I am calling this Farmers’ Market Monday, but one could argue this may be anti-Farmers’ Market Monday. Not one thing came from the farmers’ market, and I’m not ashamed. I have made more apple and pumpkin and squashy things for you and for myself these past few weeks that I needed a bit of a palate cleanser. I’ve noticed many of my blogger friends have done the same, so I say let’s take a little holiday for a minute. A tropical vacation, if you will. This was our first very cold weekend here, so soup was in order, and I wanted chicken tortilla. With lots of stuff.
Although this didn’t come from items found at my own farmers’ market, I would imagine it all came from someone’s. There’s fresh avocados. Fire-roasted tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Fresh lime and cilantro. Grilled onions. Can you stand it? No. And everyone needs a little break in the action from our gourd-filled wonderlands, if only for a meal.
I’ve been wanting to make this for a little while now. It’s from my Williams Sonoma Soup Cookbook, which is a pretty great collection of very straightforward soups. Favorite thing about it? It’s fun messing with things that are straightforward, because it gives you a solid, comfortable base to work from. I added lots of other things to it to make it more of a vegetable soup, which in turned lightly thickened the broth; a welcome trade-off rather than using cream or any sort of thickening agent. I added some jalapeno juice for a little more oomph (which adds a depth, but not too much heat), and topped it with fresh avocado, cilantro, and Monterey Jack cheese. But there’s more.
I’m happy to say I fried my first actual thing with this. Like filled-a-frying pan-with-oil-and-dropped-things-in-it frying. It was thrilling. Why haven’t I ever done this before? Because when I was growing up, my mom made it her life’s mission to instill in us the knowledge that mostly everything could indeed kill us if done incorrectly.
Example: One of my mom’s best friends was from Indonesia. Her daughter was my best friend in elementary school. Their house always smelled faintly of cooking oil. My sleepovers with Amy consisted mostly of potstickers, not pizza. A few times, her mom lit the candles in the dining room and we played “fancy dinner party” where we dressed up and were served crispy orange duck. Like, a whole duck. And my mom used to cater part-time with Amy’s mom, so my mom learned how to make lots of things, some of which involved her dinosaur of an electric fryer. And honestly, now that I’m visualizing the fryer in question, it’s a wonder our house never burned down; what a death trap that was, with its weird detachable plug and sketchy legs. Anyway, whenever mom got the FryBeast out, she would spend most of her time pleasantly threatening us with “don’t you girls come near it!” and “in fact, don’t even come in the kitchen!” and “if you get a glass of water, for pete’s sake, get it from the back bathroom because obviously if you so much as turn on the water in here, the house will be reduced to ash.”
Certainly this taught us to be cautious and think things through before doing them when we were kids. However, it’s now carried over into adulthood and manifests itself in funny ways, like when a 35-year-old grown adult just knows she’ll set the entire house ablaze if even one drop of water gets within 3 feet of hot oil. Thanks, Mom.
I overcame that fear this weekend whilst frying my corn tortilla strips; always good to start small when counteracting your mother’s twisted way of keeping you safe, I think. So, baby steps. Corn tortillas are super easy to fry, they only take a few minutes, and there’s no massive popping involved. I was so buoyed by my tortilla-frying achievement that I got fancy and dusted them with a little smoked paprika and squeezed some limes over top as they cooled. And, most importantly, no one was maimed.
This is a great soup to have in your pocket. Not literally, as that would be messy and you’d probably get strange looks from your friends, but it’s good to have this in mind when you feel like taking a little mid-winter vacation. It doesn’t make a crazy amount, either, so it’s just enough for a family dinner or for two over the course of a weekend, with a little leftover for a weeknight meal.
You should know, finally, that I make no claims on this being authentic in any way. I know next to nothing about authentic Mexican fare, and I want to learn more. If you want some thoroughly real Mexican cuisine, go see my friend Jen at Juanita’s Cocina; surely she temporarily detests me for throwing her dreaded black beans into soup (she prefers pintos.) I’m sorry, Jen. I’m issuing a very public request here for you to check your inbox because I miss chatting with you as of late. Obviously the black beans may deter this.
Adapted, with many liberties taken, from Soup by Williams Sonoma. Williams Sonoma no longer keeps this one in stock, so I’ve linked it on Amazon. It’s been replaced at WS by the much larger and very interesting Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year.
Loaded Chicken Tortilla Soup
for the soup:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
- 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes (best quality please; it makes all the difference in soups. I highly recommend Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted for superior texture and flavor)
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 cups good-quality unsalted or sodium-free chicken stock (I prefer Kitchen Basics Unsalted; it’s not “sodium free” but has a very small amount)
- 2 tablespoons jalapeno juice (from jarred pickled jalapenos)
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
- 1 1/4 cups frozen corn (or use fresh; depending on what you have available)
- 10-12 ounces chicken breast meat or tenderloins, cut into thin strips
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
for the tortilla strips:
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 8-10 corn tortillas, preferably stale and dry (for a quick “stale” tortilla, zap them in the microwave for about 20 seconds, then lay out on a wire rack for a little while. boom: dry tortillas)
- smoked Spanish paprika, for dusting
- 1/2 lime, for squeezing over
for the assembly:
- 2-3 ripe avocados (I use a 1/2 avocado for each serving, so you be the judge), pitted and diced into smallish cubes
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 2 limes (a wedge or two per serving) for squeezing, cut into wedges
- 1/2 cup rough chopped fresh cilantro
I have an immersion blender, and I thank the moon and stars above that I do have one every time I make soup, because it makes everything easier. If you don’t, you can use your food processor to blend everything together, but if you’re a frequent soup-maker, or you’d like to be, an immersion blender is worth every penny.
Heat 1 tablespoon of your oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add your onions and the 2 tablespoons cilantro and saute until your onions are starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes. When they’re almost done, add your garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant and not burned (careful!), stirring constantly, about 30 seconds.
In the same frying pan, add the other tablespoon of oil, and add your tomatoes and cumin to the mix. Stir together and let cook, stirring frequently, until your mixture has thickened and is slightly darker in color, about 6 minutes.
At this point, food processor people, take your mixture and pour it into your food processor. Pulse until mixture is smooth and no chunks remain.
Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan over medium heat and add your chicken stock and jalapeno juice. Cover partially and bring to a just-boil, then turn your heat down to medium-low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until your soup thickens and has reduced slightly; this should take about 20 minutes total. Halfway through this cooking time, add your corn and beans and allow to heat through. At the end of your cooking time, add your chicken strips and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are opaque, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
While your soup stands at the ready, make your tortilla strips. In a large, deep frying pan, heat your oil. Use a tortilla strip to test it; if you drop one in and it sizzles immediately, it’s time to go. Drop handfuls of the strips into your oil and fry, turning with tongs, until browned and chip-like, about 3 minutes. Remove them with tongs or a slotted spoon, tranferring them to a wire rack covered with paper towls to soak up excess oil.
While your tortillas cool (and you can do this when they’re all finished), dust them lightly with your paprika and squeeze a little lime over them. Totally optional, but I enjoyed the flavor it added to the soup.
Now we assemble:
To serve, ladle the soup into low bowls (if you have them) and top with avocado, cheese, and tortilla strips. Garnish with a wedge or two of lime and some cilantro.
Serves 4-6 and will keep happily in your fridge for up to 4 days, tightly sealed.