Barefoot Bloggers: Mexican Chicken Soup

Hi folks! We’re away on vacation, visiting J’s parents in the wilds of Wyoming for the Thanksgiving holiday. I actually wrote this post almost two weeks ago, because I knew we’d be gone when it was supposed to go up, and I didn’t really want to think about it in the days leading up to our departure.

Wyoming isn’t exactly known for great cuisine, but I know we’ll be making one hell of a Thanksgiving dinner with the folks, so I’ll be sure to embarrass myself and take lots of pics to show y’all when we get back. Hope everyone has a fun-and-food-filled Turkey Day!

This week’s Barefoot Bloggers recipe is Ina’s Mexican Chicken Soup, chosen by Judy of Judy’s Gross Eats. As far as I can tell, this is basically just Ina’s riff on a chicken tortilla soup, but I certainly can’t find fault with that – I love soups, I love tex-mex flavors, and unsurprisingly, I loved this recipe.

I have to admit, I kinda screwed up a bit on this because, well, I didn’t read the entire recipe all the way through before we did our grocery shopping last weekend. Shame on me. I totally missed that the corn tortillas were not, in fact, intended to be baked or fried for the tortilla chip garnish mentioned at the end of the recipe, but were actually supposed to be added to the soup as a thickener. Since we usually skip the chips when it comes to Mexican soups and chillis, I didn’t buy the tortillas. And then I pulled up the recipe on the night we were going to make this, and realized my mistake. Whoopsie!

Luckily, I had a box of quick-cooking polenta in the pantry, and figured that a few tablespoons of that added in near the end of the cooking time would basically accomplish the same thing as the tortillas added near the beginning – it’d thicken the soup, give it some really interesting texture, and infuse a bit of subtle corn sweetness into the final flavor. And in the end I think it worked just fine, and both J and I really enjoyed it just the way it was. Unfortunately that means I can’t really weigh in on the success of the recipe as written, but I think the food gods will forgive me just this once.

Aside from that one little foible, I pretty much made the recipe as written with just two small changes. I used dry cilantro instead of fresh, because I just can’t bring myself to buy fresh cilantro anymore unless we’re going to be using it in every meal for a week. Its impossible to get anything but a bunch the size of my head around here, and every single time we buy it we end up have to throw half of it out because we can’t use it fast enough. Given the price of fresh herbs, I just can’t keep letting that happen. Also, I substituted a long hot chili (a serrano, I think?) instead of the 2-4 jalapenos that Ina’s recipe calls for, mostly because I’m a total wuss and that much jalapeno would probably kill me, but also because we had this other chili lying forlornly in our vegetable drawer and I wanted to use it up before buying more. It actually ended up being the perfect choice, because it definitely added some heat, but not enough that I needed a loaf of bread and a handkerchief to get through the meal. Got my sinuses to open up a bit though, that’s for sure.

I guess I should also include the fact that we used some of the leftover chicken from the roast bird we made the weekend before instead of roasting fresh chicken breasts just for the soup, but that’s kind of a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, and all it basically changed was the amount of time needed to make this soup from start to finish.

Unfortunately, my other screw-up was forgetting to bring my camera and tripod into the kitchen while making this, so I don’t have a bunch of photos of the raw ingredients and prep work to share this time. Honestly though, this recipe is so easy, I doubt you need the photographic help.

The technique is basically the same as almost every other soup I make – sautee the base flavor ingredients (in this case a standard mire poix with the hot chili and some garlic added in) in some olive oil at the bottom of your soup pot until they are softened and beginning to brown a bit. Toss in your liquid ingredients, herbs and spices (chicken stock, canned tomatoes with their juice, and some cumin, coriander seed, and dry cilantro) then bring to a boil and let ‘er rip for awhile to get the veg nice and soft. Give it a taste for seasoning – I found it needed a bit more of both cumin and coriander for my tastes, and I threw in a splash of red wine vinegar for a bit of balancing tang. Then add in the chicken, followed by about 1/4 cup of quick-cooking polenta, which I added very gradually while stirring constantly to avoid clumps. Keep it on the heat for another 5 minutes so that the polenta can rehydrate and thicken the soup nicely, making sure to stir once in awhile to keep things from sticking on the bottom. Once its done, ladle it into some bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream (I spiked ours with a bit of fresh lime juice) and a sprinkling of cilantro. Couldn’t be easier, really.

We enjoyed our soup with a double-decker quesadilla made with these fantastic multigrain tortillas from Mission and some fancy Sargento shredded cheese (2 varieties, one with seasoning and one without), which is frankly one of my favorite things in the world to make and eat because its so easy its almost stupid and well, is there really anything better than tortillas stuffed with gooey, melty cheese? I don’t think so.

All you do is heat up a large, flat pan on the stove (we use an old, warped griddle pan that desperately needs to be replaced but still does the job) and brush one side of one tortilla with some melted butter or vegetable oil. Put it on the hot pan, lube-side down, and top with a decent sized pile of one kind of cheese, spreading it around to make an even layer. Top the cheese with a second tortilla (no oil or butter needed here), then top that with a second kind of cheese. Finished with a third tortilla, again brushed with butter or oil and this time placed lube-side UP so that when you flip it, the oil will come in contact with the pan. Weigh down with a flat pot lid or a plate to help the bottom tortilla get nice and crisp and brown and to help the cheese melt, and let it sizzle away for a few minutes. Check after 3 or 4 to be sure its not burning, but don’t flip it until you see plenty of golden toastyness down there. When you DO flip, do so carefully in case there is cheese in that top layer that isn’t quite melted yet and the thing doesn’t stay together – you really don’t want shredded cheese flying all over your kitchen. Trust me. Now put the pot lid or plate back on top of the quesadilla and give it another 2-3 minutes to crisp up on the second side. When its done, just cut it into wedges with a pizza cutter or a big, sharp knife (a chef’s knife or santoku works well) and serve. The wedges make absolutely awesome dippers for this soup.

I would totally make this dinner again. I’d make it all the time, in fact. Its hot, spicy, hearty and comforting, and a really nice change from a regular bowl of beef-and-beans chili. And, well, anything that gives me an excuse to make quesadillas is just fine in my book.

Its a crying shame that J managed to get all the leftovers, because I could really go for a bowl right now.

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One Response to Barefoot Bloggers: Mexican Chicken Soup

  1. Kirsten says:

    Your soup looks great. I actually forgot to buy the tortillas for the exact same reason, but when I started making the soup I found some in my fridge from an earlier taco night.

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