Below is a most useful recipe for soothing head, heart and soul, a tried-and-true favorite by my friend Kitty that appeared in the Austin paper with the headline “Cedar fever is no match for heady, spicy tortilla soup” (cedar fever being the allergies you get from the Central Texas/Hill Country resident evil, Ashe juniper). It remains true: Allergies are no match for this warmth and comfort. Love you, Kitty!
Jan. 21, 2004
By Kitty Crider, Austin American-Statesman Food Editor
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
32 oz. chicken broth
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
10-oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
14-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. frozen corn
Juice of 1/2 lime
2-4 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, to taste
4 corn tortillas cut into squares or strips and fried or tostado chips
Salt and pepper to taste*
Optional garnishes: grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, diced avocado
Place chicken breasts, onion and broth in a large pot or 4-quart deep saute pan. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until chicken breasts are done, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken to a clean cutting board. Add remaining ingredients except tortillas/chips and garnishes. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, cut chicken into bite-size pieces and return to soup pot. Simmer until corn is tender or longer. When ready to serve, place tortillas or chips in a bowl and ladle over soup. Sprinkle cheese on top, if desired. Garnish with cubes of avocado. Makes about 2 quarts.
*Remember most chips are salty. And some chicken broths are saltier than others.
Not that I’m dissing nasal sprays, antihistamines or allergy shots, but when cedar fever hits, I want tortilla soup. It’s my chili, my clam chowder, my chicken noodle soup.
Its warmth is soothing; its spice, head-opening. I can just feel those little gray brain cells breaking free of the surf, determined to live and breathe again.
But tortilla soup has not always been my folk cure. In childhood, it was cream of tomato soup. Campbell’s, of course. In teen years, homemade beef/vegetable. Then I discovered the charm of chile peppers and never looked back.
At first, it was chili, as in that bowl of red. It was beloved in these parts 20 years ago, along with broccoli-cheese soup and Canadian cheese soup. Then as Central Texas began its love affair with tortilla soup, so did I, rationalizing that the vitamin C in the peppers and tomatoes had to have marvelous curative powers. As the cedars grew in my neighborhood, so did my infatuation.
Now, I have a container of tortilla soup in my freezer nearly all the time, although in emergencies, I confess to having opened a can of chicken broth, poured in some salsa and added leftover chicken and a handful of chips.
I’ve stirred up tomato-based tortilla soups as well as broth-based ones. I’ve started soup pots with cans of Ro-Tel tomatoes as well as homemade stock. I’ve tried dried mixes and jarred ones. I’ve used stewed chickens, rotisserie birds and leftover turkey, and if I had pheasant in my kitchen on a regular basis like Hudson’s on the Bend does, I would slice that into the bowl just like they do.
I rarely make tortilla soup the same way twice. To me, that is the beauty of soup — working with whatever is in the fridge or pantry. I have been known to toss most anything into the pot. However, I tend to favor certain ingredients: a chicken-broth base with the addition of tomatoes, chiles, onion, corn, tortillas, fresh lime juice, cilantro and chicken. I like diced avocado and shredded cheese for garnishes if I’m not counting fat grams.
Here is a simple version that has a light clean flavor, is not too spicy and whose ingredients are easy to keep on hand.
[Editor’s note: Even simpler (almost lazy) version here.]