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Chicken Tortilla Soup with Tequila on the Side

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My great friend Alice King, who is also a great cook, was feeling for some Chicken Tortilla Soup recently. I was happy to hear this since I had never experimented with any CTS recipe, so without invitation I arrived in her kitchen eager to learn something new. Alice and I have been friends for a very long time so when I told her that my few experiences with the soup were in Los Angeles and never memorable, she reminded me the first time I actually tried it was in Brooklyn. It was winter, brick a** cold outside, and so the food was delivered along with orders of margaritas. I’m pretty sure that is not legal, so I will not note the name of the restaurant. But really, how perfect! Food and alcoholic beverage delivery? Who doesn’t love that?? I blame the restaurant’s delivery service for my lapse in memory…

Anyway, Alice who lived in Dallas for many years has been a long- time fan of the CTS served at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, made famous by Chef Dean Fearing when he was helming the kitchen. The recipe can be found on many websites, but as per Alice, the key to success here is patience and going heavier than suggested on seasoning and spices. If you don’t feel comfortable without measuring spoons and cups, by all means, stick to the script. If you are more adept in the kitchen, I don’t need to tell you, crank up everything to your taste. Either way, don’t take shortcuts. They will net nothing but an unattractive, possibly texturally challenged bowl of soup. No one wants that. Margaritas with delivery? Absolutely. Ugly food? No. This soup is really delicious and even better the next day. Consider serving for a gathering where everyone can fix his or her own bowl. It’s interactive and a conversation piece. And don’t forget the tequila on the side.

Ingredients and Method  (serves about 4)Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 3 T corn or any neutral oil
  • 4 corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T cilantro, chopped
  • 1 C onion, pureed*
  • 2 C tomatoes, pureed*
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 2 t chili powder
  • 3 whole bay leaves
  • 4 T canned tomato puree or 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 Q chicken stock*
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • 1 cooked chicken breast cut into strips
  • 1 avocado, cubed or sliced
  • 1 C cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 corn tortillas, cut in strips and fried until crisp

*Don’t be lazy! Puree onion and tomato separately! Homemade chicken stock is best and will give opportunity to cook chicken for the soup. It’s part of the no-shortcut thing.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté tortillas with garlic and cilantro over medium heat until tortillas are soft.

Add onion and fresh tomato puree and bring to a boil. Add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, canned tomato puree (or tomato paste) and chicken stock. Bring to a boil again, and then reduce heat to simmer. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste, and cook stirring frequently for 30 minutes. Skim fat from surface, if necessary.

Strain (Just strain it, don’t be lazy. You will be happy you did.) and pour into warm soup bowls. Garnish with an equal portion of chicken breast, avocado, shredded cheese and crisp tortilla strips. Serve Immediately.

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