Southern California weather is a fickle thing. It enjoys to play games on us. One where we lose and it wins. Winter was something that we didn’t even recognize this year. It was something that just didn’t occur for us. It came and went as fast as the holidays did. Any and all ideas of bundling up in warm clothing, sitting next to the fire drinking hot cocoa this “cold” season, was taken away from our minds, ripped out by the heat and blazing sun. The temperatures rose and dropped with each passing day. The heat is something we have all just grown accustomed to. Shorts were never fully put away, what was stashed deep in our closets, however, were our heavy jackets and coats. There is no place for those here in Los Angeles. As Southern Californians, we’ve now adjusted to the warm climate. Walking down the streets we hear fellow Angelenos say things like “There really was no winter this year” Or “Where did the cold go?” Temperatures of high 70’s and mid 80’s are something we are all too familiar with. They are welcomed here with open arms, for the most part. Another excuse to drop everything and have ourselves a beach day. Those are the bright sunny days we are known for.
And yet some people say we are spoiled. They make it known, that we don’t know what cold is. We’re often told, “Humidity, now that’s a problem. Call me when you deal with that in California” or “Snow. You don’t know what cold is until your stuck at home with ten feet of snow outside!” The truth of the matter is that, yes 90% of the time the weather here is what some might call beautiful and ideal, but that doesn’t take away from the days when 100° dry heat in the middle of February just doesn’t cut it. In turn, we’re left to yearn for those cold gloomy days. When overcast surprises us, and the clouds come over the mountains close together in dark gray patches, and we can’t help but feel a bit of excitement starting to tingle our bodies. We find ourselves making excuses to go outside and walk in the cold chilly air. Umbrellas aren’t something we want to carry. No. We want to enjoy the rain as much as possible. Heaven knows it only comes once a year. Might as well enjoy it while we can. We walk down the streets all bundled up with rain boots as if this were the coldest day we’ll ever get for the rest of our lives, and in a way it is.
The rain starts to fall. Slowly and steadily, tiny droplets of water dance all around us. The pavement begins to moisten and that glorious rainy day smell lifts throughout the air. It surprises us. It catches us off guard. It impairs our ability to drive or function. Yes, we do act as if we’ve never seen rain before, but in the end, we love it. We live for these days. We thrive in them. The rain is something we accept with happily. And although, we make a big deal about a tiny bit of water, what with news stories of “2012 Storm Watch” flashing every 15 minutes, we don’t want it to end. The rain gives us an excuse to do all the things we don’t normally do. Like make a big pot of soup to warm us up. A soup chock full of nutritional farmer’s market vegetables, this is California after all, with flavor profiles to knock your socks off. Vegetables, hearty pieces of grilled white meat chicken, tomatoes, simmering in a delicious chicken stock, topped with with crispy strips of tortillas, melted cheese and avocados all come together in a perfect heart warming dish. So when those rainy days are upon us, and come at us from out of nowhere without a single warning, I’ll be here ready, spoon in hand.
Let’s start by prepping some of the veggies.
The first step is to roast a few under the broiler.
Grab a baking sheet and line it with aluminum foil (this will allow for an easier clean up later. Believe me you’ll thank me when it comes time to do the dishes).
Now place the red bell peppers and corn on it.
Put the tray in the oven, underneath the broiler and allow to char.
Watch carefully, rotating, every so often to ensure even browning.
Be careful not to leave unattended for a long period of time, as the veggies can easily burn under the broiler.
Cook until the red bell pepper skins are black and charred all around and the corn is golden brown.
Place the hot peppers in a bowl, right away.
Cover with plastic wrap.
This step is crucial, and will allow the charred skins to separate from the flesh of the peppers and make the peeling process easier.
So just leave them alone, forget about them, until later.
As for the corn…
Let’s step away from act one for a bit and go into…
Start by marinating the chicken.
You’ll need chicken breasts that have been sliced in half to make them thinner. Chicken cutlets basically.
That allows for faster and even cooking times.
Paprika Onion Powder Garlic Powder
Crushed Pepper Achote Cumin
Oregano Salt Black Pepper
Add a drizzle of oil.
Any kind of oil you have on hand will do.
And now for the most important ingredient.
The secret ingredient.
Although, I don’t know how much of a secret it will be once I tell you.
But I’ll tell you either way.
Well, I’ll show you.
That is tequila. I put some in my chicken.
You can skip this step if you’d like. I think it adds an interesting delicious flavor to the marinade.
