Once upon a time, in 2000, I found myself driving though blizzardy conditions in the greater Washington DC area. We were on our way to watch the Superbowl with some college friends of my husband and their little daughter who was around 2 years old. I had only met these friends once before. The drive was very frightening and I was so relieved to arrive at the apartment safely. The hostess, Christi, had prepared a feast, beginning with her Tortilla Soup. Oh my goodness. It was the best soup I'd ever had, and I kept telling her so and asking for the recipe. To the point at which I think she thought I was a little nuts. I managed to get her to write down the recipe for me and describe some of the instructions. I was still a pretty new cook but I was determined to recreate her recipe.
That was the last time I ever saw Christi. Life went on as it does, we got married and had a baby and they moved around a bit. Then we heard that Christi had ovarian cancer and it was very bad. My husband made a trip to see her. Christi died about a year and half ago, leaving her young daughter.
I've made Christi's soup numerous times over the years, last week being the most recent. Just tasting it moves me. Here was a woman, whom I met only twice, but whose soup recipe will remain in my recipe box for the rest of my life and who I'll think of and remember and talk about every time I make it. I'm sure Christi's family misses her terribly every day, but I like to think they'd be pleased to know there's someone out there who makes her soup and remembers the love she put into it when she shared it with us.
Christi's Tortilla Soup
Christi was originally from Mexico so I've always felt this is an 'authentic' soup. If you wanted to make a vegetarian version, I think you could replace the chicken with beans.
1 lb chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 red pepper, small dice
1 green pepper, small dice
1 onion, small dice
corn (I use 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn defrosted)
1 quart chicken broth
garlic, 2-4 cloves, minced
fresh cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped
for topping the soup:
shredded cheese - Monterrey jack and cheddar
avocado slices (we don't usually do this but you could)
fried tortilla strips (I like to make these myself as Christi did, just cut up corn tortillas and fry in canola oil)
Heat 1 TBSP oil in pot or dutch oven. Saute onion and peppers until soft - 5 minutes. Add garlic to middle of pot and saute, stirring frequently about 1 minute. Add chicken broth, 2-3 cups water, 1/2 T salt, 1 T garlic powder, 1 T cumin and chicken breasts. Bring to simmer and simmer until chicken is cooked all the way through. Remove chicken and shred/dice it and return to pot. Add tomatoes with thier juice, tomato sauce, corn, 2 tsp oregano, and creole seasoning to taste*. Simmer about 30 minutes, soup will reduce a bit and thicken. A few minutes before serving, add chopped cilantro.
To serve: place soup in bowl, squeeze lime juice in**, add a bit of cilantro, top with cheese then fried tortillas.
*The seasoning I use is made by McCormick and comes in an 8oz container that is red. Mine says "Creole Seasoning - Adds Cajun Flavor to every Meal"
**I think the lime juice is very important.
The distinctive flavor of this soup comes from the Creole seasoning, cilantro and lime juice, in my opinion.