They're predicting my fair city to get somewhere between 3 and 4 inches of rain over the next couple of days, which makes this afternoon—with noisy drops falling on my windows and skies sagging and gloomy enough to belie the still-warm temperatures outside—a lovely time to revisit this happy bowl of heat.
I say "bowl of heat" because this soup isn't just hot-hot; it's also jalapeño-hot, which as we know is always on my list of favorite things. Nothing deflates a dinner experience like a bland soup, so if you don't have the time or energy to be whipping up fresh stock in your kitchen on a weekday (and we all know that I do not), hot hot heat is your best bet for flavor.
If your nose is not running, I have failed in my duties.
Luckily this recipe, which I adapted from the awesomely named Home is Where the Cookies Are, has lots of cooling sour cream and (surprise!) cream cheese to balance things out. All of the veggies and aromatics get a blitz in the blender, which is necessary to make things smooth and thick—I almost skipped this step in an effort to not dirty any more kitchen appliances, but in the end I was so grateful for the effort.
A couple of other things to take my word on here: First, please do not toss the jalapeño seeds out. Embrace that spiciness! I often seed my peppers, and you certainly could if you were serving this to delicate palates or kiddos, but if you have adventurous taste buds at the ready, that extra punch is what makes this recipe special. If your crowd happens to be full of energetic carnivores (as I do), you're going to find (as I did) that the original recipe didn't have nearly enough chicken in it. I also added cilantro because I think it injected another layer of flavor here; you're welcome to omit it if your people are cilantrophobes.
If you are preparing this soup for a small crowd, I say do what Sara suggests in the original and use rotisserie chicken breasts—I inevitably get to the grocery store after they're all sold out, but it would make this one an incredibly fast weeknight meal. Top it with whatever Mexican garnishes your heart desires: I chose Colby Jack cheese, lime-flavored tortilla chips, sliced avocado, and an extra dash of sour cream and cilantro, but feel free to let your imagination run wild. I can see this with olives, black beans, corn, pico de gallo ... Because it's a simple soup with bright flavor, it makes a great foundation for your favorite additions.
Sometimes I think the hallmark of a "keeper" recipe is if you can look back at the photos and conjure the way it tasted. In this case, we have a winner! Serve it up the next time it's cold outside, or rainy, or your sinuses are whiny.
Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 jalapeño, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
4 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can low-sodium tomato sauce
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup cold water
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup softened cream cheese
¼ cup half-and-half
Garnishes: grated Colby Jack cheese, fresh cilantro leaves, tortilla chips, sour cream
1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and cook until chicken is cooked through and outside is browned and crispy. Remove from heat, and set aside.
2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a soup pot over medium heat; add onion and jalapeño, and cook 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Stir in garlic, and cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat, and add onion mixture and diced tomatoes to a blender. Puree until smooth. Add cilantro leaves, and pulse 1 or 2 times or until cilantro is chopped. Return mixture to soup pot over medium heat. Stir in chicken broth and next 5 ingredients.
3. Whisk together cornstarch and cold water until smooth; slowly whisk cornstarch mixture into soup. Whisk 1 minute or until soup thickens. Whisk in sour cream, cream cheese, and half-and-half until smooth. Stir in reserved chicken, and season with kosher salt and pepper. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.