Chicken Tamale Soup

The smell of this soup transported me right back to Mexico City. It has that savory, acidic, herby, and smoky scent of a real down-to-earth cantina or street-front taco stand. It calls to mind the kind of authentic south-of-the-border flavors that don’t rely on such Americanized notions of Mexican food as ground beef, refried beans, tortilla chips, sour cream, and heaps of cheese (all in one dish).

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It is pure heaven and the kind of comfort food that won’t leave you feeling guilty. Though, don’t skimp on the protein. Chicken thigh is essential–it’s just not going to be as flavorful with chicken breast. And don’t skimp on the raw onion and lime garnishes: they are everything here.

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Chicken Tamale Soup

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast

Makes 4-5 servings

8 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup masa harina

1 medium yellow onion, trimmed and halved

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

3 chipotles in adobo and accompanying sauce

salt

pepper

1.75 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, and cut into strips

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 avocado, cubed

1/3 cup shredded cheddar or other cheese

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Heat the stock in a large pot over high heat. While it is heating up, place the masa harina, 1/2 of the onion (save the rest for garnish, finely chopped), 1/2 cup of cilantro (again, the rest is set aside for garnish), the chipotles, and a sprinkling of salt an pepper in a food processor. Once the stock comes to a boil, turn the heat off, and place two cups of the heated stock in the food processor. Blend on high until all the ingredients are pureed.

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Place the puree in the pot with the stock. Turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a low boil, and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken thighs, let the mixture come back to a low boil, and cook for an additional 10 minutes, again stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and ladle into bowls.

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Serve with the chopped cilantro and onion, avocado, lime wedges, and cheese.

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Vaguely Indian Butternut Squash Soup

While we’d all like to pretend it does not exist sometimes, there is most definitely that category of food known as “more effort than it’s worth.” At least, more effort than it’s worth to make at home (ahem, rugelach). This soup (particularly the stock that is it’s foundation), is gingerly teetering on deserving such a title. And yet, look at the colors! And, yay, vegetables and healthy cooking! Wow, flavor combinations I’ve never encountered before!

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You’ve been warned. But if you have a day you are planning on spending sitting around at home anyway, and you don’t mind an hour or so of vegetable prepping and chopping, then consider adding this soup to your agenda. You will be rewarded with amazing smells and tastes, though your heart will sink when you see all the vegetables that get discarded once the stock has been made. I guess these are the sacrifices we make when trying to make a flavorful stock without meat. Though can we acknowledge that just a few chicken bones could accomplish what over a dozen vegetables, herbs, and spices are needed for here? Nonetheless, if you are still full of new year resolve to eat healthy, and willing to put in inordinate effort to fulfill your resolution, then this dish is for you.

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Indian Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 6-8 servings

For the Curried Vegetable Stock:

1 large yellow onion

2 large carrots

2 celery ribs

1 bunch green onions, including 2/3 of the greens

2 tablespoons sunflower seed

8 cloves garlic, smashed

8 parsley sprigs

6 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

4 whole cloves

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

2 cardamom pods

skins and seeds of the butternut squash from the soup

trimmings of the lemongrass from the soup

5 pieces dried slices of galangal (you can get these at spice markets)

2 sprigs each of mint, basil, and cilantro

For the Indian Butternut Squash Soup:

Curried vegetable stock from above recipe (about 6-7 cups)

1 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, the tender middle section minced

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

juice of 2 limes

mint, cilantro, and basil, finely chopped, for garnish

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First, make the stock. Clean and dry all of the vegetables and herbs thoroughly and chop into 1 – 2 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add all of the ingredients except the salt and brown for 10-13 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. The more fragrant, the more flavorful your stock will be. Add the salt and 8 cups of water and bring to a strong boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer (without a cover) for 40 minutes. Strain out everything and reserve the liquid.

