Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Tortilla Soup

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I’m so boring. I don’t say that to be charmingly self-deprecating. I’m boring, and I like it that way. I might even say I’m proud to be boring. Still waters run deep, you know. Or so they say.

Left to my own devices, I believe I’d conduct every day in almost exactly the same way. I’m not in a rut, though: I’m in a groove, and my sweet little domestic life is downright groovy. So many examples of said grooviness come to mind that it’s difficult to choose, but here is one I hold dear:

Every week (usually on Monday mornings, as he empties out the coffee grounds from his first pot and begins brewing a second pot for me) I ask my husband if he has any “requests for dinner this week,” and every week, he says, “Well, soup, of course.” And I say, “Any particular sort of soup?” He seems to ignore me, wandering off to continue his own groovy morning routine, and then, 30 minutes or so later, as he bundles up on his way out the door, shouldering his leather messenger bag, fingering the back of his collar to check that it covers his tie, he rattles off about three or four different possible soups–no segue to prepare me for the list, just a list. And then a kiss. And then he’s gone.


I told you it was groovy.

This soup is one I’ve been making for so many years now that it’s less a recipe than it is a household tradition. I remember making it in my now-husband’s tiny apartment in about 2002–an apartment whose galley kitchen boasted approximately 16 square inches of counterspace. It was good then, and it’s still good now. Few recipes have survived un-tweaked so long in my repertoire.

I know everyone under the sun makes a version of tortilla soup, and I’m not sure this one distinguishes itself in any way except that it is ours, tried-and-true, brothy and a little smoky, as spicy as we want it to be in any given week but no spicier.  It provides a perfect receptacle for the what’s left of the bird after a previous night’s roast-chicken dinner; it offers the ideal way to employ an almost-forgotten avocado left sitting on the counter a half-second too long. Made up almost entirely of pantry staples, it comes together in less than half an hour and requires virtually no chopping. This soup easily expands to feed a crowd at birthday parties and keeps well to serve for lunchtime leftovers. It’s customizable with all our standard Tex-Mex toppings, so everyone gets just what they want. Have I gone on long enough? We just love it.

Here it is:

(This is the version that feeds a small crowd.)
Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 tablespoons of oil
2 onions, chopped
5-6 fat cloves of garlic, minced through a press
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
a good bit of salt (to taste)
3 cans of tomatoes, with their juice (I like fire-roasted tomatoes here, but regular ones work)
3 chicken breasts, poached and shredded, or the shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained and rinsed
1 can hominy, drained and rinsed
8 cups chicken broth
tortilla chips
shredded cheese
chopped avocado
chopped green onion
sour cream
lime wedges
1. Chop your onions and saute them with the garlic in oil over medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the spices and stir until fragrant and toasty.
tortilla soup1
2. Empty all of your cans (not the tomatoes) and rinse their contents in a mesh strainer.
      tortilla soup 2                                        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
3. Then add them and everything else into your pot and simmer until you’re ready to eat.
tortilla soup 3
4. Serve with your favorite toppings.
Repeat approximately once each month for the next 10-15 years, and then consider it your own. 🙂

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