Chicken & Tortilla Soup

Be sure the broth is very hot so that it heats up the ingredients in the bowl and offers a strong contrast with the cool, smooth chunks of avocado. The spice level is very low--just a slight chile warmth--so if you prefer more of a kick, add more chili powder or use a hotter powder. This recipe is easily doubled.

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  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, plus another 1/2 to 1 cup for frying the tortillas
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (from about 1/2 small onion)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder; more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 skinless chicken thighs (bone-in or boneless)
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth (I use Pacific brand)
  • Fresh cilantro: six 2-inch stems for the broth, plus 1/4 cup roughly chopped leaves for the garnish
  • 4 fresh corn tortillas, 6 inches across, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (canned is fine)
  • 1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup diced fresh tomato
For the garnish:
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced and tossed with a squeeze of lime juice
  • 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco, feta, or ricotta salata
  • 2 dollops sour cream
  • Lime wedges for serving
Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan or small soup pot, add the onion, and cook over medium heat until the onion has softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the chili powder and tomato paste and stir with a wooden spoon to mix and cook briefly; take care not to let the chili powder scorch.
Season the chicken thighs lightly with salt and nestle them in the chile paste, turning them once so they're entirely coated. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the broth and adjust the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook the chicken, turning once, until it's extremely tender when pierced with a knife, 30 to 40 minutes (add a little more broth if the pan is drying out). When the chicken's done, remove it from the pan, let it cool a bit, and cut or shred it into bite-size pieces, discarding any bones and bits of fat or gristle; set aside.
If there's any visible grease in the pan, spoon it off, add the remaining broth and the cilantro stems and simmer, uncovered, until the broth has reduced by about one-third and is quite flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes.
While the broth is reducing, fry the tortillas: Linke a plate with two layers of paper towels. Fill a small, high-sided saucepan with enough oil to come to about a 1-inch depth. Heat the oil over medium heat; when it reaches 375 degrees F or when a strip of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, add six to eight strips of tortilla. With tongs or a long fork, "scrunch" them for a second or two so they take on a wavy shape. Fry until the strips aren't bubbling much and have become golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to the paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.
Divide the shredded chicken, the corn, black beans, tomato, and tortilla strips between two large soup or pasta bowls. Reheat the broth if necessary so it's piping hot and pour it over the ingredients in the bowls. Serve immediately, and let each diner add the avocado, cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, and a big squeeze of lime juice at the table.
Rib-eye version: Instead of the chicken thighs, use an 8-oz. rib-eye or other tender cut of beef. Trim all the fat and silverskin and cut the meat into bite-size strips, slightly more than 1/4-inch thick. Toss the steak with a little salt. Start the recipe by heating the 1 tablespoon oil until quite hot, add the steak, and stir-fry it to brown the outside. The meat will cook more in the broth, but if you like your meat medium or well done, continue cooking it a few more minutes at this point. Remove the meat from the pan and reserve. Continue with the recipe above, skipping the chicken, of course.
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