Two years ago, I hosted a soup kitchen night for neighbors and friends -- a variety of soups and breads to bring friends together before the craziness of the holidays begins. If I'm honest with myself, it was really an excuse to procrastinate my annual November novel-writing process (learn more that at www.nanowrimo.org). It was also for research since I was writing about food for the novel I wrote that year. Last year, I also wrote a food-based novel, so having another soup kitchen night was "research." This year, I'm not writing about food, but since I've started this tradition, I can't let it go now, right?
The following recipe is one that I found for last year's soup night. One of my favorite Southern California restaurants is El Torito, which is the originator of this recipe. I've never ordered this from their menu, but I made it in about 10 minutes for last year's soup night and it was an absolute hit! No leftovers. In fact, it was gone in the first half of the evening. And to think that this soup was an afterthought. I was in luck that I had all the ingredients on hand. It packs a flavorful punch, but can be toned down for those who can't handle the spice.
El Paso Lime and Chicken Soup
1 qt chicken stock
Juice from 2 limes
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp pureed chipotle chile
1 bay leaf
Salt and white pepper
2 Chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded
1 cup julienne-cut tomatoes
1/2 cup julienne-cut red onion
1 tbsp Minced cilantro
4 oz Jalapeno Jack cheese; cubed
2 corn tortillas; cut in strips
1 avocado, sliced
1. Combine stock, lime juice, oregano, basil, pureed chipotle and bay leaf in stockpot. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Bring to boil. Simmer 15 minutes.
2. Add shredded chicken, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro. Bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
3. Ladle very hot soup into warm soup bowls. Drop in cheese cubes. Garnish each serving with a few tortilla strips, avocado slices, lime slice and cilantro sprig.
Substitution Suggestions: I can my own chicken, so I just used my own chicken for this instead of cooking chicken breast and then shredding it. Since the canned chicken comes in its own juices, I dumped that into the pot for additional flavor. I think you're supposed to use fresh tomatoes, but I used the jarred sun-dried variety. I like the extra sweetness that comes from it.
Don't substitute black pepper for the white. The look of little black specks floating around in a transparent broth is offputting. If you don't have white pepper, omit it entirely. There's enough heat from the chipotle.
I admit I cheated with the limes. I used bottled lime juice. It's what I had.
Lessons Learned: It really only requires 10 minutes of hands-on time. There's no reason why you couldn't assemble some of the ingredients a day ahead. I'd wait until the end to add the chicken and garnishes, though. Otherwise, it'll go to mush.
Aside from precise knife skills (which I admit isn't my strong point, pun intended), this recipe requires very little skill. And, it's an affordable dish. I think even a non-culinary college student on a budget could put this together and have a successful dish.
The recipe as presented serves four.