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Next make the soup. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add the squash, minced lemongrass, onion, half the jalapenos, and the garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a strong boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is quite tender. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender (or an old-school blender) to puree the soup to your desired consistency. Place back on heat, and stir in the coconut milk. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve garnished with the remaining jalapeno and the chopped herbs.

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Soup Double Hitter: Tomato Soup and Coconut Sweet Potato Bisque

What this post lacks in exposition, it makes up for in recipes. I bring you the soup double-hitter: a simple but creamy and rich tomato soup, and a more complex and also creamy but dairy-free coconut sweet potato bisque. Both are delightfully easy to make, pair great with salad and cheese sandwiches, and bring comfort on these (finally) cold winter days.

 Tomato Soup SandwichBisque and Salad

Tomato Soup

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 4-6 servings

24 ounce can crushed tomatoes

3 cups water

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 cup heavy cream

Tomato Soup

Place the tomatoes, water, tomato paste, bay leaf, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reeducate heat to medium, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the soup thickens and can lightly coat a spoon. Add the pepper and cream and cook for about 4 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Tomato Soup and Sandwich

Sweet Potato Bisque

Coconut Sweet Potato Bisque

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 4-6 servings

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

4 cups and 3 teaspoons water

14 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon maple syrup

3 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin spice

4 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sweet Potatoes

Combine the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of the water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Reduce the heat to medium and use a potato masher to break up the potatoes. Add the coconut milk, sugar, honey, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and pumpkin spice, stir, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Combine the cornstarch and 3 teaspoons of the water in a small bowl to form a thick paste. Add the paste and cayenne pepper to the soup and stir and cook for about 5 minutes, until the soup coats the back of a wooden spoon. Use a hand blender to blend the soup until smooth.

Creamy Soup

Tomato, Cilantro, and Semolina Soup

Have you ever used your finger to wipe a bowl of cake batter clean? How about cookie dough? I know, who hasn’t? But…have you ever used it to wipe every possible last remnant from a giant pot of soup? I hadn’t, before today. You probably have not either, but prepare yourself, because you are about to.

Soup Garnished

I should have expected this, given that this recipe comes from Ottolenghi. Ever since I stumbled upon his cafe in London last year, and his cookbook shortly thereafter, I have only been pleasantly surprised and inspired by his vegetarian recipes. Where others would add cream or a mountain of spices for more flavor, Ottolenghi finds ways to keep the ingredients list simple while letting each simultaneously shine in its own right and meld perfectly with the others.

Cilantro

In this recipe, the dominant flavors are of tomato, cilantro, and lemon, but this soup is so much more. It is thick and hearty–the ultimate in comfort food without making you feel like you need to hit the gym and seriously revisit your New Year’s Resolutions if you want a second serving. So, go ahead, have a another portion or two, and don’t be afraid to lick the bowl clean.

Before Tomatoes

Tomato, Cilantro, and Semolina Soup

From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 5-6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 cups cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 3/4 teaspoons sweet paprika

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/3 pounds tomatoes, peeled and chopped

6 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup semolina

salt and pepper, to taste (I found myself adding a generous amount of each, so don’t be afraid to pile it on.)

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

sour cream, for garnish

cilantro, for garnish (you’ll want lots)

After Tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, cilantro, thyme, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Saute on medium heat for a few minutes, until the onions are golden and have softened.

Onion and Spice

Add the tomato paste and stir for a minute or two.

Tomato Pastey

Add the tomatoes and a generous amount of salt and pepper and let cook for a few more minutes. Add the water and sugar, stir, and turn the heat to high. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce it to a simmer and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Pre Semolina

After 20 minutes, slowly pour the semolina into the soup, whisking constantly, to prevent the semolina from clumping together. Cook for another 10 minutes, whisking frequently to prevent clumping.

Soup with Semolina

Finally, add the lemon juice, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with some sour cream and plenty of cilantro.

