So today I set about making a "traditional" Mexican tortilla soup. I would need to look no further than that PBS star and my own personal hero, Rick Bayless. How this man remains so thin despite frying every ingredient in oil is beyond me, but nonetheless he knows his Mexican cooking. So of course I consulted his Authentic Mexican cookbook when attempting this quintessential Mexican soup. Turns out that Tortilla Soup, in its traditional form, is quite simple. A rich broth over whatever happens to be leftover in your pantry. Essential is the stale strips of tortilla, fried and placed at the bottom of the bowl to await a brothy bath. In addition to the tortilla, Rick recommends a combination of fried dried chilies (he suggests pasillas, I used guajillo because I had them leftover from a mole we made recently) and simple cheese (queso fresco if you can get it, monterey jack will work). To make a more hearty meal (which was my goal) he suggested adding chicken. Given that the soup was meant to use up whatever was left in the pantry I felt that it would be okay to remain a traditionalist when it came to the broth (and of course the fried tortillas) but allow for a little more creativity when it came to the rest of the "garnishes". In that spirit I decided to cook up our weekly chicken gold with some onions and dried chilies, dice monterey jack and finish it off with some fresh cilantro. If I were to do it again I would actually use fresh chilies, perhaps some pablanos, rather than the dried, but other than that it was perfection:
4-5 tbsp canola oil
1 small and 1 medium onion thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, whole
1 cup diced tomatoes from a can
6 cups good broth (I used homemade turkey, but chicken or veggie would work)
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast sliced into 1/2 in chunks
3 dried guajillo chilies thinly sliced
4 stale corn tortillas cut into strips
1/4 lb monterey jack cheese, cubed into 1/2" cubes
1 large lime, cut into wedges
fresh cilantro, chopped
hot pepper sauce (optional)
To make broth, heat 2 tbsp canola oil in a skillet and fry medium onion and garlic 10-15 minutes on medium low heat until golden brown. Blend in a food processor along with diced tomatoes. Add 1 tbsp canola oil to pan and return tomato mixture to pan. Heat over medium heat 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until the color had darkened. Scrap into the bottom of a soup pot and add a cup of the broth. Whisk together and heat to a slow boil. Add remaining stock, bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Salt to taste and set aside.
To prepare "garnish", heat 1 tbsp canola oil in a skillet and add small onion and dried chilies. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the chilies are slightly softened. Add chicken and cook until no longer pink. Salt to taste and set aside.
Add remaining oil to the skillet and fry tortillas strips (or use a nonstick pan). This took me a good 10 minutes in the nonstick skillet on medium heat, but the point is really just to dry them out as best you can.
To assemble soup, add a few cubes of the cheese, some of the chicken chili mixture, and a few tortilla strips to the bottom of a bowl. Pour broth over until it just covers garnish. Sprinkle with cilantro and squeeze a lime wedge over the soup. If desired you can spice the soup up with some hot pepper sauce.