Tortilla soup has become a standard of tex-mex menus here in the states, becoming another pillar of the glorious international chicken soup pantheon. While its origin is shrouded in mystery, food historians can pinpoint its arrival to America somewhere around the 1890s. The combination of slow simmered chicken, tomatoes, and fried tortillas is a simple blend of flavors that seem as if they were always meant to be together. Crazily, the myriad chicken tortilla soup fails come in the way of people bastardizing this formula, inundating the soup with unnecessary toppings (or worse, using cheese to cover up a watery broth or lack of chicken and vegetables).
When I set out to make tortilla soup at home, I really try to make sure that the flavors all shine brighter than the condiments. Upon doing a little research on the soup’s origin, I discovered that the version I make is actually closer to a traditional Mexican soup, even older that tortilla soup, called Caldo Tlalpeño. This dish, tortilla soup’s not so distant cousin, was supposedly created in the region of Jalisco, the Western state that also gave us mariachi music and tequila. It starts with the same simple stock of chicken and tomatoes, but amps up the flavor with the smoky punch of chipotle pepper. Rice and zucchini are added to mellow things out, and creamy avocado finishes the soup. As my dad would say, “Winner winner, chicken dinner!”
In terms of toppings, the avocado and cilantro are standard, but occasionally I like to add a small bit of sour cream (or Mexican crema if I have it) to add some coolness to the soup. Cheese and crumbled tortillas are also welcome, but just don’t inundate the whole thing with acoutrements. Remember, the chicken is the star of the show, and no one likes to be upstaged.
Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup
1/2 of a cooked chicken, meat removed from bones and shredded (can use a rotisserie chicken to speed things along)
6 c. of chicken stock (homemade is nice)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 zucchini, finely diced
1/2 an onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbs. of olive oil
1-16 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1-4 oz. can of green chiles
1 tsp. of chipotle chili flakes
1 tsp. of ground cumin
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on high. Add the onions, carrots, garlic and zucchini and cook until onions are translucent. Add the green chiles, chipotle chili and ground cumin and cook for an additional minute. Add the stock, tomatoes and chicken and continue to simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until flavors have combined and the veggies are soft.
Ladel the soup into bowls and add the condiments of your choosing.