The last couple of days I have been reminded how deeply food and drink are tied to some of my favorite memories. Yesterday afternoon I took a sip of wine that instantly transported me back to a small table in Florence, Italy, where my three best friends and I ate caprese salads and baguettes drenched in balsamic vinegar. It blew me away how quickly I was there- the sun on my face, a laugh on my lips and not a care in the world. I could feel the cold metal of the chairs on the back of my legs, I could taste the salty, creamy mozzarella and I could remember the palpable freedom I felt to just be myself. That’s a lot from one sip of wine.
This soup always takes me on just as vivid of a trip down memory lane; right back to the time I first spent becoming a cook.
When we decided to take the plunge and I enrolled in culinary school, we were living a very different life. I was working a very corporate job, we were living in a new, very suburban home, and we were not having a problem paying our bills.
Though my program was actually pretty reasonable as far as culinary schools go, it was still a huge financial shift. Considering the hour-long commute, the loss of my salary and the school payments, we very quickly had to readjust how we spent our money. We stripped down to the basics, and even those had to be simplified. We counted every penny, and more than once, crossed our fingers that we’d have more than double-digits in our bank account at the end of the month. In an attempt to make the most of a limited food budget, we became soup connoisseurs. And this Chicken Tortilla Soup- composed of many items that can live in your pantry or freezer- was a favorite.
It’s not sophisticated, or complicated. It’s simple, satisfying and fills me with nostalgia for sitting in front of the fireplace in my school uniform, pouring over my books full of flavor combinations and cooking methods. I’ll never forget that time in my life- taking a big flying leap towards my dreams, entering a whole new world and dying for every bit of knowledge I could get my hands on. And I’ll never not eat this soup with a smile on my face and gratefulness in my heart.
- 2 whole chicken breasts (this would be fabulous with any chicken meat)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 bell peppers (any color), diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup frozen organic corn
- 1 can (10 Oz. Can) Rotel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (S&W has a version too)
- 32 ounces, chicken stock
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 cups hot water
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 3 Tablespoons cornmeal
- 5 whole corn tortillas, cut into strips
- Avocado, cilantro, cheese, onion, creme fraiche to garnish.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides. Set aside the rest of the spice mix.
- Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spice mix. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.
- Pour in Rotel, chicken stock, tomato paste, water, and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.
- Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Check seasonings, adding more if needed—add more chili powder if it needs more spice, and be sure to properly salt. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
- Top with tortilla strips and any garnishes.