What is it with tortilla soup? It seems like it’s on the menu of every restaurant and cafe in any town. I must admit though, if it’s on the menu, I usually order it just to see if meets my expectations. I prefer a thick and hearty chicken tortilla soup where the chicken is actually abundant. I think the first bowl of tortilla soup that I ever had was at a Houston’s Restaurant many, many, many years ago. I became hooked on that version and compared all others to THE Houston’s Tortilla soup. (Don’t even get me started on their spinach artichoke dip.) I found that any other version of the soup usually paled in comparison. I could never really pinpoint what it was about the flavor of the their soup that I liked so much. After some years of tinkering with my own recipe, I discovered (I think) the mystery flavor was cilantro pureed into the soup.
*A NOTE ABOUT CILANTRO: There are two types of people. Those who love cilantro, and those who hate it. No one really ever “kinda” likes cilantro. I think my sister falls into the “ugh cilantro” category. And it crushed me to learn that my favorite cook of all time the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, “hates” cilantro. She actually said that in one of her shows. I had to back it up to see if I heard that correctly. Yep, she said “I hate cilantro.” Apparently Julia Child didn’t care for cilantro either. Sigh. But please don’t let that discourage you from making this soup. You can completely omit the cilantro and you will still love it.
Anywho, at some point in my years of tinkering with this soup recipe I decided that I wanted to add something to make it a little more substantial, so I decided to incorporate hominy. I think it’s what makes this chicken tortilla soup a little special. Hominy is a larger corn kernel. It is soft to the tooth and its taste is mild, somewhere between a potato and corn. It adds a nice, rich texture once the soup is pureed.
Have you ever made a recipe so many times that you don’t actually need to look at the recipe anymore? You just know it by heart? I love when I find myself a that point. Well this is one of those for me. I will admit that it’s not one of those quick fix meals. Luckily since having my little girl, I have found some shortcuts in the prep that save me a bit of time. I recently had the pleasure of making a batch for some good friends of mine and decided to document the process for this post.
A small note about prepping the chicken. An excellent shortcut is to buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred or cube the breast meat. I would probably also include the thighs and legs too since those rotisserie chickens are usually pretty small. Really you could use any left over chicken for this recipe. Left over BBQ chicken would be good too and it could also add a nice, smoky flavor. For this particular batch of soup I actually poached (gently boiled) the chicken in water with salt, pepper corns and a couple of bay leaves. To poach, just place the chicken breasts in a pot and cover with water (or chicken stock) by an inch. Bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes partially covered. Cut through the thickest part of the breast to check for doneness.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4 to 6)
2 large chicken breasts (cooked and shredded or cubed – see note above)
1 cup diced onion (as a time saver you can buy pre-diced onion in the produce or freezer section of your grocer)
2 cans of hominy (no it doesn’t have to be “fancy” like it says in the picture. You can also use golden hominy. That is my preference but my grocer does not carry it)
1 32 oz box of chicken stock/broth
1 tablespoon olive oil or corn oil
1 tablespoon of vinegar (use a mild vinegar like rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar. You could also use lime juice. The acid just brightens the flavors of the soup at the end)
1 can diced mild green chilis (It adds a gentle spice and some tang)
1 tablespoon Chipotle chili peppers. (sample before you add so you know what you are getting into)
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro (plus extra for garnish)
about 4 corn tortillas
salt and pepper
1 or 2 diced avocados, 2 corn tortillas thinly sliced and toasted (corn chips or tortilla chips work too), shredded monterey jack or cheddar cheese, cilantro
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot on medium and add onion, diced green chilis and chipotles. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until a light golden. Add cumin and saute for a couple more minutes. This toasts the cumin slightly and awakens its flavor a bit.
Once that is golden, add a box of chicken broth. Be sure to scrape any brown bits that may have stuck to the pan, it adds even more flavor. Add a can of hominy. Tear up 4 corn tortillas into the soup. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the tortillas are falling apart. Add the cilantro. Turn the heat to low and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth. You can also use a blender or food processor.
Turn the heat back up to medium low and add the other can of hominy and the chicken. If the soup seems a little on the thick side, thin with water or additional chicken stock. Cook another 15 minutes or so until chicken and hominy are warmed through. Taste for salt and pepper. Add if needed. Stir in a tablespoon of vinegar or lime juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with toppings.
The bit of cheese and avocado transforms the soup into creamy perfection. The chips add a perfect crunch and the hominy and chicken make it so very satisfying. And the cilantro . . . well it adds another delicious dimension that I hope you’ll enjoy.
Next week’s mentionable will be of the DIY variety. My solution to a nightlight dilemma.