tortilla chicken soup

tortilla soup

The first time I encountered Sopa de Tortilla, I was 14 years old.  I was on my first foray outside the United States, traveling in the Yucatán Peninsula on a school sponsored trip.  Quite a bit of that excursion has already faded from memory, but there are still a few moments I remember with some semblance of clarity.   I can easily recall my first view of the bright blue waters  of the Gulf as we prepared to land in Cancún – I also remember my delight in boarding the bus out of Cancún pretty much immediately after landing, because nothing is more fun than a gaudy tourist trap of a city that was developed by a bank, right?   Some of my other cherished memories of Mexico include:  gleefully haggling with vendors at the open air mercados, collecting small figures of Chacmool, exploring several of the regions gorgeous cenotes (I heart karst), and witnessing the descent of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza during the spring equinox.  Mostly though, I remember the food.

I had never really been exposed to another culture’s cuisine until I traveled to Mexico.  Dining at Señor Pablo’s, a now defunct Mexican restaurant in Iowa City, had not adequately prepared me for the actual dishes I would encounter in Mexico: beef tostadas with mole, quesadillas with fresh Gulf shrimp and queso fresco, and oh god, the sopas.  It was March, we were near the equator – the ambient temperature was no where approaching cool – and I couldn’t get enough soup.  I was eating Sopa de Lima and Sopa de Tortilla almost every time it was offered on a menu.

I kept ordering tortilla soup in restaurants after I returned from Mexico; sometimes the bowl of soup that arrived at the table would be pretty close to my wistful recollections of the original, and other times I would wind up with a crazy cream-based version that had origins miles away from the Yucatán.  I’ve never quite been able to recreate the taste of the tortilla soup I loved and lost, but this simple recipe is the closest I’ve ever come.

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Tortilla Chicken Soup

Adapted from The Food Network

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium white onions, diced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
3 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped, or 1 – 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
8 corn tortillas, cut into wedges
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, place tortilla wedges on sheet, and lightly spray the tops of the wedges.  Sprinkle with salt and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Remove to plate and cool.
  2. Place stockpot over medium heat and coat with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the onions, garlic, jalapenos, and tomatoes.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes until the vegetables are cooked down and pulpy.
  3. Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the shredded chicken and remove soup from burner after heated through, about two minutes.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls and top with cheese, cilantro and baked tortilla wedges.
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