Chicken Tortilla Soup

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

My wife called me from our daughter’s apartment last week where she is helping her pack for a move to a post-doctoral research position at Princeton University. Notice how I seamlessly worked in the facts that my daughter 1) has her Ph.D and 2) has accepted a position at Princeton. Okay, enough bragging and back to soup. It seems my daughter’s downstairs neighbors who are of Mexican descent were cooking something that smelled fabulous and my wife thought it might be soup. I had chicken tortilla soup on my mind the rest of the week. Sunday was cold and snowy so it seemed like a good excuse to cook some up.

Tortilla soup is one of those recipes where everyone seems to have their own favorite version and they are all different. I don’t know how authentic my version is, but it is smoky, spicy and full of beans, peppers and chicken; oh, and did I mention delicious.

I can’t do anything the easy way so even with the snow and the cold, I went out and fired up the grill for some of the prep work. Picture this: there is snow on the ground. Temps are in the low 20s. The wind is blowing. A neighbor bundled up like Nanook of the North is walking his dog past our driveway. Meanwhile, I am standing on the carport in a short sleeve shirt and socked feet firing up the grill. Yes, I know I am certifiably crazy which proves that my daughter got her smarts from her mother who is helping her pack for a move to a post-doctoral research position at Princeton University, but I guess I mentioned that already.

For peppers, I used Anchos, Poblano, red and yellow bell peppers plus some ancho chili powder and cayenne pepper in the spice mix. I roasted the Poblano and bell peppers on the grill until charred and popped them into a plastic sandwich bag to steam for 15 minutes. Likewise, I roasted the tomatoes on the grill until charred and soft.

Veggie

For chicken, I went with the bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Since the skin wasn’t going into the soup, I was forced to snack on it while I shredded the meat. Doesn’t that skin look crispy and tasty? It was! Snacking on it is just one of those sacrifices you have to make when you cook. People do not always appreciate the sacrifices of a chef.

Chicken

There are all sorts of time saving substitutions you can make with this recipe. Just understand, you may be impacting the taste, as well. I think the long form approach is best for this recipe . . . most recipes.

I used dry beans, soaked them overnight and then cooked them. You could buy a can of black beans ready to use. I roasted fresh tomatoes and processed them with the anchos. You could use a can of diced tomatoes. If you do, choose one with green chilies for extra kick. Instead of roasting red and yellow bell peppers, you could buy a jar of roasted peppers. I used homemade chicken stock. You could use low-sodium, store-bought chicken stock. I developed a spice mix for the soup. You could purchase a jar of Mexican spices to use. In a pinch, you could pick up a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken instead of cooking a couple of breasts.

If you go with the jars and cans, watch the sodium level. By the time you are done adding the contents and pouring in that store-bought chicken stock, you have already added a whole bunch of salt. When I got to the “Salt and Pepper, to taste” step, I had zero salt in the pot and it only needed a little.

I did the prep work early in the afternoon and threw the soup together quickly in the evening. You could easily do the prep the day before.

I served mine garnished with some cilantro, chopped green onions and some crème fraîche. Yes, I know crème fraîche is not Mexican, but it is better than sour cream. I would have used Mexican crema, but I can’t buy it locally. I guess next time, I’ll have to make my own. With some corn bread, this is a meal of its own.

It’s worth the work to do it the long way. Give it a shot and see.

Ingredients:
8 oz. dried Black Beans, rinsed
2 tsp. Cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. Anchio Chili Powder
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 tsp. dried Oregano
2 bone-in, skin-on Chicken Breast halves
1 large Yellow Bell Pepper
1 large Red Bell Pepper
1 Poblano Pepper
3 dried Ancho Chilis
2 large Beefsteak Tomatoes
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 large Red Onion, diced
3 cloves Garlic, Minced
2 quarts homemade Chicken Stock
2 tbsp. Masa Harina or corn flour
Juice of 1/2 Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste
16 oz. frozen Corn
5 whole Corn Tortillas, Cut in half and then 3/4 inch wide strips
1 cups oil, for frying tortillas

Garnish Ideas:
Sour Cream
Diced Avocado
Chopped scallions
Salsa Or Pico De Gallo
Cotija or grated Monterey Jack Cheese
Cilantro
Lime wedges

Directions:
1. Soak black beans in 4 cups cold water overnight. Alternately, bring 4 cups water and beans to a boil, cook for 2 minutes, remove pan from heat and cover. Let soak for 1 hour. Strain and rinse.
2. In a large dutch oven, add beans and 4 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Loosely cover and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until beans are tender, approximately 45-60 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, combine Cumin, Anchio Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Garlic Powder, Oregano.
4. While the beans are cooking, season Chicken using 1 teaspoon of the spice blend and cook on grill. When chicken is done, remove to plate to cool. When cool, shred using two forks.
5. Roast Red and Yellow bell peppers and Poblano Pepper on grill until charred, bag for 15 minutes, peel, seed and chop.
6. Roast dried Anchos on grill until they are slightly softened. Soak in hot water for 30 minutes, seed and chop.
7. Cut tomatoes in half and grill until charred and soft.
8. In a blender or food processor, process Anchoes. Tomatoes and 2 cups of stock until smooth.
9. In a large dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp Olive oil over medium high heat.
10. Add the onions to the dutch oven and saute until translucent, about 8-10 minutes.
11. Add Garlic and saute for an additional 30 seconds.
12. Add Red, Yellow and Poblano pepper, 6 cups chicken stock, tomato/Ancho puree, black beans and remaining spice mix to dutch oven, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
13. Add masa harina to soup and stir well to thicken slightly.
14. Adding juice of 1/2 lime. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary.
15. Add corn and shredded chicken to dutch oven and cook an additional 15 minutes.
16. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat oil over high heat and fry tortilla strips until lightly brown and crispy.
17. To serve, place tortilla strips in the bottom of the soup bowls and ladle soup over the strips. Top with any of the desired garnishes.

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