Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tortilla soup

New cooking ideas sort of fell by the wayside while I finished up the semester, but now I'm back! With tortilla soup and/or vengance. This is really good and spicy but the heat is tempered by mellow toppings like crumbled queso fresco and cubes of buttery avocado. I had a really lousy cold last week and this was the perfect soup to revive me--like a super amped up chicken soup. When I lived in Milwaukee I would always order the sopa Azteca from Cempazuchi on Brady Street. What I ended up making here was kind of a cross between that and the version in the fantastic Alice Waters book, The Art of Simple Food . Hey, since we're in the holiday season, that's another amazing one that would make a fantastic gift. And this soup is the perfect festive meal! All red and green.Start by simmering half a chicken breast (including skin and bone) in 1 quart of chicken stock until cooked through--should take about 25 minutes. While that is going on, prepare some crispy tortilla strips for the topping: slice 4 corn tortillas into more-or-less even strips... Fry them on both sides until cripsy in vegetable oil over medium high heat. You'll probably need to do this in batches. Set them aside to drain on paper towels until it's time to eat.Now chop up one small onion, plus any mild green chile of your choosing (I think I used an Anaheim chile), and 2 cloves of garlic.Sauté together in a soup pot in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft but not too browned (about 5 minutes).By now your chicken is probably done cooking. Remove it from the hot stock and let it cool off. You'll thank me for that later.Now chop up a dried red chile--I used an ancho chile but a chipotle chile would add more smokey goodness. You can de-seed it to de-spice it a bit (probably a good idea).Pour the hot stock that you used to cook the chicken breast into your pot with the sautéed onion and pepper.Then add in your chopped dried chile...And some tomato. I used 5 canned, whole peeled tomatoes from a big can, plus about half the juice. I mashed them up a little bit in the pot.Brought it all to a boil, then turned down to a simmer. After 20 minutes, I puréed it with my immersion blender. You can leave it chunky if you prefer, but I like it smooth. Besides, there will be lots of toppings and chicken and stuff going in it to provide textural contrast, so I think it's best to go ahead and purée. Let it cook over low heat for another 10 minutes while you get the chicken ready. Take that now-cooled chicken breast (see? no fun if it's too hot to touch!) and pull it apart into shreds. Add the shredded chicken into the soup.Now it's toppings time!You can put all kinds of good stuff on top. Some other ideas would be crispy julienned radishes or jicama, or pickled jalapenos. This time I used crumbled queso fresco (cotija would be good here too)...Cilantro...Perfect, fresh avocado slices...And of course the tortilla strips. It's called tortilla soup after all. Juice half a lime into the soup, then ladle it into bowls and spread your toppings over all. Serve with extra lime wedges.

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