I love good home-style Mexican cooking, and there is no dish more comforting in Mexican cuisine than tortilla soup. Many people tend to think it's Tex-Mex or just an Americanized Mexican dish, but it does in fact originate from central Mexico. Known as sopa Azteca, it is considered a very special homey dish. It was thought to have been invented to use up any leftover or stale tortillas. For me tortilla soup combines all the wonderful flavors of Mexico into one bowl of soul-satisfying goodness.
Everyone, including moms and chefs, has a different recipe for this soup. Sometimes ingredients may differ or procedure differs. But the most important, star ingredients in this recipe are and have always been chile peppers and tortillas. In typical fashion dried chile peppers are used for making the base of the soup, but here in the States it's much easier to procure chile powder than whole dried chile peppers. To achieve a flavor that's no less traditional, I add a good helping of chile powder along with a roasted poblano and jalapeño pepper. Also I bake the tortillas instead of frying them so they absorb much less oil.
Tortilla soup is highly flavorful with robustness achieved from combining roasted peppers and roasted tomatoes with onions and garlic. All cook together in oil until thick and paste-like, then they are puréed and combined with chicken stock. The spicy broth is ladled into bowls and along come the multitude of requisite toppings: shredded chicken, crispy tortillas, avocados, cheese, and sour cream. For a variation, any firm white-flesh fish can be cubed and simmered in the finished soup. Tortilla soup makes a very hearty and healthy meal. It's a soup made for sharing with a group of friends enjoying a fun Mexican dinner.
6 6-inch corn tortillas
4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeño pepper
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups chicken stock
shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
2 Haas avocados, cubed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut tortillas into 1/4-inch strips. Toss tortilla strips with a drizzle of oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and lightly golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Rub chicken breasts with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until cooked through and juices run clear, about 30 to 35 minutes. Once chicken is cool to touch, shred into bite-size pieces.
Turn on broiler. Place peppers on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil peppers for 3 to 5 minutes per side until black and blistered. Alternatively, blacken peppers over a gas flame. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes to allow steam to loosen skins. Remove skins by rubbing peppers with paper towels. Remove stem and seeds. Wear gloves when handling jalapeño. Chop peppers.
Warm 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chopped peppers and spices; sauté for a few minutes. Add tomatoes; cook until the mixture thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, purée the vegetables until smooth. Add half the stock and continue to purée until silky smooth. Add the remaining stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Add shredded chicken and warm for 2 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls and top each with shredded cheese, baked tortilla strips, sour cream, avocado slices, and cilantro sprigs. Garnish each bowl with a lime wedge. Yield: 6 servings.