It was 4 degrees in Boston yesterday. Usually I embrace winter like a steadfast New Englander, but this was a vicious cold I could feel coming for me right through the walls of my house. Fortunately, soup was already on my agenda, thanks to the heap of leftover roast chicken and pints of stock in my fridge.
The traditional chicken soup — even when loaded with sloppy, slurpable noodles — is not well-received by our kids (“I wouldn’t like my chicken wet and dirty,” says the 3 year old). But tortilla soup they love. It’s not surprising, really — it’s one of my favorites, too. I think it’s the bright and lively addition of tomatoes, the strings of melted cheese, and the crispy, salty, just-fried corn chips piled high in the middle of the bowl that win them over. Warm and spicy and reminiscent of places far, far south of our state border, this simple soup is a triple-threat attack on the bitter chill of January.
Yield: About 3 quarts, serving 6-8
6 corn tortillas (or just fry up the whole package — I always do)
About 1/3 c. safflower or canola oil, for frying
fine sea salt, for sprinkling
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 canned plum tomatoes, diced, with some of their juice (about 14 0z.)
2 quarts chicken stock (the homemade kind really shines here)
2 c. shredded, cooked chicken
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
Tabasco sauce, to taste (I don’t put it in the pot, since the kids don’t like spicy food, but do add a dash or two to my own bowl)
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (optional)
Stack 3 tortillas on a cutting board. Halve them, then slice crosswise into 3/4-inch strips. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Heat about 3 tbsp. safflower or canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange tortilla strips in a single layer, being careful not to overcrowd the pan (you’ll have to fry them in batches). Cook until bottoms are nicely browned — no need to flip them — about 5 minutes. If they brown too quickly, turn the heat down. When done, remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined dish and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Repeat with remaining strips.
Warm a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, then onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in carrots and garlic, season with salt, and cook 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes and their juice and cook a few minutes more. Add stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook gently until carrots are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in chicken, parsley, black pepper, and tabasco. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Garnish individual servings with cheese and tortilla strips.
Note: To make this soup gluten-free, read labels! Some brands of tortillas are labeled gluten-free (Mission tortillas were, last time I checked); others are not.