Tortilla soup is a staple here in Southern California, but much like fish tacos, it’s a culinary delight that was more or less foreign to me growing up in New York. Actually, I do have one particularly vivid memory of tortilla soup from my east coast days. In my undergrad days at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, Mondays were tortilla soup days. Having never heard of the dish before, I figured it was a dining hall invention, a la the “mexicorn lasagna”, which I’ve never again spotted outside that remote corner of Massachusetts.
How do I remember that Mondays were tortilla soup day? I came to the slow realization that at the beginning of the week, the soup station always featured a light, clear broth and as the days went by the soups became thicker and denser, moving through mulligatawny and onto chowders. The explanation, of course, was dining hall conservation- soup left over at the beginning of the week becomes the base for soups made later…just add more ingredients and adjust the seasonings and you have an entirely new meal- voila! Although this revelation didn’t curtail my tortilla soup habit, I feel fairly certain that my chowder intake went way down.
Fast forward a number of years and across a continent and I finally made tortilla soup myself a few weeks ago, in my new best friend, the slow cooker. Our friends Andrew and Meredith brought this dish to my baby shower last summer, a rollicking pot luck affair, and it held its own against all sorts of treats like Sprinkles cupcakes, Dylan’s famous baked apple french toast, and homemade frittatas. It took me nearly six months to get around to trying it on my own, but I couldn’t have been happier with the results. It was seriously easy (dump a bunch of ingredients and a couple of chicken breasts in a slow cooker and go) and made a great warm dinner watching Sunday Night Football. I was shocked at how well the chicken came out- tender and moist, it literally fell apart at the touch of a fork as I shredded it. My only complaint is that between the soup and the toppings, it involves a lot of ingredients, many of which aren’t exactly staples in my pantry (like red chile sauce and green chiles). But with a little forethought, this soup is well worth your while. Next time we’ll be making a double batch.
Tortilla soup (from Southwest Slow Cooking; serves 4)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 16-ounce diced can of tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 green chiles, roasted and chopped
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp cornmeal
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red chile sauce
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
monterey jack cheese
tortilla chips (we fried our own fresh from corn tortillas)
1. Saute the onions in a pan with the olive oil.
2. In a slow cooker, combine the sauteed onions, garlic, jalapeno, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, cumin, cayenne, cornmeal, chicken stock, red chile sauce, and chicken breasts. Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours.
3. Remove chicken, shred with a fork, and return to the slow cooker. Add avocado, cover, and cook on low until soup is thoroughly heated.
3. Serve in bowls. Top with lime juice, cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips.