There are a handful of things I've made over and over and over again--easy recipes that never fail me, standbys that most our friends have eaten at our house or found on their doorstep during illness or after a baby's been born. Rebecca's Tortilla Soup is one of them.
There aren't a lot of soup recipes chronicled here yet because I started this blog in the spring. I know there are spring soups, but I'm just not as inspired to make them during warmer weather. I suspect I'm not alone in this. But come fall, when it's darkening at 6:00, when Wyatt's doing homework at the table and I'm pulling sweaters from the basement, it's time. Time for a big cauldron on the back of the stove and steamy windows.
So many reasons to sing the praises of soup. It's cheap (unless you're making lobster bisque). It's unbelievably forgiving--too thick? Add more water. Too thin? Throw in some pasta. The combinations are endless. It's filling. And if you know a few tricks, it's easy. Stick with me this winter and you'll be a pro by the time you plant your radishes in the spring. (Though, as I've mentioned, I'm not the greatest teacher if you're looking for explication. You just have to hang around. But it won't be torture--at least not for me.)
I can't count the number of times soup has seemed like the answer. Yes, an answer to leftovers, but more than that. When people in my community have been grieving or going through massive change, I usually make soup. I might give them half of what my family's having for dinner, or I might make them a whole pot. Soup doesn't psychoanalyze, it doesn't try to solve anything, it doesn't bring tons of attention to the giver. It's just offered, ready to be warmed whenever you are.
You pragmatic sorts are ready for the recipe by now. I've noticed that's one of the things I'm always trying to balance when I write here--a focus on the food and clear-enough technique, but still retaining those of you that don't really give a hoot about the recipe. Selfishly, I don't want to lose a single one of you.
No you pragmatic sorts are REALLY ready for the recipe. Honestly, you just throw all this stuff in a pot. It's not authentic Mexican tortilla soup, so don't get caught up in comparison. Once you've sat down to a big, steamy bowl, though, I doubt you'll find the need to compare it to anything else. Except some vapid soups of the past that you, now an In Praise of Leftovers Soup Expert, are about to leave in the dust.
Rebecca's Tortilla Soup
Serves 6. Rebecca and I used to work together, and she was a great cook. For an all-day meeting at her house once, she made this soup for us, and I've been making it ever since. She used cooked chicken (pulled from a rotisserie chicken) and let it simmer in a crockpot overnight. You can do that if you want, but there's no need. You get just as much flavor from this quick stovetop version (and bigger hunks of chicken). I usually use frozen chicken breasts because I always have them in the freezer. If you use fresh, your cooking time will even be shorter. The tastier your salsa, the better the soup, but it doesn't monumentally matter. What I have in the fridge is usually the Emerald Valley organic salsa from PCC or Costco. It's the best "fresh" salsa for the money that I've found. And one more thing--I like the canned STEWED tomatoes in here better than diced, but I've used diced a million times.
3 or 4 whole frozen or fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 qt. (about two cans) chicken stock
2 15 oz. cans stewed tomatoes with juices
1 c. salsa
3 minced garlic cloves
1 ts. cumin
6 corn tortilla, cut into strips
juice of one lime
For garnishes (use any combination):
red chile flakes
shredded sharp cheddar
fresh jalapeno rings
Dump everything in a big stockpot (seriously). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes if fresh and 35 if frozen. By this time, the tortillas will have totally broken down and served to thicken the soup. Break chicken up with the back of a spoon or remove it and shred or chop it. I like to leave the chicken pieces pretty big.
Serve with bowls of garnishes on the table.
*If you're warming up leftovers, you may want to add a smidge of water as it thickens up in the fridge.