Monday, February 18, 2008


Reinvention. Isn’t that the stuff of resolutions, remodels, and makeovers? It sure comes in handy. Washing the slate clean, trying something new, improving, as it were, on the things that came before. Snakes get to shed their skin (although that’s always seemed a little creepy – you know, the part that's left over – but the bright new exterior must feel like spring to the little snake). Trees get to lose their leaves and sprout bright new miracles year after year. And each night gives way to a new sun. I give a thumbs up to the general idea. It’s everywhere you look. It’s the energy that helps us look up from our present into the possibility of what might come next. The idea of creating something new from the same old heap of parts.

One night I was mulling over what to have for dinner. Ahhh! Having given myself much too little time to fix something fussy, my list of possibilities narrowed. I mentally flipped through memories of what my mom used to make for us, hoping to hit on something that hadn’t crossed our table in awhile. I remembered loving my mom’s tortilla soup. There are many versions of this idea that I’ve seen through the years, but my mom’s was encouragingly easy and quick to prepare (you could even use canned chicken if things got a little dicey for time) and really delish. However, I have a picky eater (translate: child) in my family, so my dinner idea came to a screeching halt when I realized that I would be adding fresh diced tomatoes and green onions (along with chips and cheese) on top of the meat and broth mixture. It’s hard to believe that he won’t abide those sweet, juicy, red tomatoes, but they’re a surefire way to bring on the gag reflex something fierce. And I wanted a peaceful dinner. So, with memories of the tortilla soup from my childhood, I began a very hurried quest to create a tortilla soup that would be a hearty meal in a bowl, no additions (bright red fresh ones, specifically) required to make it filling and well rounded. And so I came up with something new, you might even call it a new creation from the same old heap of parts. Tortilla soup reinvented; as such, it has earned a new name. And rightly so.

It begins with a base of chicken broth paired with a hint of roasted tomato for added flavor complexity (this is so easily done and merely requires slicing the tomatoes, putting them in a baking dish, dousing them with salt and pepper and letting them sweat it out in the heat of the oven all by themselves while you go paint your toenails or something). A tumble of ingredients follows that are old hats in the tortilla soup arena and were just itching for a swim in something delightfully new: chicken (fork shredded), corn, green chiles to name a few. Cornmeal and rice were also begging to be invited to the party, and since they wore the right outfits and brought party favors to boot, we just couldn't say no. They really became the subtle stars of the show. The cornmeal thickens the brew and changes it from a mere broth; and rice adds heartiness and fills bellies. And we like that.

Oh, how we love the taste of corn in this soup! But since traditional corn chips don't fit the bill for our purposes, we looked into our bag of reinventions for a little something else to pile in with the cornmeal. We grilled some corn tortillas so that they gave up their crumbly natures and became pleasingly pliable, wholesome, homey, and rustic - a beautiful, tasty, and artful garnish.

And lastly, for those who really do appreciate the tomato for what it is, you can choose to top this with a beautiful pico de gallo that's been ramped up with the kick of a Serrano pepper (the pepper can be omitted if you don't like the spiciness, and so can the pico de gallo for that matter). But most adults (and some kids!) will slurp up every last nub of pico found in their bowls. It's not to be missed, truly. Here's to happy, hearty, healthy slurping for the whole family.

Rustic Southwestern Corn Soup with Spicy Pico de Gallo

Serves about 8
By preparing the rice, chicken, and tomatoes in advance, this soup is a cinch to throw in a pot and have ready for the table very quickly. On those busy days we know that really comes in handy, so do the prep the night before and you can face dinner with a clear head and no worries the next day. You can also freeze the left over soup (without the tortillas or pico de gallo) and you'll have a ready meal when you need it.

You can roast the tomatoes in a 8 x 8 glass baking dish in a 375 degree oven for about 50 minutes until the skins wrinkle and insides of tomatoes are soft. When they've cooled enough to handle, you can pull at the peels and they slip right off.

Right before serving, the corn tortillas can be set on a hot griddle or frying pan for one minute on each side, until they become soft and eatable - tear into rough strips or pieces for garnishing. Plan on about 1/2 to 1 tortilla per person served.
While a little extra time spent on ingredients almost always means a little better taste, we know that you guys get busy out there! So, we've added some quick substitutions that can be used when you're in a pinch, if needed.

1 small onion, diced
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 c diced carrots
3 stalks celery, chopped (can substitute 1 tsp celery seed)
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
12 c chicken broth
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
1 15 1/4-oz can corn, drained (or the equivalent amount fresh or frozen)
3 Roma tomatoes, roasted, peeled, and pureed in food processor or blender (can use 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes and run through the blender)
½ c cornmeal
2 c cooked, seasoned and shredded chicken (can use two 12 1/2-oz cans, undrained, of chicken in a pinch, like you get at Costco)
2 c cooked rice
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn tortillas
Nonfat sour cream, optional garnish

In large pot, coat with nonstick spray and sauté over medium-high heat: onion, garlic, carrots, and celery for about 5 minutes, until colors are vibrant and vegetables begin to soften. Add cumin and chili powder and continue sautéing for another minute or so. Add broth, chiles, corn, and tomatoes. Allow to cook on medium-high heat for about 15 minutes (until it begins to boil). Add cornmeal while whisking (to avoid clumping) and leave over medium heat until the cornmeal is cooked, about 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Add chicken and rice and heat through; squeeze in the lime juice and stir. Serve hot with torn grilled corn tortillas and the optional (but really tasty, so please don't leave it out) pico de gallo, and maybe a spoonful of fat-free sour cream.

Spicy Pico de Gallo
Makes a scant 1 1/2 cups

4-5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
3 T finely chopped onion
½ Serrano pepper, minced (optional, if you don’t like spiciness)
2 T finely chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Place the tomatoes in a sieve and allow to drain for 5 minutes. Place in bowl and toss with all other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1 comment:

Andi Sherwood said...

Sounds delicious. I will give this a try!