Texas Treat: Chicken Tortilla Soup

It’s been a little over a week since my return from San Antonio, and I am starting to feel that I have been to the gym enough times and eaten enough healthy meals that I may broach the topic of what I ate while I was away. Perhaps the list of what I didn’t eat would be shorter. But here is a rough run-down, in no particular order, of the Texan delights I managed to fit in to a little over 48 hours: beef tacos; sausage, cheese, and jalapeno kolaches; bacon-and-cheese-stuffed jalapenos; chicken tortilla soup; garlic mashed potatoes; chicken-fried steak with peppercorn gravy; baby-back ribs; Texas beef stew; biscuits with gravy; and to top it all off, a big ball of chicken stuffed with cheese and ham, that was fried and covered in gravy. I’m starting to feel a little queasy again. That list doesn’t even include the less post-worthy foods I indulged in and the Shiner Bock I drank. And by the way, I was glad I only had one beer, as the San Antonio Riverwalk, while beautiful, features no railings.

Perhaps it is no surprise then, that the one food I keep finding myself wanting to recreate from that list is the chicken tortilla soup. While its flavor is distinctly south of the Mason-Dixon line, it is still something an East Coaster can eat without feeling like they need to run to spin classes during lunch and after work for a week.

I first fell in love with chicken tortilla soup during a visit to Waco this past January. Slightly hungover and wanting something warm and soothing, the chicken tortilla soup I had from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the side of the road in a un-notable part of Waco had a beautiful clear broth, and lots of pieces of chicken and avocado. It was garnished with fresh cilantro and cured my aching head and stomach immediately.

The chicken tortilla soup I had last week was somewhat different from the soup I first tried almost a year ago. It was spicier and had a redder broth, and did not include any cilantro or avocado. It was part of a massive meal that a brave co-worker and I enjoyed at Texas Land and Cattle, and I have been wrestling with myself to decide what my favorite part of that meal was: the baby back ribs or the chicken tortilla soup. I now officially declare it a tie. If I gave it another week or two, maybe I could stomach ribs again, but my body is still recovering from Texas and Thanksgiving, so, today I bring you my recipe for chicken tortilla soup. I took my favorite aspects of the two excellent chicken tortilla soups I have had in past to create my version. It has a pretty strong kick to it, so if you’re looking for something less spicy, don’t include the ground cayenne pepper and halve the chipotles in adobo. If you’re looking for something meatier and heartier to enjoy, by all means, just check out this menu. I fully intend to sample the bacon-wrapped steak next time I am in Texas.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Adapted from Rachael Ray

3 cups chicken stock

1 pound chicken tenders

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon olive oil

7 slices of bacon (or 4 slices of thick-cut bacon)

1 onion, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 1/2 chipotles in adobo, chopped

2 tablespoons sauce from chipotles in adobo

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

28 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, crushed

Salt, to taste

Tortilla chips, crushed (I like to use Hint of Lime chips for some extra flavor.)

Sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Avocado, sliced

Sour cream

Place stock in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Place bay leaf and chicken tenders in the pot, bring back to a simmer, and simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the stock, and run the stock through a strainer. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Put the stock and chicken back in the pot.

Coat a pan with olive oil, and fry the bacon to desired crispiness on the pan. Remove the bacon from the pan and cut into fine pieces. Remove excess grease from the pan, leaving about 2-3 teaspoons of grease on the pan.

Cook the onion and garlic on the pan for about 5 minutes. Add the chipotles, adobo sauce, crushed tomatoes, and ground cayenne pepper to the pan, and cook over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.

Place the bacon and the mixture from the skillet into the pot with the chicken and stock. Mix all ingredients and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, until soup has reached desired thickness. Salt to taste.

Crush tortilla chips and place in the bottom of a bowl. Ladle soup on top of chips, and garnish with cheese, sour cream, and avocado.

 

Enjoy! And in case I start feeling like I can stomach more rich, gravy-laden, fried, and bacon-stuffed foods sooner than I expect to, do tell, what is your favorite Texan food?