With all the renovations and yard work going on around here, I haven’t had much time to spend in the kitchen. So with my husband hammering away framing walls in the basement, I decided to raid the pantry, fridge and freezer and try my hand at a batch of yummy Tortilla Soup.
Now before I go any further, I must share that the secret of every good soup lies in knowing and including the building blocks of Asian cuisine: spicy, sour, salty sweet. Whenever you make a soup and you want to achieve that full-bodied, savoury flavour (and who doesn’t?), ensure that the right balance of these four building blocks exist. I’m telling you, it’s the key to success.
Many recipes include at least two, maybe three of the four, but not many include all four. Spicy is self-explanatory: cayenne, chilies, fresh ground black pepper, or hot sauce. Salty is too obvious to explain. Sour is a strange one to think of at first (anyone picturing dunking in a few Sour Patch Kids or Warheads?), but is easily encompassed in either one of two things: lemon/lime juice or vinegar (white, red wine, white wine, apple cider, etc.). So who gets left-out like a hot coal in July? Usually something sweet. If my soup just doesn’t taste right, and I can identify the subtle flavours of salt, spice, and sour, I add a spoonful of sugar and it take things from drab to fab. (How did Mary Poppins get in here?) Honey or agave will also do.
Now, I hope that helps at least one person in their soup-making endeavors. On to the directions.
Heat 2 tbsp (or 6 tbsp, if frying tortillas) of oil over medium-high in the bottom of a large pot. Fry the tortilla strips in small batches for about one minute per batch or until slightly golden. Remove the strips with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels.
Then add onion to the remaining oil and stir until translucent. Add the chicken and garlic and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through (and if you’re lucky, everything should start to brown).
Add the spices and stir until fragrant. Tip: If you can, add the spices to the oil instead of the broth, as the heat of the oil will temper the spices and cause the flavours of the spices to blossom and intensify.
Add the chicken broth, pureed tomatoes, chilies, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Add the black beans and corn.
Next, mix the flour in a separate dish with enough cool water until it will be easily incorporated into the soup. (Why? Well if you add flour to hot liquid, it will clump.). Stir the flour mixture into the soup, and then continue to let the soup simmer for 10-15 minutes. (The flour will help the soup to thicken. Add more or less flour depending on how thick you like your soup).
Now, here’s a really important step. Taste your soup. How does it taste? What does it need to be balanced? Train your palette to identify the four elements: spicy, sour, salty, sweet. Do you taste them all in harmony? This may take some practice, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be cranking out pots upon pots of satisfying soups.
If you find that your soup is lacking any of the four elements, add spice (cayenne or chiles), sour (lime or lemon juice), salt (salt, duh), or sweet (sugar) little by little until it starts to taste better. And don’t go crazy on any one of those, or else you’ll create a mess. We don’t want this tasting like a glass of Mexican inspired lemonade (in other words, take it easy on the lemon and sugar. They should be only very delicate flavours in this recipe).
If you really mess up and add too much, there are a few things that will save your biscuit, but really, really try not to take it this far. Too salty? Add a peeled potato cut in half and simmer. It will absorb the salt. Remove the potato when finished. Too sour? Add more sugar. Too sugary? Add more salt. Too spicy? Suck it up and quit being a pansy. Tired of trying to formulate the perfect undo button? Add more broth and try again.
Take the soup off the heat and serve. Add the crisped tortillas when you want (I like em crunchy, so I leave them til later), and garnish will your choice of ingredients (but for heaven’s sake, don’t skip the avocados and cheese).
Remember, your soup’s flavour will actually mature the longer it sits (and it’ll probably get spicer too, so don’t forget that when you’re adding the spice). So most soups are best served the next day. (Oh, but who could resist?)
And that’s a wrap on the Tortilla Soup. Bon appetit!