As a change from the usual soups, where I make the meat in the pot, I started with about a pound-and-a-quarter of chicken, but grilled it over some charcoal. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, a little paprika, some cayenne, a little bit of cilantro and the juice of half a lemon and placed it on the fire with some mesquite chips. After cooked, I cut it into small chunks for the soup.
Once the chicken was grilled through and through, with a spicy fajita taste, I went straight to work on the soup. Dice a medium red onion and add it to the old five-quart pan on medium heat, with two tablespoons of olive oil and two heaping tablespoons of minced garlic. A half green pepper-diced is only there for color, because some of the spice comes from three jalapenos, with seeds removed, cut into small bites. Once the onion cooks down, add the chicken into the pot and stir well.
Now jalapenos add some warmth, but plenty more spice is needed to give the soup plenty of authentic Mexican flavor. Add two teaspoons of ground cumin, a teaspoon of chili powder- look for spicy or “Mexican style” on the bottle. A half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper takes the pot from mild to warm in a hurry. I’ve discovered that cilantro is not a bad thing, though it’s easy to use too much. Add a level tablespoon to the vegetables for yet more South-of the-Border flavor. Stir everything up well, to blend the spices with the vegetables.
Well that’s vegetables and meat, but we’re not anywhere near calling this dish a soup yet. Add four cups of chicken broth-I took a shortcut by using cans, two 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes. Leave the juice in one, but drain the other to keep the soup from getting too thin. For a little body, add a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce. I love a hearty soup. Peppers and onions are ok in a soup, but I thought it really needed some more. I added two cups of corn- frozen or a drained can will be fine, and one drained can of black beans. I think black beans are more Cuban than Mexican, but it tasted really good in the soup. Hawkins had no complaints either. To give the chicken and the soup a little more flavor, add a half-cup of white wine. Cover the pot and simmer for an hour-and-a-half, stirring about every 15 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and if needed or desired, more cayenne or hot sauce.
I know what everyone is thinking, “Where are the tortillas? How can it be tortilla soup without them?” I’m glad you asked. Instead of crackers, tortillas provide the topping for soup. I could not find a small package of corn tortillas, and talked myself out of using chips. To avoid wasting most of a giant pack of corn tortillas, I bought a small pack of whole-wheat flour tortillas. Take a tortilla and cut it in half, then into short strips. I put enough oil into a skillet to cover the bottom and put it on medium heat. Fry the tortilla strips until the sides appear golden brown, then flip them for another thirty seconds to cook on the other side. Take it out of the skillet and drain the strips on a plate with some paper towels beneath, gently blot them with a few more towels.
After frying the tortillas up, we filled our bowls with hot and spicy soup. The tortillas went on top with plenty of cheese, cheddar, Colby or Monterrey Jack work well with this recipe. We topped it off with black olives, though sliced avocados, pickled peppers or onions would have been at home with this soup.
I asked Hawkins about the flour tortillas, thinking they might have been a mistake, or that I should have stuck with corn or chips. “No man, I think they really made the soup,” he answered as he watched me fry a second for leftovers the very next night.
We both enjoyed a couple of bowls, and I think one pot could serve six-to-eight people easily. While we ate, we enjoyed the television program “Friday Night Lights” on DVD. I never was a big fan of high school football or even the high school experience, and expected to thoroughly dislike the show. To my delight, I found it was a great show, with excellent production values, good acting, and though skeptical at first, found the writing to be improving. It reminds me of some of my experiences as a high school student in Texas, but stands on its own as a good drama. The show has difficulty in attracting viewers, but I suggest it to everyone who might appreciate it. Check it out and breathe a little life into it. A good time was had by all with our soup, and maybe the same will be said in the Goodwin house if Jon takes a stab at it. Good eating.