But, if you don’t have access to it, or don’t have any on hand (but why wouldn’t you?) you can just skip it.
Grab a shot glass…..er….for the chicken of course.
Pour a little.
One for the chicken. One for you. One for the chicken. One for you. One for you. One for you. Oh wait….back to the chicken.
Drop it into along with the rest of the seasonings.
Okay, that’s it.
Time to mix everything together.
Let the chicken marinate for a bit.
Any amount of time will do. The longer the better, though, as the chicken’s flavor will only intensify with time.
If you don’t have time to marinate for a bit, its okay. Go ahead and grill right away. The flavor will still be good.
Pre heat a grill pan.
Spray with cooking spray or drizzle with a bit of oil to make sure the chicken doesn’t stick.
Place down the chicken onto the scorching hot pan.
Cook in batches to try not to over crowd the grill.
Cook the chicken on the first side, for about five to seven minutes.
Lift a piece up and check to see if there are grill marks and if the first side is done…
First side looks good, flip it over.
Cook on the other side for another 5-7 minutes.
Once done, transfer the grilled chicken to a cutting board or a plate to rest before slicing.
When all the chicken is grilled, and transferred to a cooling area, forget about.
Let’s move on to our soup.
Back to the veggies.
Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
While the pot is heating up, cut the vegetables.
Shall we start with an onion?
Okay, two onions.
Cut the ends off.
Cut them in half.
Give the onions a small dice.
Okay, time for some garlic.
We’ll need three cloves.
Peeled and minced.
Drizzle some oil in the preheated pot.
A tablespoon or so.
It’s a lot of veggies.
Drop in the onions and garlic to sauté.
Give it a good toss, and combine it well with the oil.
While the onions and garlic get translucent, cut the remaining veggies.
Cut the ends off, make long strips, and slice into strips.
Run your knife through the opposite way and make a small dice.
Similar in size to the onions.
Drop the zucchini into the pot of onions and garlic and give it a good toss.
Next up, yellow squash.
Make long slices and cut it the same manner you did the zucchini.
By cutting all the veggies the same size, it will allow them all to cook at the same time.
Throw the diced yellow squash into the pot with the rest and give it a stir.
Next up, Mexican squash.
Cut in the same manner as the previous two.
That’s right, throw it into the pot as well.
The next vegetable up on the chopping block is Chayote.
Peel the chayote.
Cut each in half, lengthwise.
Using a small spoon, scoop out the middle core.
Cut into similar small dices as the other vegetables.
Toss it into the pot with the rest of the cooking veggies.
Let’s go back to the roasted red bell peppers.
We can’t forget about those.
By now the peppers should be cool enough to handle, and the skins easier to separate from the flesh.
Transfer to a cutting board.
Using your hands, remove the stems, seeds, and charred skin from the flesh of the roasted bell peppers.
Cut into a small dice, like before.
Add to the pot.
And how about that corn?
Don’t forget those either!!
Cut the kernels off the cob with your knife.
Be vary careful as the corn can roll and the knife could slip and cut you.
Add the corn kernels to the pot as well, and give it all a good stir.
Phew, finally we’re done with the vegetables.
It’s a hearty soup, what can I say?
Allow the veggies to saute for a few minutes, until they become soft and cook down.
The next step is to add tomato paste.
To that, we’re also going to add fire roasted tomatoes.
Let’s bring in the liquid.
Some chicken stock.
Give the soup a mix and stir.
Place a lid on it, and allow to come to a gentle boil.
This will continue to cook the vegetables and heat up the chicken stock.
It will also give the flavors a chance to enhance and intensify.
In the meantime, as the soup comes to a boil, we’ll make the crispy tortillas.
The “tortilla” part in our tortilla soup.
We of course, need some tortillas. Corn tortillas.
Cut the them in half.
Then, make 1/4 inch slices across each half like so…
You’ll end up with tiny tortilla strips.
We’re going to fry these tortilla strips, so in a shallow pan heat some oil.
You want to use something like corn, vegetable or canola oil, because it has a high smoking point. Do not use olive oil.
Heat up about a 1/2 inch of oil.
I used canola oil.
Once the oil is extremely hot, drop in the tortilla strips. You’ll have to do this in batches so the strips crisp up perfectly. Do not overcrowd the pan.
Constantly stir the strips, and fry until they are golden brown and crispy all around. About 5-6 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, drain the crispy tortilla strips and transfer to a plate that has been lined with napkins.
