I remember the day my parents said goodbye, my eyes beginning to fill with tears, threatening to overflow and flood my face at any moment. It seemed like forever that I couldn’t wait for that moment to come, that moment when I would be on my own, free to make my own decisions. No one to tell me I had to be back by 10 or to do my homework or clean my room. It was freedom. Sweet, sweet freedom.
Except when that moment finally came, that initial taste of freedom was surprisingly bittersweet. Suddenly, I was about to be on my own. Really and truly on my own. Alone.
To some extent I was used to being alone. I grew up as an Air Force kid, moving every couple years. Infinitely doomed to being that new girl. So, I knew what it was like to have to make friends from scratch and figure things out, but honestly, that doesn’t really make things any easier.
When I decided to go to college in Ohio I thought I would finally be staying somewhere familiar. I wouldn’t have to start over from scratch. I had moved to Ohio my junior year of high school and by the time I graduated I was in a serious relationship. But, just as I was going off to college, my parents were moving on again to the next assignment in other state, and it quickly became apparent that having your boyfriend wasn’t the same thing as having friends. We lived in different residence halls in different parts of campus and all the things we shared in common before quickly seemed to dissipate.
So with tears in my eyes, and a pit in the bottom of my stomach threatening to swallow me whole, I went up to my 6th floor dorm room to stare out at the place that would be my home for the next four years (more or less).
Thankfully, I survived the night.
In the next few years I would break out of my shell, make a few friends and meet the love of my life. I would learn that I could do anything…
Except eat dorm food ever again.
I know, you were waiting to see how on earth this would tie back to chicken tortilla soup. Well, I can tell you that while my college career had its ups and downs, chicken tortilla soup was one small bright spot. Whether I was eating alone or with others, it didn’t change the fact that the food in the dining hall was terrible. It was repetitive, unhealthy (although they tried to claim otherwise) and cheap. They definitely focused on quantity over quality.
The one exception I found that was both relatively healthy and tasty was the chicken tortilla soup. They only served it a couple times a week while rotating out other lesser soups, but when it was there, it seemed as if a beam of light was shining down upon it and an angelic choir was singing all around.
Honestly, it probably wasn’t that great either, but it helped me get through that first year. And today, it is one of my favorite soups.
My version of Chicken Tortilla Soup is all about the charred vegetable base. You are essentially making a fresh salsa, which gives the soup a rich and complex flavor. I say keep it easy with a store-bought rotisserie chicken, but you can certainly buy raw chicken and bake it in the oven before shredding.
On the other hand, I would never skip the fried tortilla strips or substitute with store-bought chips. It’s a little extra effort, but in my opinion, it’s what makes the soup. You can always deep fry them if you want to, which will makes things go a little faster, but I honestly just hate deep-frying things and avoid it at all costs.
Choose whatever toppings you like or no toppings at all, either way it’s one of the most satisfying soups you’ll ever eat.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
This soup is both rich and light, making it perfect to serve all year round. Take the extra effort to fry some tortilla strips to add on top — it’s worth it.
- 1 rotisserie chicken shredded OR 3 – 4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (see notes)
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 medium onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeno deseeded
- Handful of cilantro stems included
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tbsp chile powder
- 2 corn tortillas + more for frying
- 2 c green cabbage shredded
- 1 c fresh or frozen corn
- 1 can black beans
- 8 c chicken stock
- Diced avocado or guacamole
- Diced onion
- Sour cream
- Shredded cheese
Chop the tomatoes and onion into fourths. Then, cut the jalapeño in half and remove the seeds. Lightly crush each clove of garlic but leave the skin on.
Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and add a small amount of oil until very hot. Add the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño and garlic to the pot in batches being careful not to overcrowd. Turn the vegetables until they are charred on all sides (don’t worry if they cook all the way through or not, they will continue to cook in the soup later). Once charred, remove the vegetables to a blender. The garlic will take the least amount of time, so be careful not to burn it — you just want some brown spots on the outside of the skins. Remove the skins from the garlic before adding to the blender.
Add the cilantro, cumin, chile powder, salt and two corn tortillas to the blender as well. Place the lid on the blender, but remove the center piece and cover with a folded paper towel or dish towel. This will allow the steam to escape and prevent your lid from exploding off, leaving you covered in hot soup. Blend until completely smooth.
Meanwhile add a bit more oil to the pot along with the shredded cabbage. Cook until browned and charred. Remove from the cabbage from the pot and repeat with the corn.
Once the corn is charred, add the cabbage back to the pot along with the black beans. Add the soup base from the blender and all of the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.
Add the shredded chicken to the soup and cook for an additional 15 min. Taste, and add more salt as needed.
While the soup cooks, cut six tortillas into 1 in. strips and then in half. Fill a small shallow pan with about ½ in. of oil and heat on medium high. The tortilla should instantly begin to sizzle when hits the oil. Fry for about a minute, then flip and continue to fry until lightly golden and crips. Set the strips on a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Continue cooking in batches until all of the tortillas have been fried.
Ladle the soup into each bowl and top with guac, sour cream, cheese, diced onion, cilantro and fried tortilla strips!
If buying uncooked chicken breasts, feel free to season with a little cumin, chile powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper before drizzling with olive oil and baking in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 min. Chicken should register at 165 degrees when inserted with a meat thermometer. Let rest for 10 minutes before shredding.