Twenty-four years ago today, my husband and I had our first date at an El Torito Mexican restaurant in Georgetown, Washington DC, whereupon I not only polished off a full platter of food, but found extra room for dessert, too. Ah, the joys of youth (and first dates). My future husband was amazed, but that was because he did not yet appreciate the magnitude of my sweet tooth — in my view, there’s always room for at least a little dessert.
The restaurant is now gone and my ability to eat that much dinner has gone with it. So on the anniversary of that first date, I present a light meal that was an El Torito favorite: Tortilla Soup. If you have this for dinner, you will certainly have room to satisfy any sweet cravings afterward.
This recipe calls for chicken, but a vegetarian version could easily be made without the chicken and using vegetable broth/bouillon instead of chicken broth/bouillon. A vegan version would also omit the cheese.
[Updated instructions 2/7/2015]
3 chicken breast halves (about 1.5 lb.)
7 c. chicken broth
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 potato, diced
1/4 c. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 zucchini, diced
1 tomato, diced
1/4 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
chicken (or vegetable) bouillon powder or cubes to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
corn tortilla strips (see cooking instructions below; will need 5 corn tortillas and canola oil)
1 1/2 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 avocados, sliced
3/4 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat the broth in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken breasts, reduce heat, and gently poach the chicken. [Note: Whenever possible, I like to poach the chicken ahead of time and let it cool in the broth: bring the chicken and broth to a simmer, turn down the heat so that the liquid ripples but doesn’t actually boil, cover the pot, poach the chicken for about 15 minutes–skimming the broth as needed–then turn off the heat and let the chicken breasts cool in the broth for about half an hour. If time is short, poach the chicken for 20-25 minutes, skimming as needed, remove from the pot, and transfer to a plate to cool.]
2. Add onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper, potato, tomato paste, bay leaf, garlic, oregano, cumin, and a dash of salt and pepper to the broth in the soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 25 minutes.
3. While soup is simmering, cut the 5 corn tortillas into quarters and then cut each quarter into thin strips; leave the strips on the cutting board until ready to cook. Shred the cool chicken with a fork or clean fingers, and set aside.
4. Heat canola oil over high heat in heavy skillet (should be at least 1- to 1.5-inch depth of oil). When oil is very hot, add a layer of corn tortilla strips. Fry until golden, flipping as needed to ensure even coloring. Drain tortilla strips on a layer of paper towels. Repeat until all strips have been cooked; reserve.
5. Add zucchini, tomatoes, jalapeno, and shredded chicken to the soup pot, then simmer 10 more minutes. Check seasonings; if broth needs a bit more flavor, add chicken (or vegetable) bouillon powder or cubes and more pepper as needed. Add lime juice just before serving.
6. Serve soup in individual bowls, with avocado slices, jalapenos, tortilla strips, cheese, and cilantro as accompaniments.