Today we’re packing up and leaving this magical place called Chile. It’s been such an unexpected and awe inspiring trip. Had I not been given the opportunity, I’m not sure I would have ever made it here. But man, I’m so incredibly happy and grateful that I did. If Chile isn’t on your list of places to visit in your lifetime, it should be. And if it is, consider bumping it up a few notches.
As sad as I am to leave summertime to go back to the frigid Northeast, I’m looking forward to hunkering down for the remainder of winter. I’m also looking forward to getting back on track with my diet, something I never thought I’d be saying a month ago. But I felt so good after a solid two weeks of clean eating and I want to keep that momentum going. Only this time, I’ll add in some occasional splurges (like some of this wine we’re taking back with us).
I foresee a major soup kick in my future. I never cared much for soups growing up. Probably because when my mom made them – which was often – it was all we ate for a week and sometimes more. I would get so sick of tasting the same flavor over and over again no matter how delicious it was on the first day. By the time winter was over, I was doing the happy dance knowing I wouldn’t be tortured with soup again until fall. It took me until my 30’s to really start loving soup again.
I always used to think that I was healthier in the summer because of all the fresh fruits, veggies and salads I would eat. But now, I find my summers to be filled with liquid dinners (not the soup kind), american-cheese-topped backyard burgers, and seasonal fruit desserts. Come fall, I look forward to eating more hearty vegetable based meals and liquid dinners (mostly) in the form of soup.
Soups are an amazing way to load up on nutrients while also keeping warm and cozy. Even your most basic home cooked chicken broth is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to one of my favorites: collagen. Did you know that consuming collagen can actually lead to younger skin and reduced cellulite? Granted, you need to consume a whole lot of it to actually see any real effect, but still! It’s a good thought to keep around in your back pocket, especially after that inevitable post holiday weight gain.
This is a simple soup I’ve been making for years, and I make it a little different each time. There’s really no right or wrong way, and that’s what I love so much about soups. Just do what makes you feel good and it’s probably going to taste good. I start with the basics: mirepoix, aka the fancy French name for carrots, celery, and onion. I threw in some bell pepper, because I had it, and some jalapeños for a little spice, and of course garlic – that goes in everything. Then some chicken stock – I always have the homemade stuff on hand and I swear it makes a difference, but a carton of store bought broth will get the job done just fine.
We season it up with warm spices like cumin and coriander – this is what really sets this soup apart from a traditional American style chicken soup. Next we’ll add the chicken. I love making this with the leftovers from a roasted chicken, but really any shredded cooked chicken will do. And then, what makes it extra special is the fixin’s. My friend and chef Chris Lynch hates that term, so we’ll call them toppings in case he’s reading (he’s not). A squeeze of lime, cilantro, scallions and diced avocado are all essential. But what makes this a true chicken tortilla soup is, you guessed it! – the tortillas.
Traditional recipes have you fry up strips of corn tortillas till crisp, but in the name of health – and laziness – I opt to bake mine instead. Store bought tortillas will work in a pinch, but there’s something extra satisfying about the thick crunch of a home
fried baked tortilla strip. Brush corn tortillas lightly with olive oil, stack them on top of each other, slice into strips, then lay them out on a sheet pan and bake in a lowish oven ’till crisp. Bonus: line your pan with parchment or foil first for extra easy clean-up.
The tortillas add amazing depth, crunch and substance to an otherwise light and brothy soup. You absolutely cannot skip them. Otherwise you’d just have chicken soup with some fixin’s. I mean toppings.
The best part about soups – and this one in particular – is they are oh so freezer friendly. So when I finally get off that ungodly long plane ride and make my way back to the bitter cold northeast, all I have to do is stop off for an avocado, take this out of the freezer, and as soon as the tortillas are done baking, we’ll have the coziest homemade dinner on the table.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large Spanish onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper (any color), diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2-3 jalapeños, died, seeds and ribs removed for less heat
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 quarts chicken stock (homemade preferred)
- 2 plum tomatoes, quartered
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (from about 2 large chicken breasts or 1 small rotisserie chicken)
- 8 corn tortillas
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (more if needed)
- diced avocado
- chopped scallions
- chopped cilantro
- lime wedges
- Pour olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, carrot, celery, and jalapeños. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the coriander and cumin and stir until fragrant, about one minute more.
- Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, then bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for about 20 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line two sheet pans with foil for easier clean-up. Brush one tortilla with oil on both sides, then stack another tortilla on top. Brush with oil, then repeat until all tortillas are stacked. Slice into strips, then transfer to the sheet pan in evenly spaced layers. Sprinkle all over with salt.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes, but keep an eye out so that they do not burn. When the tortillas are golden and crisp, remove them from the oven and let cool. Transfer to a bowl and bring to the table along with the soup and all the fixings.
- Ladle soup into bowls and let everyone at the table add toppings as they please.