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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The combination of the subtle adobo heat with the bright flavors of lemon and cilantro make this Chicken Tortilla Soup an ideal way to savor those increasingly cool late-summer evenings. This is a soup that I have been making for more than 8 years now. That fact should tell you two things: first, it has stood the test of time. This is one of a small number of soups that are so good that we make them over and over again. Second, over those years, the innate experimenter in me has tweaked and modified and added and just generally weathered this recipe into what I will boldly proclaim a state of near perfection.

If the amazing flavor wasn't enough to win you over, consider this: one generous serving of this tasty soup has less than 150 calories, but includes almost 14 grams of protein, more than 3 grams of fiber, and a ton of nutrients. With power like that, it is sure to leave you feeling full and satisfied. This tasty soup was one of the meals that I prepared for our friends B. and J., who just had a baby. I froze individual servings of the soup for them so they would have an easy, satisfying, and healthy meal for any time (day or night) when hunger struck them.

Learn about Quinoa.
Skip to the Recipe.
Skip to the Nutritional Information.

This can be made either vegetarian or with chicken, and is an ideal use for the chicken that is left over after roasting a whole chicken for dinner. The recipe as written here assumes that you will make this from boneless chicken breasts, because that is something most will have easily on hand. If you have delicious leftover roasted chicken meat, just substitute that in place of the chicken breasts. If you prefer vegetarian, omit the chicken, use vegetable broth and/or beer in place of the chicken broth, and reduce the liquid by 1-2 cups. This recipe also utilizes the Andean grain quinoa--a vegetarian source of complete protein--which makes it ideal for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Thyme for Cooking.

About Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah or KEE-no-uh) has been an important food source in the Andean region of South America, where it originates, for more than 6000 years. Those local to growing sites sometimes eat the plant's leaves as well, but so far these edible greens haven't enjoyed broad commercial popularity. In the ancient Incan empire, quinoa was known as the "mother of all grains." This grain was so sacred to the Incans that the Emperor himself, not normally one for manual labor, would sow the first seeds of the planting season using golden implements.

Although spurned for centuries because conquering Europeans associated it with native populations and non-Christian rituals, Quinoa has become a popular, even trendy, food in the United States and Europe in recent years. Part of its attraction is that quinoa is a grain with impressive nutritional content. It is very high in protein, and one of the few plant sources of "complete protein" (full set of amino acids). In addition to its nearly unique protein pedigree, quinoa is an easily digestable and gluten-free source that is high in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.

It is so remarkable as a food that NASA--that's right, those spacey science geeks--are looking into the possibility of growing it in space as a source of nutrition for astronauts on long-term manned spaceflights.

If it has impressed NASA geeks, perhaps it is time to make more room in your pantry for this impressive grain.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

By the Skinny Gourmet (E. McDonnell)

Makes 14 servings. Freezes well.

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced small
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds (when raw) boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots, peeled
1 cup diced tricolor sweet peppers
oil as needed to prevent sticking
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 can regular diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon chipotles in adobo, blended
1/2-1 medium jalapeno pepper, deseeded (optional if you like things hotter)
5 1/2 cups of Chicken Broth (or sub 1 c for beer)
1/4 cup dried quinoa
1 small can mild green chilis
2 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2-3 tablespoons chili powder (I use Whole Foods bulk)
10 oz sweet corn
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, washed and chopped

Garnish with (optional):
Sour cream or Greek yogurt
Oven baked strips of tortillas
Additional cilantro

If using chicken breast (rather than already roasted chicken leftovers), cut the chicken into rough dice no larger than 1/2 inch. Add oil to a large capacity pot and heat over medium high flame.

Add diced onion, carrots, red pepper flakes, and chicken. Do not stir continuously, because it will prevent browning the chicken. When you have a nice sear on one side of the chicken, agitate the pot to toss the chicken.

When chicken is partially opaque but not fully cooked through, add the tricolor peppers (okay to use only one color if you prefer). Again, allow to rest approximately 2 minutes before agitating to get a little seared edge on the peppers.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic. Cook until fragrant, stirring. Do not allow garlic to burn: reduce heat if necessary.

When garlic is fragrant and golden but not burned, add: both cans of diced tomatoes, diced zucchini, chicken broth (if using beer substitute, reserve beer for adding later), quinoa, can of green chilis, corn, cumin, oregano, cloves, chili powder and salt.

To make blended chipotle/adobo: pour a can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a small capacity food processor and process on high until smooth and blended. Measure out 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle/adobo sauce and add to the soup. Return the remainder to a small container to store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

If you prefer a very spicy soup, you may increase the chipotle mixture up to 1 tsp and may optionally add 1/2-1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced.

Heat over medium for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, the quinoa is translucent, and the vegetables are cooked to al dente.

Just before serving, stir in the cilantro, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.

Garnish with your choice of: sour cream, guacamole, additional cilantro, and oven-baked tortilla strips.

To Make Tortilla Strip Garnish

Take 2-3 small corn or flour tortillas (whatever you prefer). Slice each into thin strips, no more than 1/4 inch in width and preferably smaller. Cut the longer strips into half to produce "sticks" no more than 2.5 inches long. Spray strips with oil from an oil pump (or use PAM) sprinkle with coarse salt, and toss to ensure even coating.

