As Minnesota winters go, this one has been a relatively mild one. So mild that it hardly felt like winter at all, and now spring is just around the corner.
Since the arctic cold never really took hold this year, I haven’t felt the usual urge to make the foods that are typically a mainstay of my winter kitchen. Soups, stews and braises have hardly made an appearance at all on my dinner table, and now that the vernal equinox is just days away, I’m feeling like I have some catching up to do, quickly. So this week, I was determined to make at least one soup, and the bowl of choice was Creamy Chicken Cheddar Tortilla Soup.
Tortilla soup is deeply flavorful, and surprisingly complex. It starts with toasting dried ancho chiles, which are then soaked in hot water before being added to the pot. The flavor builds with the addition of toasted tortillas, which gives the soup an approachable earthiness and also serves to help thicken it. Then tomatoes and chicken broth are added and simmered together to allow all the goodness to mellow and blend.
I like my tortilla soup smooth, so I purée it before adding my own twist of cream and cheese to the traditionally brothy soup.
The soup is good as is, but what makes it great are the toppings. Cool avocado cubes, bright cilantro leaves, crispy tortilla strips and, of course, more cheese, give every spoonful a variety of textures and memorable flavors.
While it may feel like the time is right to do a little spring cleaning and put away that soup pot, don’t say goodbye to winter without giving it one more whirl around the kitchen. This creamy, cheesy, slightly spicy soup will make you glad you did.
Creamy Chicken Cheddar Tortilla Soup
Note: The addition of cream and cheese to this traditionally brothy Mexican soup turns it into a flavor-packed, yet comforting bowl that will have you coming back for seconds. Keep in mind that when processing hot liquids in a blender, you need to be careful. Fill the blender bowl only halfway, loosen the plastic insert in the top to release steam and cover with a towel to prevent splattering. From Meredith Deeds.
• 3 to 4 dried ancho chilies, stems and seeds removed
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 4 corn tortillas cut into 1-in. squares
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 2 tbsp. flour
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
• 1 (28 oz.) can whole plum tomatoes, undrained
• 5 c. low-sodium chicken stock or broth
• 3 c. shredded cooked chicken
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 2 c. shredded medium Cheddar cheese, divided
• 1 tbsp. lime juice
• 1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and cubed
• 1/4 c. cilantro leaves
• Crispy Tortilla Strips (see below)
• Lime, cut into 8 wedges
Place a dry large skillet over medium heat. Open up the dried chiles as flat as possible and place them in the skillet. Using a spatula to press down on the chiles, toast the chiles on each side for about 30 seconds or until pliable. Be careful not to burn. Place the toasted chiles in a bowl and soak in hot water until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and discard soaking liquid and roughly chop the chiles.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the tortilla squares and cook, stirring, until the tortillas turn a golden brown. They may break up a bit in this process, but that’s OK. Remove the tortillas and add the onion. Cook for 6 minutes or until the onion is softened. Add the garlic, flour, salt and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the chiles, tomatoes, broth and browned tortilla squares to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Use an upright blender or immersion blender to process the soup until smooth.
Return the soup to the pot and add the chicken and cream. Bring back to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add 1 1/2 cups cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted. Add the lime juice. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
Divide the soup serving bowls and garnish with remaining cheese, avocado, cilantro and crispy tortilla strips. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 720 Fat 48 g Sodium 1,110 mg
Carbohydrates 39 g Saturated fat 19 g Total sugars 9 g
Protein 39 g Cholesterol 145 mg Dietary fiber 9 g
Exchanges per serving: 2½ starch, 4½ medium-fat protein, 4½ fat.
Crispy Tortilla Strips
Note: From Meredith Deeds.
• Vegetable oil (for frying)
• 6 corn tortillas, cut in half, then cut crosswise into matchstick-sized strips
Pour enough vegetable oil into medium saucepan to reach depth of 3/4 inch. Heat oil over medium heat to 350 degrees.
Add about a quarter of the tortilla strips to the hot oil and cook until crisp and light golden, about 30 to 45 seconds.
Using tongs or slotted spoon, transfer tortilla strips to paper towels to drain. Immediately season with salt. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips in 3 batches. Cool.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.