Thursday, January 17, 2008

Christi's Tortilla Soup

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
olive oil
garlic, 2-4 cloves, minced
garlic powder
creole/cajun seasoning
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.


heather (errantdreams) said...

What a sad & lovely story. I'm sure her family would be glad to know someone else carries on her memory.

I did, by the way, review the artisan bread book, and I have to thank you again for bringing it to my attention! It's absolutely wonderful.

melanie said...

what a bittersweet memory. thanks for posting the recipe. it's snowing (finally) here and that sounds like a good thing for dinner.

Cath said...

That's such a sad but beautiful story. I'm sure Christy is somewhere where she knows you're making her soup and sharing the recipe with us. I've saved it and will try it sometime as it sounds delicious.

Carrie K said...

How sad. But yum, tortilla soup. I made a batch this weekend for my cold, I'll have to try out Christi's recipe.

And no, you're not the last one to read the Book Thief. It does sound pretty good.

Tara said...

Heather, I'm going to check out your review -I'm glad you liked it so much!

Mel, let me know if you make it - we're also having soup weather.

Cath, thanks for your kind words. Please let me know if you try it.

Carrie K, you haven't read The Book Thief , huh? I'd love to know your thoughts on it if you decide to read it.

Bookfool said...

Speaking of McCormick spices . . . the fellow who wrote the book I just finished is the man whose company created those little flip-up openers on spice jars. Isn't that something? I'd never given *that* much thought. :) The recipe looks great!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story and the soup recipe looks really tasty. And I'm from a place (Texas) where we know our tortilla soup. So kind of you, Tara, to share this with us and I know it warms your heart each time you make this soup.

Nan said...

Very moving and heartbreaking, Tara. And it shows the importance of sharing recipes. I've never understood people who want to keep a recipe secret. She lives a little tiny bit because you think of her each time you make the soup. And now even more people who never knew her, will still think of her if they make the recipe you have now passed along. I'm so touched.

Tara said...

Bookfool - what do you know? I'll admit to not thinking much about it myself. I heard on the news that the man who invented silly string, the hula hoop, and slip n slide just died - imagine coming up with those ideas!

Kay, Christi was originally from Mexico and spent part of her youth in Texas. You are right, it does warm my heart.

"She lives a little tiny bit because you think of her each time you make the soup."

That's what I think. And the same with my grandmother's recipes that I try to replicate. Recipes are such a great 'history', I think.

Cornflower said...

I can't do better than echo Nan's comment.

Lesley said...

That's a very bittersweet story - thank you for sharing it, and Christy's recipe. It sounds delicious, and perfect for a cold day.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

Nice touching story. I'm glad you share the recip with us.

Anonymous said...

What a great memory that is to have! Even though it's sad, like you said every time you see that recipe you will think of her. I can't wait to make sounds delicious!

Tara said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments. Thanks Helene and Kristina for stopping by - it's nice to meet you both! I'd love to know if anyone decides to try the soup recipe.

Jill ONeill said...

Thank you for sharing both the story and the recipe. It means so much more that way.

It does look good and I may well end up trying to make it for a potluck.

Becca said...

Such a very sad thing to lose a young mother so early in life. I am so sorry to hear this. Her recipe looks wonderful. Tortilla soup is one of my very favorite meals. Thank you for this new recipe.