One of my favorite party pieces when I was young and just starting to entertain was a tortilla soup, with a recipe from a Junior League cookbook. It was nothing but cans, jars and packets and pre-cooked ingredients, but I loved it, and I loved the interactive aspect of the meal. I made the soup and everyone could pile on the toppings to their heart’s desire. It was fun and festive and cheap but still seemed somehow special. I still love interactive entertaining, but I’ve moved away from a package of taco seasoning, bottled salsa and a rotisserie chicken. When I was making that original tortilla soup, the most exotic ingredients with a Mexican flavor available were all Old El Paso and Ortega. The taco shells were hard, the tortillas flavorless, the guacamole canned and everything packed with preservatives. Luckily now we have easy access to a host of beautiful ingredients, like the flavorful dried chili peppers in so many varieties that really give this soup a boost of flavor.
The toppings are still the feature here – the soup is hearty and flavorful, but with the addition of creamy, crunchy, spicy and melty toppings you can take it in so many directions. Everyonn has fun customizing their own bowl, and the array of colorful ingredients makes for a festive table. I list a whole host of my favorite topping ideas, but feel free to use your imagination. I love some diced avocado, the choice of salty queso fresco and creamy cheddar, the crunch of fresh tortilla strips. A fresh squeeze of lime is essential to me, and I love a dollop of tangy sour cream, or Mexican crema. The layered and flavorful broth made with ancho chiles has just a touch of heat, but if you like things spicier, add a finely chopped jalapeno to the soup or experiment with other dried chilis like guajillo or pasilla. Or put a bottle of hot sauce out so all the dinner can adjust to their liking. I love the slightly floral hint to Mexican oregano, and I find it readily inn little bags in the Hispanic section of the grocery, but if you don’t have it use dried marjoram or oregano. Since I am using a corn tortilla to thicken the broth, I think it’s smart to use the remaining tortillas in the package to make fresh tortilla strips, but you can use purchased chips if you prefer. I bake them for ease, but you can fry if you like.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup
- For the Soup
2 dried ancho chiles
8 corn tortillas
8 cups of chicken broth
2 Tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Thinly sliced radishes
chopped green onions
Pickled or candied jalapenos
Crumbled queso fresco
Shredded cheddar cheese
- Snip the stems from the dried chiles and shake out all the seeds. Get in there with the scissors to trim away any clinging seed. Place the chiles in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soften for 30 minutes. Tear up two of the tortillas into small pieces and place in the carafe of a blender. Pour over 1 cup of the chicken broth and leave to soften while the onions cook. Melt the butter in the crock of a slow cooker set to high, then add the onions, cover the crock and let them cook and soften for 30 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes.
- Add the soaked chiles with about ¼ cup of the soaking liquid and the tomatoes to the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the slow cooker, then add the remaining chicken broth. Add the black beans and corn, then stir in the cumin, salt paprika, oregano and cinnamon. Nestle the chicken breast in the soup and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 5 – 6. Remove the chicken breasts to a bowl, and shred with two forks, or use a hand mixer to break it up into shreds. Return the shredded chicken to the slow cooker and let it heat through before serving.
- While the soup is cooking, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the remaining corn tortillas into thin strips and spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Spray both sides with cooking spray or olive oil. Toast until crispy and lightly browned, about ten minutes. Let these cool to use as a topping for the soup.