Sunday, February 5, 2012

Soup For My Soul

Well. . . tortilla soup, to be exact!  My soul likes it spicy.  Unlike some tortilla soups out there that are brothy, this is thick, tomatoey and stewy.  This soup could be made vegetarian or vegan.  Such things have happened before.  I have mad respect for vegetarians and suchlike. 

Once when I was 16 I went to a concert (I believe it was Q-Fest, for all those who lived here in the 90s and remember KUKQ) and stopped by the PETA booth.  When I left 5 minutes later, I left a committed vegetarian.  I came home and told my mother that I would no longer be eating meat.  "No problem," she said.

For the next week, my mom pulled out the stops and made every single meat dish I loved.  She claims to have no memory so I believe it could have been a subconscious decision.  I caved after 7 days.  That guacamole chicken has never tasted so delicious (recipe to come).

Anyhow, this recipe is one easily adapted if you spurn animal cruelty of all forms.  Good job!  May ants never invade your bedroom because I would expect you'd have some difficult decisions to make.

4 tbsp vegetable oil
6 corn tortillas
1 onion, diced
3 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
A large (32 oz can) crushed or diced tomatoes, or two regular sized ones
1 regular sized can tomato sauce
4 cans chicken broth
2 raw chicken breasts
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chile powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves

Shredded cheddar cheese
Crispy tortilla strips
Sour Cream
Chopped avocado

So did you also visit a PETA booth at an impressionable age?  Just leave out the chicken, and substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth.  Maybe you could add chunks of tofu.  I like to pretend tofu doesn't exist.  It creeps me out.  Everyone has their little phobias.  That one is mine.

Cut the tortillas up into squares.  Not little ones.  Regular sized ones.  Postage stamp sized.  Don't worry about doing it beautifully because they are going to disintegrate somewhat and thicken your soup.  Put the oil into a big soup pot.  This is a good time to turn on the stove.  I better not forget to mention that.

Put the corn tortilla squares, onion and garlic into the oil and cook it a bit until the onion is translucent.  The tortillas are not going to be crispy.  They're going to be soft.  Once that magical point of no return has been reached, then add your tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken broth.  Rinse out your cans and put them in your recycling bin.  I will be checking.

Add the raw chicken breasts.  If you want, you can dice them up first and then add the chunks.  I don't do this at this point but I will share my secret technique later.  Add all of the spices.  Let the soup come to a boil, then turn it to medium to medium low and let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is entirely cooked through.  Stir it occasionally so that ingredients in the soup don't become codependent and stick to the bottom of the pot.  Everyone gets burned that way.

Feeling lazy?  Want to make this soup but you don't have the specific spices?  You could add between 1 and 3 tablespoons of taco seasoning.  I'm a tortilla soup snob and I firmly believe that there is a subtle difference between the spices and the taco seasoning but I wouldn't turn my nose up at the taco seasoning version.  Both are delish.

Usually, if I have added whole chicken breasts to the soup instead of the chunks, I take it out once it is mostly cooked through.  It can still be pinkish in the middle because it will cook some more.  I chop the chicken somewhat finely and then put it back in the pot.  I like small chunks in the soup - almost like shreds.  You might like big chunks.  Lets all get along.

Now that your soup is cooked, time for some fun garnish!

Ladle your soup in a bowl.  Top with garnishes of your choice.  You could also do some chopped green onion.  I personally think that fresh cilantro tastes a little like your mouth does after you've been to the dentist, but sometimes it works for me.  In some dishes it is essential.  If you don't like it, leave it off.  Think of this as "personal responsibility" soup. 

This is a picture of temptation:

That's a tortilla strip with big grains of sea salt on them.  I can't resist them when they're like this.  Sometimes I burn them.  Those are easier to resist.

Make them like this:
Slice about 12 corn tortillas into thin strips.  Put about an inch of vegetable oil in a fry pan and fry these till golden.  They are meant to be a garnish so it's ok to partake a little.

When you take a bite, it's going to tomatoey, spicy, crunchy and soupy all at the same time.  Added effects for added garnishes.  Heaven.

Once at an old job, I had some leftover soup I'd just made perfectly ready for lunch at my desk.  A colleague I kinda disliked began an important conversation with me and could not be dissuaded from discussing that topic right at that minute.  When I was able to get back to my soup about 30 minutes later, the tortilla strips were soggy. 

I still carry the grudge.