This week for the Food Network’s #SensationalSides we are all creating recipes that utilize pantry items. I usually refer to this type of cooking inspiration as Refrigerator Diving – going through my cupboards and refrigerator/freezer, looking for ingredients that spark my creativity and discovering new meals to feed my family.
With the cool, rainy spring days we’ve been having, I love to serve steaming bowls of soup for lunch and dinner. They are healthy and delicious, and the house smells wonderful as they are cooking. There is nothing better than coming indoors, damp from the rain and immediately knowing that there is a hot meal waiting for us!
One of my favorite soups is Tortilla soup, made with a tomato-chicken stock base. It is like chicken soup on steroids, full of the flavors of Latin cuisines – chiles, cumin, oregano, corn and fresh lime juice. There are many variations and you can add whatever seasonings and ingredients you like, but start with a really well made stock and the rest will be the proverbial icing on the cake.
This recipe is a great way to utilize ingredients you keep stocked in your pantry like dried chiles, chicken stock, canned tomatoes, and corn tortillas. Toss in the classic combination of onions, carrots and celery known as mirepoix, plus a few seasonings and a little chicken. With just a few steps and about 45 minutes you will have a healthy, hearty, and delicious meal on the table that is very affordable.
I love using dried chiles. They impart tremendous flavor and depending on the type, spicy heat. For this soup I chose a combination of moderately hot Guajillo (wah-hee-yo) chiles and Chipotle peppers (smoked jalapenos). The Guajillos give the soup a deep chile flavor and the chipotle lends a nice fiery smokiness. You may have seen Chipotles en Adobo at the store. You can use those, but be aware that they have been preserved in a vinegary adobo sauce. They are delicious but will alter the flavor of this soup. I prefer the clean, pure flavors of the dried chiles for this recipe.
Softening dried chiles in boiling water makes them pliable and easier to work with. From there you can puree them into sauces and soups like this recipe or use them to infuse liquids. If you can’t find these specific chiles, you can use any variety available in your grocery store or dried ground chile powders as an alternative. The dried chiles, when combined with the tomatoes, give this soup its rich red color.
If you order tortilla soup at a restaurant, it is usually served with fried tortilla strips. I have never had much luck frying my strips – they usually wind up burning. I decided to bake them in a moderate oven instead and though they took longer, they were nice and crispy without being greasy. The Artist told me that any time I wanted to make those again, he wouldn’t mind.
Recipes like this are the perfect time to splurge on boneless chicken pieces, either breasts or thighs. They are a little more expensive but not having to cut around the bones is worth the extra cost. If you want to use bone-in chicken, take it off the bone and save the bones and any extras to make stock in the future. Store the bones in the freezer and when you have enough, cook them down in water. Then you can either use the stock immediately or freeze it in containers.
The garnishes are fun, add a lot of flavor and texture, and bright colors. I love the look of the yellow-orange cheese against the deep red soup with the splash of white from the sour cream, the creamy yellow-green of the avocado, and the pop of green of the chopped cilantro. This is a visually stunning soup that will have everyone sitting up with anticipation as you deliver the beautiful bowls to the table. Take a few extra minutes to garnish the bowls before serving and then you can pass bowls of the garnishes at the table for people to add more of their favorites.
This soup is wonderful any time of the year, but put it on your menu for your Cinco de Mayo party next month. It is the perfect way to celebrate with your family and friends!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
To get the most juice from citrus fruits, microwave them for about 10 seconds and then roll them under your palm on the counter. This will break down the cell walls and release the most juice. A hand-held wooden reamer is the best tool for getting every drop. Limes do not have seeds the way lemons do, so there is no need for a strainer.
Most tortillas, even corn, are made with some wheat to make them more pliable. Look for GF on the label to be sure. Homemade stock not only tastes better, but you can control the ingredients and guarantee that it is safe for your family.
Kitchen Skill: Easily Cutting Chicken
Chicken, more than other meats, is very slippery and squishy when raw (that is a technical term). This can make it a bit challenging to cut into small pieces and if you are not careful, your fingers can slip and you may cut yourself. If you cut the chicken when it is partially frozen, it is easy to handle and much firmer, giving you nice, even cuts. Allow an extra 3 to 5 minutes to cook it all the way through.
Chile Tortilla Soup
© 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserved.
Yield: 4 servings
Corn tortillas (gluten-free if needed)
Organic olive oil
Kosher salt and ancho chile powder
1 to 2 dried guajillo, New Mexican, or other medium to mild red chiles
1 dried chipotle chile
2 cups (16 oz) crushed or strained tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, bitter core discarded, thinly sliced
2 tbsp organic olive oil, divided
4 to 6 cups chicken stock, preferably low sodium
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
2 boneless chicken breast halves, cut into small cubes or thin strips
4 small carrots, trimmed and chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 tbsp masa harina or corn flour (gluten-free if needed)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream, optional
Avocado cubes, optional
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Fresh lime wedges, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the tortillas on both sides with the oil, stack them, and cut into thin strips. Spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and chile powder, and bake until lightly golden brown and crispy, tossing occasionally, about 20 to 30 minutes. Check them every 10 minutes, stirring them so all sides get crispy and none of them stick together. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the tortilla strips are baking, place the dried chiles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a cutting board (discard water), cut out the stem end and scrape out the seeds. Cut chiles into small pieces.
Place the chile pieces, tomatoes, onions and garlic in a blender and puree until completely smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender if needed with a flexible spatula. If you use a food processor, strain out any remaining solids (a blender is much better and fully pureeing mixtures).
In a 4-quart saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of the oil over medium heat. Pour the pureed tomato mixture into the pan and whisk in the chicken stock, cumin, and oregano. (Use less chicken stock for a spicier soup; more stock for a milder version.) Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dissolve the masa in 1/2-cup warm water, whisking until completely smooth. Pour the masa into the tomato/stock mixture and whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Add the frozen corn and bring to a boil; cook at a low boil on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.
In a 10- or 12-inch skillet, heat remaining 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat until rippling. Add the chicken pieces, sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until cooked through and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cubes or strips. When done, use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a plate, leaving as much of the oil as possible in the pan.
In the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and sauté the carrots and celery until softened, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the sauteed vegetables to the tomato/stock mixture, stirring to combine. Add the cooked chicken and any accumulated juices and warm through. Add lime juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Place a few tortilla strips in the bottom of each serving bowl. Ladle in some of the soup, sprinkle with shredded cheese and drop a dollop of sour cream in the center. Top with some more of the tortilla strips, the avocado if using, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired. Serve hot with additional lime wedges on the side.
Create a New Tradition Today!
This recipe is part of Food Network’s weekly Sensational Sides. See the links below for more inspiration and great recipes and check out our Pinterest page for all the recipes from this series.!
Feed Me Phoebe: Artichoke Hummus
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Spaghetti and Meatballs
Red or Green: Sea Bass with Spicy Asian Ginger Sauce
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Quinoa Citrus Mango Avocado Black Bean Salad
Cooking With Elise: Glorious Greek Salad Dressing
Devour: Clean Out the Pantry Night
Weelicious: Greek Nachos
Virtually Homemade: Garlic Rosemary Pizza Crust Bites
Domesticate Me: Fiesta Baked Eggs with Farro and Black Beans
Taste With The Eyes: Mom’s Vintage Potato Salad
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Rice and Beans Casserole
The Sensitive Epicure: Salmon and Brown Rice Casserole (Gluten-Free)
Daily*Dishin: Spicy Chipotle Chicken Pasta with Crunchy Roasted Black Beans
FN Dish: Pantry Clean-Out Sides
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