Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Viva Mexico! Chicken Tortilla Soup

You're cooking with lime juice, chile peppers and garlic- all great foods to keep you healthy. OlĂ©!  Even better, feel free to sprinkle on cubed avocado and/or baked tortilla strips for added flavour.

This soup begins with great homemade Mexican chicken stock- that's your foundation.  Add chicken meat, a little heat from chile peppers and other good for you ingredients and you have the makings of a great soup, perfect for a cool, rainy day.

Chicken Tortilla Soup garnished with avocado, tortilla chips and salsa.

To make four servings.

4     corn tortilla, cut into thin strips
1     28-oz can tomatoes
1     tbsp olive oil
1     medium onion, finely chopped
1     small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1     cup corn kernels (fresh, if in season, or frozen
2     stalks celery, finely chopped
8     cloves garlic, minced
4     approx. serrano chile peppers (add more if you want more heat)
4     cups chicken stock (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups  shredded cooked chicken breast (to cook the chicken, you can poach it in the chicken broth until just cooked, then shred when it has cooled enough to handle)
1     bay leaf
4-6 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Chicken stock:
To make eight cups.

1     bay leaf
2     whole cloves
10   black peppercorns
3.5  lbs of chicken bones/backs (ask your butcher) or use wings
1     onion, unpeeled and quartered
2     carrots, cut into 1" pieces
2     celery ribs, cut into 1" pieces
2     garlic cloves, halved
4     sprigs of fresh cilantro (for Mexican flavour) or flat leaf parsley
12-14 cups of water

To make the chicken stock
Tie the bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth.

In a large stockpot over high heat, combine the spice bundle, chicken bones, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, cilantro or parsley and 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes.  Add water as needed to keep the chicken bones covered.  Keep skimming the foam from the stock.

Pour the stock through a fine-meshed strainer into a large bowl, pressing the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids.  Let cool to room temperature.  Transfer the stock to airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze in freezer bags for up to 3 months.  The freezer bags are easier to stack in the freezer.

To make the soup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the tortillas on a baking sheet.  Bake for 3 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Transfer to a plate to cool.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, celery, squash and chile peppers.  Cook for approx. 4 minutes when the onions have softened, but are not brown.  Stir in the tomatoes, stock, chicken and bay leaf.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in 4 tablespoons of lime juice and the cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove the bay leaf.  Taste and add more lime juice, if desired.  Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle each with some of the tortilla strips.  If you like, garnish with cubed avocado and/or a spoonful of salsa.

Wanna play?
You could use tomato juice instead of the canned tomatoes and then use cubed fresh tomatoes to garnish the soup. Add more vegetables: zucchini, chopped spinach, etc.

Instead of chicken meat, you could grill fresh shrimp (in the shell to keep from burning) and add to the soup when you serve it.

If you'd like an extra "hit" of lime, grate a little bit of lime zest into the soup at serving time, or add more fresh cilantro just before serving.

If you'd like extra "heat", add more serrano chile peppers or add chipotles peppers for a smokey flavour.

**If not serving immediately, it's important to cool the soup as soon as possible.  You can divide the soup into containers (or into freezer bags)- just don't close with lids until it is cooled.  You can also freeze water in a 2 litre plastic pop bottle and place it in the soup pot to speed cooling.

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