Arrange in an even layer on a metal cookie sheet. Broil on low until crisp. Check them often because the intensity of the broiling heat varies by oven. Approximately 5-10 minutes.

(Do not, for example, get so involved photographing the soup that you burn your only tortillas to a charred rubble. Which explains why they don't appear in the photos above.)

Nutritional Information

This soup scores an A+ for its nutritional information and should easily work in to most diets. One generous serving of this tasty soup has less than 150 calories, and includes almost 14 grams of protein and a full 3 grams of fiber, which means it is sure to leave you feeling full and satisfied. This soup is also a nutrient powerhouse, providing more than half of your daily Vitamin A, 38 percent of daily Vitamin C, and a good amount of iron and calcium.


Unknown said...

Ooooh, now that I"ll be making :) love your site!!

Erin said...

TTFN: First of all, your name made me smile. Second, thanks for the great compliment! Hope you enjoy the soup. The long ingredient list makes it seem more complex than it really is. I generally make it from memory most days. Bon appetit

Unknown said...

That looks so tasty! It has a lot of my favorite flavours in it.

Katie Zeller said...

I love any soup with tomatoes, chili powder and peppers.. The quinoa is a nice bonus! I been able to get both the red and white here recently - which is truly amazing for France. It's in the 'international food section'... right next to the Old El Paso taco mix and the Vietnamese fish sauce!

grace said...

erin. good heavens. the texture alone of this soup must stop time, and the taste...i can only imagine. you've managed to take one of my favorite soups and make it more healthy, more hearty, and more delicious. bravo!

Denver McConnell said...

Yum! Love chicken torilla soup. Definitely going to try this one!

Kalyn Denny said...

It definitely looks perfect! What a fantastic photo. Love the sound of this recipe.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty amazing stuff.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I will definitely try this. It looks fabulous. Quinoa--we should all try living off it. It's great to have a new recipe for it! Thank you!

Jenny said...

I love the idea of this soup! I love Mexican dishes, and with the fantastic nutrition information on this dish, I'm definitely going to try it soon. I might unfortunately have to do some substitutions or leave a thing or two out for budgetary reasons, but hopefully it won't ruin the overall taste! I'll let you know if the cheaper version is any good!

Erin said...

Kevin: You are such the asian-master, I'm glad this Mexican-inspired dish appeals to you too.

Katie: I've never tried red quinoa. You have me interested.

Grace: What a lovely comment. Thank you!

Christine & Jamie: I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to tinker the spice levels to suit your own taste preference.

Kalyn: Glad you like it. I'm trying to broaden my photographic abilities a bit.

Wannabe Gourmet: glad to hear you are trying the recipe out. It has plenty of room for variation that should be able to reduce cost. Using leftover chicken (or no chicken at all) will work and reduce costs somewhat. You can also use frozen veg for most of the veg if that is less expensive where you live. I also tend to buy whichever veg is on sale, so if green peppers are much less expensive than the others, I will use only green peppers etc. Buying quinoa bulk from whole foods is also quite inexpensive. And you can easily use chicken broth made from bullion, which is inexpensive as well.

I'll look forward to hearing what modifications you make and how yours turns out.

Jenny said...

Fantastic! I finally made this soup tonight, after taking a while to get the quinoa, and it was delicious! I had to make a few minor substitutions - I used cayenne pepper sauce and jalapenos instead of the chipotles and chilis, I used diced canned tomatoes with jalapenos instead of the two different kinds, I cut back a little bit on the amount of broth, and used (shame shame) store bought tortillas.. But I feel that these didn't really detract from the dish - it still turned out fabulously! I'm linking to your recipe from my blog, and telling everyone you are awesome!

Anonymous said...

This soup is DELICIOUS! I copied the recipe down two weeks ago, and I've already made it two times! I've taken it for lunch, and several co-workers have commented on how wonderful it smells. I sent them to your Web site. :)

The one modification I made was to the quinoa...I couldn't find it anywhere in the stores around my house, so I substituted brown rice.

I love your site!

Erin said...

Wannabe Gourmet & RT Wannabe: Thanks for your great comments! You sure put a smile on my face. This has been one of my all time favorite soups for years, so I am glad to hear that it has found its way into your home as well!!

Unknown said...

Just made this tonight. My husband couldn't get enough of it. Looking forward to trying more of your recipes.

Anonymous said...

This looks really delicious but can I halve the recipe? I live alone so ten servings is a bit much for me - even if it freezes well.

I even sent the link to my mother, she loves hot flavours.

Erin said...

Stacey: Glad it was a hit with your hubby. I just made some last week (again) to combat the freezing cold Chicago winter. mmmm.

Anonymous: You can certainly halve the recipe. Some of the measurements will be a bit funky if you cut them in half, but this is a very forgiving soup. So go ahead and cut it in half, and fudge wherever you need to. Hope you enjoy!

Unknown said...

I'm going to make this today--but thank goodness my daughter in law is American, or I would never know what some things are ie: called Coriander in the UK.

beans family said...

we made this soup tonight and it is the best. soup. ever. in fact, i'm on my second bowl now, and i stopped so i could come here and comment on it. the quinoa is a great touch. perfect meal for a night in during the snowstorm :) thanks!

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