce) cans of plain or fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, drained. The Salsa Style tomatoes add thickness and a piquant flavor to this recipe. Most chicken tortilla soup recipes use one small, dried chipotle pepper, soaked until softened, split lengthwise, with seeds scaped out and chopped. I love cooking with Chipotle Chiles in Adobo Sauce. Use one dried chipotle chile pepper if you prefer a less spicy version. Also, the broth is traditionally puréed. I like a chunkier soup, so I don’t purée it. If you are having a busy day or don’t want to fiddle with frying tortilla strips, you can use tortilla chips, as shown in the above photo. This recipe can be prepared in about 30 minutes. It is super simple.
Carol Ann’s Chicken Tortilla Soup Serves 6
For the soup: 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place chicken breasts in an ovenproof dish and add enough water to almost cover. Bake chicken for 30 minutes, or until cooked through, remove from the oven, and cool. When chicken breasts are cool enough to handle, shred and set aside. 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 cup chopped onion 1 tablespoon minced garlic 2 Chipotle chile peppers in Adobo sauce, diced 2 tablespoons Adobo Sauce 2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano 2 (14.5-ounce) cans Kroger® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes Salsa Style, or diced tomatoes 6 cups chicken broth 1 green or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into julienned strips, about 1-inch long by ¼- inch wide 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed Shredded chicken breast 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice Salt to taste In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. When oil is hot, add onion and cook until softened, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute more. Add chipotle pepper, Adobo sauce, cumin, oregano, tomatoes, and broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes. Add bell pepper, corn, and shredded chicken and simmer until peppers are tender crisp, about 7 minutes. Stir in lime juice and season to taste with salt. For the tortilla strips: 6 (6 to 7-inch) corn tortillas Extra virgin olive oil for frying Stack tortillas in 2 stacks of 3. Using a sharp knife, cut 3 tortillas in half. Stack halves and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide strips. Repeat with second stack of tortillas. Set a medium skillet over medium-high heat and coat the bottom generously with olive oil (about a depth of ½ inch). When oil is hot, add 1/3 of tortilla strips and sauté until golden and crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed, until all tortilla strips are fried. To serve and garnish:
Sour cream Fresh cilantro, chopped Chopped green onions Shredded Mexican-blend cheeses Avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped Lime wedges for squeezing over the soup Tortilla strips or chips Place selected garnishes in small bowls and place on the table. This allows your guests to customize their bowl of soup just like you customized your recipe. Ladle soup into six bowls and serve hot. Shopping for avocados: If you want to use your avocado immediately, select one that yields to gentle pressure. If you are shopping ahead and plan to use the avocado in a few days, pick one that is firm to the touch. Pass up avocados that are bright green and feel rock-hard. They are difficult to ripen. Also, don’t buy this vegetable if it is sunken, shriveled, or feels mushy.
Storing avocados: Avocados should be stored at room temperature until they are ready to eat. To speed the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, avocados will keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator. If you use only half of an avocado, leave the pit in, brush the flesh with lemon juice, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
Shopping for Persian limes: Limes should feel heavy for their size but not hard when squeezed. The more a lime will give to gentle pressure, the juicier it will be. Select smooth-skinned, brightly colored fruit that is not shriveled. Brown spots on the rind will not affect the flavor. Storing Persian limes: When placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated, limes will keep for 10 days. Shopping for Bell Peppers: Look for fresh, firm peppers that are brightly colored and thick fleshed with a firm green calyx and stem. Bell peppers should feel heavy for their size. Immature green bell peppers are soft, pliable, thin-fleshed, and pale green in color. Do not buy bell peppers with wrinkled skin or any soft or brown spots. Storing Bell Peppers: Sweet bell peppers will keep in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days. It is best not to wash bell peppers until you are ready to use them. Shopping for Chicken: Chicken should feel cold to the touch when it’s in the supermarket cooler. Grocery stores do from time to time have trouble with refrigeration, so never purchase chicken that feels warm. Fresh chicken often sits in a pink liquid. This is mostly water absorbed by the chicken during the chilling process. It is not blood. Most blood is removed during slaughter, and only a small amount remains inside the muscle. While this pink liquid is unattractive, it is not harmful. Always check dates on packages. If the chicken has reached its “Sell-By” date, cook or freeze it that same day. Never purchase product that has passed its “Sell-By” date.
Only purchase chicken that is inspected by the USDA and bears a shield identifying it as U. S. Grade A.
Chicken meat can be white or yellow in color. Its pigment does not affect its quality or nutritional value. If chickens are fed substances containing yellow pigment, then the color of their flesh will be more yellow than white. When selecting chicken shop with your eyes and nose. Look for meat that is not transparent, blotchy, or dried around the edges. Fresh chicken has a clean smell.
Carol Ann Kates
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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