This will absorb any excess oil.
Continue with the rest of the tortilla strips, repeating the steps, until they have all been fried.
That’s one soup topping done.
Let’s finish the rest.
We need an avocado.
Just in case you don’t know how to cut an avocado, don’t worry, I will teach you.
Cut all the way around in one slice and separate.
Remove the seed.
Be very careful when removing the seed. DO NOT use a knife to poke it out. That can be very dangerous and can cause serous injury. I’ve heard of people going to the hospital because of avocado accidents. Which I’ve also heard are really common and happen quite often.
So just use your fingers. Get a little dirty.
Make slices on each half.
Using a spoon scoop out the slices onto a plate.
Set aside along with the crispy tortilla strips.
Another topping done.
And for the last topping, grated cheese.
I’m using a cheddar and monterey jack blend.
Here are our toppings. You can also use sour cream, if you’d like. I don’t like, so none for me.
Okay, so soup is almost ready. Almost. Let’s finish it up.
Remember that chicken we grilled up?
Well, let’s slice it.
Slice all of the chicken.
Add the sliced chicken to the soup.
**Note** If you would like this soup to be vegetarian, just leave out the grilled chicken and replace the chicken stock for hearty vegetable stock. It would still be yummy!
I, however, like chicken and meat. So I’m, of course, adding the chicken.
Stir it, bring back to a boil and allow the chicken to heat up.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
And for the finishing touch.
Give it a rough chop and add it to the simmering soup.
Give it one final stir and it’s done.
Serve yourself up a bowl.
Go ahead, don’t be shy.
Don’t forget the toppings.
First sprinkle on some cheese.
The heat from the soup will melt it.
Scatter a few….a bit…..a handful of the tortilla strips.
A couple slices of avocado, and it’s ready to eat.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
Stand back and admire your work of art.
Your tasty creation.
Your delicious delicacy.
Grab yourself a spoon.
And start eating.
Savor your soup.
And we’re all done! Time for seconds! And thirds!
Next time you need to warm up your house, your family, and yourself, step away from the cold chilly weather outside, and make a big pot of this tortilla soup.
It’ll warm you right up.
Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup
Make this soup vegetarian by omitting the grilled chicken, and by swamping
out the chicken stock for a vegetable stock.
For the chicken:
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, about 3 half pieces sliced thin.
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon achote, optional
- 2 tablespoons tequila, optional
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 red bell peppers
- 3 ears of corn on the cob
- 2 small yellow skinned onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 small to medium zucchini, diced
- 2 yellow squashes, diced
- 2 mexican squashes, diced
- 2 chayotes, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can fire roasted tomatoes, 28 ounces
- 6 cups chicken stock
- cilantro, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 7-10 corn tortillas, sliced into strips
- oil for frying, such as canola
- shredded cheddar or pepper monterey jack cheese
- sour cream, optional
- chilis, optional
- radishes, optional
Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place red bell peppers and corn onto the prepared baking sheet. Broil for 10-20 minutes, rotating frequently, until the peppers and corn are charred all around. Once roasted, remove the pan from the oven. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes. Then remove the stem, seeds and skins from the flesh. Chop and reserve for later. When the corn has cooled, cut the kernels off the cob using a knife. Reserve for later as well.
Place the chicken in a bowl and throw in all of the ingredients. Toss completely and coat well. Allow to marinate for a bit. Over night would be best, but up to 30 minutes will do. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook on the first side for 5-7 minutes or until it has grill marks on it. Flip the chicken and cook on the second side for an additional 5-7 minutes until cooked through. Remove to a plate or cutting board and allow to cool. Reserve for later.
Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle with the oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the remaining vegetables; zucchini, yellow and mexican squash, chayote, roasted red bell peppers, and corn. Cook vegetables for 5 to 7 minutes to soften. Add tomato paste, fire roasted tomatoes, and stock. Stir and bring soup to a bubble, cover and reduce heat to medium low.
In the meantime, prepare the garnishes. Heat about a 1/2 inch of oil in a shallow pan. Cut the tortillas into thin strips and once the oil is hot, carefully add the strips to the oil. Cook, stirring constantly until the tortilla strips are golden brown and crispy all around. Drain with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel lined plate.
Slice the chicken and add it to the simmering soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the chopped cilantro. Stir and bring back to a simmer. Serve hot and garnish with cheese, tortilla strips and sliced avocado. Or any other additional garnishes you wish. Enjoy!