17 April 2011

Cheer Up Chipotle Chicken Soup

Well, that was a long, unintentional blog hiatus! These past few months have been busy for some reason, and though I've been cooking as usual, I haven't concocted much lately from that experimental, playful place that usually leads me to post here. Hopefully these spirit-lifting sunny spring days and overflowing veggie bounty from my CSA basket will reverse the trend.

This week I found some kitchen inspiration in a gift. After celebrating an early Passover seder with my family (Passofaux), I came home with a big jar of my mom's homemade chicken soup and a bag full of tender chicken meat. Very uncharacteristically for this indecisive cook, I knew almost immediately what I'd make with this generous gift: a simple, spicy chicken soup. It would be light and brothy, sweet with carrots and potatoes, but pack a punch with smoky chipotle and a bit of lime. Just the kind of soup that works perfectly, somehow, even on a warm day.

I did my usual internet sleuthing for an inspirational recipe and found an old one from Gourmet that seemed about right. I followed it loosely (also as usual) and, amazingly, it worked! From Gourmet came the idea to use a spicy, oniony puree to add fullness to the soup base. From my brain (and taste-memories of soups in Mexico, and of Kim Abernethy's tortilla soup) came the addition of tomatillos, hominy, and potato. Though the homemade soup from fancy organic chicken that my mom made surely made this soup a standout, I'm sure you could come close, in a pinch, with stock from a box and rotisserie chicken. It's a soup that stands up well to improvisation, so jump on in and slurp a spring into your step!

**A note for all you vegetarians: I think you could make something very similar with your favorite veggie stock, perhaps adding more veggies (zucchini?) and maybe chickpeas or black beans instead of chicken.


8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 cups cooked chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
1 large white onion, halved, one half diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 carrots, cut into rounds
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
6 tomatillos, husks removed, cut into bite-size chunks
1 T canola or veggie oil
1 and 1/2 chipotle chiles in adobo (use just one if you're feeling shy, 2 if you like a burn)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 big handful cilantro
1 can (15 oz? small can) white hominy, drained
salt and pepper

*optional, but in my opinion essential, garnish ingredients:
avocado, lime, fresh chopped cilantro, a bit of crumbled mild feta or queso fresco

Heat oil in a heavy soup pot over medium low heat. Add diced onion and saute a couple minutes. Add carrot and potatoes and saute, stirring frequently, until they begin to tenderize, adding a few splashes of water to the veggies as they cook if they're sticking to the pan. Meanwhile, in a food processor, make the spice puree: blend together remaining onion, garlic, chipotle, and cumin into a fairly smooth paste. Warning: this is powerful stuff--may bring tears to your eyes!

Pour puree into the pot, stir a few times, and then add the stock. Drop in a big handful of cilantro, stems and all (you can remove these at the end--they add great flavor). Cook, covered, over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the potato is almost fully cooked. Add tomatillos and hominy, stir and cook maybe 5 minutes more until all the veggies are tender to your liking. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve garnished to your heart's content, making sure to squeeze a slice of lime over the top. With a cold beer in hand, your meal is complete!