I started making this Tortilla Soup more than a dozen years ago. The original recipe was from my friend and former roomie Diana. We loved to host dinner parties, especially in Fall when the evening temperature in Fresno dips low enough to make it bearable to eat outside. This pureed version of Tortilla Soup with chicken was a favorite for our patio parties. The distinct cumin and chili powder flavors make it memorable.
It took a few tries to really master the soup. I recall making a few batches in a hand-me-down blender that exploded hot tomato-based soup to the white ceiling of our Tower District rental. We were covered in hot soup and drowning in laughter after that episode and a few more like it.
I finally invested in a fancy immersion blender for a less messier version of this recipe. (This is as close to power tools as I’ll ever get. Think blender blades attached to a power stick.)
After I got married and my cohort of friends started having babies, Tortilla Soup became the mainstay I would deliver after mama friends gave birth. I’d make up a batch of Tortilla Soup and a salad with all the garnishes packed into little baggies and containers. The soup was hearty and comforting – just what a new mama needs after the beautiful-traumatic experience of bringing a new life into the world.
I served up that soup for more dinner parties, baby showers, holidays, women’s luncheons and play dates than I could count. After a while I stopped making the soup because so many of my friends were making the recipe. I could enjoy the flavors and let them put in the work.
This past Tuesday I knew it was time to dig out the old favorite recipe for an important occasion. My dear friend, Yasmin, texted me the night before that her sweet mother-in-law had gone on to Heaven. She died suddenly – too quickly for the whole family. Some kind of heart complication. Verity and her husband already had booked tickets to Fresno from India to meet their newest grandchild, Yasmin’s baby girl born a few months ago. They had planned to stay six months to cuzzle sweet Sofia during the day while mama returned to work, to fix authentic Indian food for our crew, and to just generally love on their son and daughter-in-law and kids.
Life slips away so quickly sometimes; it’s hard to digest.
I told Yasmin she needed to come to dinner before she flew out for the funeral. I needed to just hug her tight and look into her eyes and say, “I’m sorry” in person. When she arrived there as a vice presidential debate playing in the background and kids doing gymnastics off the big red couch. It was hardly a solemn occasion but it was just what we needed – to sit across the table and just be together.
I dipped the ladle into the pot and served up bowls of Tortilla Soup. We added our own garnishes – a handful of sharp cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chopped green onions, crushed blue corn tortilla chips, sprigs of cilantro. These add the color to the soup and make each bowl unique for the eater. We munched on chips and guacamole, and filled our glasses with sparkling cider.
On Tuesday night, Tortilla Soup was a true comfort food. We listened in as my dear friend unpacked memories of her beloved mother-in-law, as she processed her death and celebrated her life. We laughed and tears pooled in our eyes as we thought of the sacrifices “Momsy” had made so her three children could come to the U.S. for school. We dreamed about her Indian butter chicken and other famous eats made with love for all of us. We remembered the way she would sing for her grandchildren even on Skype. Tears are always welcome at my table. Tuesday night they seasoned our Tortilla Soup with love.
Dorina’s Tortilla Soup
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 organic boneless chicken breasts,
1/2 jalapeno, minced (1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
6 organic corn tortillas (7″)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (or 2 – 16 oz. cans of organic white corn or 1 bag frozen organic sweet corn)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 – 28 oz. can chopped organic tomatoes)
1/3 cup organic tomato paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 quart organic chicken stock
5 corn tortillas cut in strips and fried in olive oil (or substitute organic tortilla chips crumbled into pieces)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Green onions, chopped
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-type pot. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with minced jalapeno or crushed red pepper. Sauté in pot.
- Chop onion. Add to pot and sauté until onions are translucent.
- Meanwhile, add three tablespoons oil to a large frying pan. Cut tortillas into one-inch strips. Add half the tortilla strips to the soup pot with the chicken. (This gives the soup a thicker base when it’s pureed.) Brown the other half of the tortilla strips in the frying pan for garnish. Fry until crispy and dry on paper towels. (For a short cut, skip browning the tortilla strips for garnish and use blue corn tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s broken up into smaller pieces.)
- Add garlic and jalapenos/red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) to soup pot. Add two cups corn and tomatoes to pot. Mix.
- Add spices: cumin, salt, black pepper and chili pepper. Add tomato paste.
- Finally, add 1 quart chicken stock. Stir ingredients together well.
- Bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (or transferring to regular blender) and puree the soup. (You can skip this step if you prefer a chunky soup.)
- Allow soup to continue cooking at a low heat for 10 minutes. Continue to puree until large chunks of chicken and tomatoes are blended into the soup.
- At this point, you can decide about the consistency. If you like a thicker soup, leave as is and allow to cook longer. If you want to thin out the soup add 1/2 cup water until you are satisfied with the consistency.
- Add two remaining cups of sweet corn to pot, stir and serve.
- Put garnishes in separate bowls. Allow your guest or family to add garnishes their soup themselves for fun or you can do it and wow them with the presentation.
What’s your favorite comfort food? If you’ve had this Tortilla Soup before, share a story of serving it to your family or your people that provided comfort…