When I walked into my first apartment I was welcomed by a box of week-old Dunkin’ Donuts sitting on the stove, moldy coffee on top of the fridge and an inch-thick crown of hair that had accumulated around the bath tub. The previous tenants just packed a few essentials in their suitcases and left without cleaning up a thing. Yet, amidst the years of grime and history books, they left my saving grace in the Chicago winter of 2011: a large stock pot. Some might remember this winter as the year of Snowpocalypse, snOMG, or Snowapalooza. But I remember this winter as the year of Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Kate’s Bean and Kale Soup, and my favorite, Chicken Tortilla Soup.
I’ve been craving a bowl for months now, so when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees today I ran to the store to pick up chicken, onions and cilantro. The spectrum of spices in this recipe yields a magnificent broth with layers of complexity and the shredded chicken soaks up the flavor and melts in your mouth. The fresh cilantro and avocado on top of the soup make me think for five minutes that it’s summer again.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Recipe adapted from “Back to the Cutting Board”
Shredded chicken requires patience. Do not shred too early or you will end up with chewy squares of chicken instead of thin flavorful strands. To test the chicken I use The Forklift Test: Attempt to pick a big chunk up with a fork. If chicken rips free when you try to lift, it’s shred time. Shred the chicken with two forks while in pot. If this is not easy, let chicken cook longer and try again.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
16 ounces grape tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
5 cups chicken broth (I prefer Swanson)
12 ounces frozen corn
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh cilantro, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
1 cup tortilla chips, crushed
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 avocado, chopped
Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent.
Add in all the spices and cook for one minute.
Add in the tomatoes, carrots, peppers, chicken broth, 1 1/3 cups of water, corn, beans, and 1/2 cup cilantro. Partially cover and bring soup to a simmer.
Immerse chicken breasts in the soup so the liquid is covering the top of the breasts. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until chicken passes The Forklift Test, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
When the chicken is ready to shred, use two forks and pull chicken apart in the pot. Let soup simmer for 10 more minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with chips, cheese, avocado and cilantro. Squeeze lime over soup just before eating.
Alex Milling is a recent graduate of Northwestern University and is welcoming tips for how to make radiator heat work properly.