Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tortilla Soup

One of our favorite party recipes is Tortilla Soup. It's one of those dishes that has a very simple base, but can easily be dressed up and turned into a big participatory production of a meal, suitable for a potluck or summer dinner party. It's equally good if you just keep it simple and straightforward, for a warm treat for two on a chilly winter's night.

Spouse and I have our own variations on this same dish, but the basic production is the same. Photos are by spouse, of a version he whipped up last November.

Tortillas (corn or flour, though we tend to use flour)
Chicken (1 breast per person, or equivalent)
Olive oil
Onion (optional)
Chipotle and/or ancho chili seasoning
Chicken broth
Mexican blend cheese (pepperjack also works well)

1. Slice the tortillas into thin strips. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in a warm oven (about 250F) until they're browned and crisp.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil at medium to medium high heat in a deep frying pan (I usually just do this in the pot I'm making the soup in). Olive oil has a low flash point, so don't heat it too hot too fast, or it'll burn and be totally disgusting.
3. Add two cloves (or more, if you like) of minced garlic to the pan and sweat for 5 minutes or so. Optionally, add a diced small white onion here too, and sweat it until translucent but not browned.
4. Cut the chicken into thin slices and add to the pan. Add your seasonings to taste: I prefer cumin and lots of chipotle, but spouse goes more for cumin plus adobo. A few shakes of a Mexican oregano are nice here too. Add enough seasonings to really coat the chicken - think one or two tablespoons here, with less cumin than anything else. If you like it hot and spicy, you can also add cayenne here.
5. Stir occasionally so the chicken browns lightly on all sides. Once the chicken is browned, add chicken broth. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked (about 15 minutes or so, but do a fork test).
6. Dish into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, sliced or diced avocado, and cheese.

That's the basics: chicken, tortilla strips, avocado, and cheese. Where you can dress this soup up is in the presentation: you don't really have to limit yourself to just those ingredients. In the picture above, for instance, you can see that spouse has added red beans to his soup. To serve party style, set up a bunch of bowls on the table or buffet with lots of other garnishes guests can add at will. Possibilities include:

Diced tomatoes
Sliced olives
Sour cream
Pico de gallo
Salsa verde
Black bean salsa
Diced red onion
Hot sauces
Wedges of lime

Goes down well with lemonade or a nice light beer. Ice cream makes a good dessert, or perhaps a lemon custard.

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