Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tortilla soup

I am pretty much obsessed with soup, or really any food that can be eaten out of a bowl.  My freshman year in college, I ate literally every meal in the dining hall out of a bowl...and my floor-mates nicknamed me C-Bowls because of it.  

Soups are fantastic because they can suit any mood, any season, and are a great way to throw together odds and ends from the fridge.  I love this soup because it can be as simple as a rich chile-tomato broth with just the delightful crunch of tortilla strips or you can dress it up with shredded chicken, queso fresco, avocados, cilantro and Tapatio to amp up the heat.

I adapted this recipe from "Mexico One Plate at a Time" by Rick Bayless

1 lb chicken breast tenders
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
6 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2" by 2" strips
Vegetable oil
2 dried pasilla chiles, seeds and stems removed
1 15-oz can whole tomatoes, drained
4 cups chicken broth 
1 medium white onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz cotija cheese or queso fresco, cut in small cubes
1 avocado, cut in small cubes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

To prepare the chicken:
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Slice the lime thinly and chop the garlic. Place the chicken in the middle of a large sheet of parchment paper, and toss with the garlic and a little salt.  Lay the lime slices over the chicken and fold up the paper so you have a nice little package.  Put that in a pie pan or roasting pan...I just use an old 8" round cake pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove from the oven and open the parchment so the steam can escape and the chicken can cool.

While the chicken is baking, pour the oil into a large, heavy sauce pan so it is about 1/2" deep.  Heat until a piece of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, but don't let it get so hot it smokes.  Fry the tortilla strips in 3 batches, stirring the pan, until they are beginning to brown.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels.

Pour the oil out so there is just a thin coating remaining, and turn the heat to medium.  Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, until they are light brown.  Transfer to a blender, but don't wipe out the pan.

Tear the chiles into pieces and stir fry in the pan for about 30 seconds, or until they are just beginning to blister.  Place them in the blender with the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes and a few tablespoons of broth, and puree until smooth.

Transfer the contents of the blender back into the pan (over medium-high heat) and stir constantly until the mixture has the consistency of tomato paste.  Add the salt and the rest of the broth, stir to mix,  and turn the heat to low.

With two forks, shred the chicken and stir into the soup. Taste the soup and add salt if necessary.  Ladle into bowls, and top with tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

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