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Chicken Tortilla Soup

February 16, 2010

In case she hasn’t mentioned it lately, SoupAddict is a summer girl. She harbors a general resentment against snow, as it keeps her from her gardens (which are still producing leeks and various herbs). So, when it snows (and Mother Nature saw fit to drop 10″ in the last 12 hours), SoupAddict turns to one of her favorite soups for comfort on this bleak February day.

Coming off the previous night’s dinner that was so pepper-hot it completely shut down her taste buds (more on that another day), SoupAddict wanted something warm and creamy, with a gentle spice heat that stimulates the senses without overwhelming them. Call SoupAddict wimpy, but she does not understand the appeal of super-hot spices. Then again, there are probably plenty of people who don’t understand how someone, like SoupAddict, can eat a bowlful of plain, buttered pasta and be completely, blissfully happy.

This soup, however, should satisfy both sides of the bland-hot debate. And if you should feel it’s still too one-way-or-the-other, adjust the seasonings to suit. Soup is flexible and agreeable like that. That’s why SoupAddict [hearts] soup.

Veggie-lovin’ SoupAddict happily loads down this soup with peppers. The poblano peppers (dark green pepper on the right) looked more than halfway decent at the store, so she grabbed one. Sometimes, it’s a serrano. Or an Anaheim. But always, always a red bell pepper. SoupAddict loves da red bell – she can eat them like apples.
Of all the noble characters in this picture, SoupAddict’s eyes will always drift to the cheeses. Her local grocery store carries an impressive variety of cheese, including the chipotle jack, top left. SoupAddict loves chipotle peppers, and keeps an entire jarful of dried chipotles in her spice collection. When she saw this cheese, she immediately grabbed it, even though she wasn’t thinking about the tortilla soup a the time – that was just serendipity, plain and simple.
SoupAddict loves that her local grocery also carries in-store rotisserie chicken. SoupAddict is sometimes lazy and appreciates the convenience of a pre-cooked chicken (as well as the excuse to pull of the delicious skin and eat it while no one is looking. But you didn’t hear that here, no sir).
SoupAddict loves this part of soup-making almost as much as the soup-eating: the sauteing of the veggies and the spices.
The rotisserie chicken is quick to pull apart, and provides a nice combination of white and dark meat. Remove the skin and [chomp] discard. It’s not healthy [nom nom nom], dontcha know.
The soup has been simmering for about 20 minutes and smells divine.
SoupAddict likes a lot of cheese in her cheese sauce.
Action photo goodness! A long exposure of the cheese sauce as it’s being added to the soup. SoupAddict likes cheese. Mmmmm, cheese. Cheese is good. Cheese is SoupAddict’s friend.
Now that’s the stuff, bay-bee.
SoupAddict always makes a lot of her chicken tortilla soup because of this. This – this – is the next day. The soup has spent the night in the fridge and, after dodging the bold advances of the past-its-sell-date Black Forest ham, has developed an incredible blend of flavors and a creamy, thickened texture.

What you can’t tell from this picture is that the spoon is slightly angled downward, but the soup is still clinging to it.

Soup for lunch? Yes, please.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper or green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
15 ounces can tomato puree
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound cooked chicken, cubed or pulled
Cheese sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream, half and half or milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 ounces cheese, grated (use your favorite or a mix of favorites)
Tortilla chips, crumbled (or if you can find them, tortilla strips)
Sour cream
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

1. Make the soup:  Heat oil and butter in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté onions, celery and garlic until soft.

2. Add a splash of chicken stock, and then the red bell, poblano or green bell and jalapeno peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes to soften.

3. Add all of the spices (salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, sugar, chili powder), and stir until fragrant.

4. Add the remaining chicken stock, tomato puree and Worchestershire sauce. Mix well and bring to boil.

5. Add chicken, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes (or more – the longer a soup simmers, the better!)

6. Make the cheese sauce:  Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in flour to create a paste.

7. Slowly add the dairy, stirring constantly, until a thick, creamy sauce is formed. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Add grated cheese and stir to completely incorporate into the sauce.

8. Add cheese sauce to the soup, stirring to mix well. The soup should now be creamy, but not necessarily spoon-hugging thick.

9. To serve: ladle into bowls, then sprinkle on cilantro. Add a spoonful of sour cream and top with tortilla chips/strips.

  1. February 16, 2010 12:09 pm

    Oooohhhh! My stomach is growling. Tortilla Soup is my absolute favorite soup & I am so with you on the rotisserie chickens (especially when they are fresh off the roaster). I like my soup on the spicy side, so usually one or two chipotles in adobo get popped in to the mix. Also fire-roasted tomatoes add a beautiful smoky note in the background.

    My brother lives in Cinci as well and was grumbling about the uncharacteristic snow dumping. I would have felt worse for him, but he was still mowing his lawn the day after Christmas 🙂

  2. SoupAddict permalink
    February 17, 2010 9:28 pm

    Yeah, we have weird weather here. My gardens are usually still in production in November. We’re having this melting-freezing-snowing cycle now that’s created 6″ diameter icicles that reach from gutter to ground. They’re pretty, but, eek! Where’s Spring?

  3. February 18, 2010 10:15 am

    It’s snowy here as usual. Tortilla Soup is my very favorite and your recipe is decidedly different from mine. I must must must try it this weekend, who cares if it’s snowing if you have bowl of yummy soup?

    • SoupAddict permalink
      February 18, 2010 7:44 pm

      That’s one of the things I love about Chicken Tortilla Soup – everyone makes it their own way. When I go to a restaurant that serves it, I always order it, because I’m fascinated by the different flavors that the different joints put out. What can I say? I’m weird that way. Or, just weird, period. 🙂

  4. February 18, 2010 10:35 pm

    I really love your top photo.

    I’m not eating much meat these days and am wondering if there could be a decent veggie tortilla soup. Of course it wouldn’t compare to the real thing, but vegetable broth might be an ok substitute. No faux chicken though!

  5. SoupAddict permalink
    February 20, 2010 10:13 pm

    I think vegetable broth would be just fine, since this version of tortilla soup is more tomato-y/cheesy than lime-cilantro versions.

    Now, about the chicken … that one’s tougher if faux chick is out. But, I’ve been thinking about this since you posted. I don’t think I have an answer for the flavor of chicken, but perhaps you don’t even have to worry about that – maybe it’s just a matter of texture. I’ve run through everything from pasta to gnocchi to spaghetti squash as a substitute. But I keep coming back to white beans, like great northerns or cannelloni. They’ll absorb the tomato flavor of the soup and will meld with the cheese sauce, and will add some soft but substantial texture to the soup. Just a thought!

  6. March 2, 2010 9:56 pm

    Just discovered your blog. I love soups and you are featuring great ones. I’ll have to start cooking 🙂

  7. SoupAddict permalink
    March 2, 2010 10:10 pm

    Hi Hélène,

    Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment! Have fun with the soups!

  8. February 20, 2011 6:45 pm

    this soup is amazing! i replaced the flour with cornstarch due to gluten intolerance, but it turned out so well. i used your lead on the cheese, but picked up a CHEDDAR chipotle. the chipotle adds such an amazing level to the rest of the soup.

    i will be making this for years to come!

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