Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup

       A friend once remarked that this was the best soup she had ever tasted.
When I first discovered it at "Fritzbee's" restaurant in the 1980's I felt the
same.  I have watched over the years as various renditions of Chicken
Tortilla Soup have come and gone, most delicious but none measuring up to
Fritzbee's level. Some created their flavor base with tomato sauce; others
were nothing more than chicken broth with tortilla strips on top.  In my
attempts to ensure that even when Frtizbee's closed I could continue to enjoy
their soup, I created a version which relies on the flavor and substance of the
tortilla itself as an integral part of the broth. Providing the structure to the
soup in a similar way that bread does to some Italian soups, the tortilla breaks
down and thickens the soup to a creamy consistency. The toppings (fried corn
tortilla strips, chopped avocado, sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese),
add a crunch and a fresh Tex-Mex bite.
        Now the matter of cilantro....there are two kinds of people in the world,
those that like cilantro and those that don't.  It's like a genetic tendency, that
can't be swayed or convinced otherwise.  Don't try to coax me - cilantro and
I have never been friends.  And my husband is hesitant to eat at Mexican
restaurants worried his food will be laced with what to others, is a staple
condiment.  So if you are genetically inclined to appreciate it, pile on the
cilantro.  If not, you will appreciate my revelation while chopping cilantro
one day in prep for a cooking class: cilantro smells like stink bugs. 
That evening one of my cooking students interjected unprompted,
"You know, cilantro smells like stink bugs." There you have it - proof positive!
Those of us that live on the East Coast have unfortunately become familiar with
this immigrant from Asia over the past few years as these pesky insects have
darted about our heads, clogged up our gas fireplaces, dive-bombed into our
hair during church meetings, fouling the air with their scent. It does not
necessarily follow that they taste the same.....I will leave that up to someone who
likes cilantro
to be the judge!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
4 cups rich chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ can chopped green chiles
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 ½ cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
12 corn tortillas
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. ground cumin

     1 peeled, coarsely chopped ripe avocado
     Sour Cream
     Chopped cilantro (optional)
     1 cup Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese, shredded 

            -Saute onion and garlic in 2 tab. oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
             Add chicken broth to pot along with green chiles, tomatoes,
             chicken and 8 corn tortillas torn into small pieces.

            -Simmer covered, over medium heat,  about 30 minutes until
             tortillas are broken up and absorbed into broth.  Season with
             cumin, salt and pepper.

            -Cut remaining tortillas into thin strips and fry in vegetable oil
             until crisp and golden. 

            -Serve soup with sprinkling of avocado, dab of sour cream, 
             cheese and tortilla strips.

            -Serves 6

               Cook's Notes:
               -For a heartier version, add 1 cup frozen corn niblets and 3/4 cup black
  beans to the soup when the tortillas are added to the broth.

            -If you do not have a rich, chicken stock on hand in your freezer,
                use boxed chicken stock or canned chicken broth and add 1 tab.
               "Better Than Boullion" paste to develop a rich chicken flavor. 
                Best option -  purchase a whole stewing chicken and place in large pot
               -cover with water and add a whole quartered onion, 3 stalks chunked
                celery, 3 carrots in large chunks, 3 sprigs parsley and salt and pepper. 
                Simmer over low heat 2 hours.  There you have your rich broth and
                chicken for the soup!

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