Recently I came upon a recipe for Tortilla Soup that reminded me of a memorable one I had years ago at a restaurant in Nashville, Tenn. After reading at the bottom of the directions that it took six hours to cook, I promptly discarded it. Not because of the length of time, for I have made some dishes that take this long to nurture, but because I knew that an authentic tortilla soup did not take this long to cook. So off I went and checked a few of the sources I rely upon, including Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill's Sopa Azteca, and came up with what I felt was an authentic recipe with a few twists. Two of these were coriander and cumin. I love coriander seeds for its fragrance and coriander for the nutty and peppery flavor it adds to Mexican dishes.
One of the ingredients I did keep from one of my sources was the addition of Swanson's Tortilla Soup broth, in lieu of regular chicken broth, for more depth of flavor. I had used their Thai Broth and found it to be a positive addition to some of my Thai recipes. It had a mild flavor and did not compete with the other spices. As my best friend would say...it was not offensive.
Tortilla Soup is a filling and flavorful meal that can be made with little effort but one that sings with an unmistakeable Mexican harmony. Some of the recipes I came across had corn and/or beans, either red or black. Others used flour to thicken the broth. I wanted to stick to authentic so I discarded the use of both beans and corn. As to the flour... it is called tortilla soup...they thicken the broth!
Don't be surprised at the short time it takes to cook the chicken pieces. I thought it was a misprint. It's not. Although I am not an expert on peppers, the Anaheim was a winner. One had enough heat for our taste. Add more at your risk and heat tolerance!
I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. Madame Mere loved it and she's not much of a fan of Mexican food, though she loves her soups.
We accompanied our meal with this wonderful and inexpensive Rioja voted Wine of the Year for 2013 by Wine Spectator. Open early and let it breathe! By the way, it is CVNE and not CUNE as it looks. It stands for Compania Vinicula del Norte de Espana. and was only $10 at Costco.
6 tablespoons cooking oil
8 6-inch corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 Anaheim chili, stemmed and seeded
1 onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 quarts Swanson's Tortilla Broth, canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1/4 cup lightly-packed cilantro leaves plus 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 pound cheddar, grated or a combination of cheddar and Monterey
Mexican crema, sour cream or creme fraiche
Lime wedges, for serving
Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.)
- In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add half the tortilla strips and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining tortilla strips.
- Reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the onion, garlic, and spices; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, cilantro leaves, if using, and one-third of the tortilla strips. Bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes; remove the bay leaves.
- In a blender, puree the soup in batches; pour it back into the pot. Add the wine. Add the chicken, bring the soup back to a simmer, and simmer until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir in the avocado.
- To serve, put the remaining tortilla strips in bowls, top with the cheese, and pour in the soup. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, if using, and serve with the lime wedges and crema or sour cream.