Apparently, 'Just Right' is going to be everything I make. Not just 'Simple, vegetable and protein-based meals' as I bullshitted a few months back, but everything. Everything I make that I document with my iPhone instead of my camera, because my iPhone is my camera.
I like the iPhone because it is quick and does the work for me. The iPhone is my unpaid Intern. No, stop, don't call your Advisor. Let us reframe Currency as we know it. Isn't Life experience a currency of sorts? Think OUTSIDE the BOX! So many stories. A bleary, dirty lens. Think of all the perks, iPhone, all the knowledge, and then write me 500 words for the 'Community Space' and post it before you take your lunch.
This soup is vegetable and protein based, but then you muddy it up with a handful of fried corn tortilla strips (for the photos, I used yellow, but I liked it better with white corn tortillas. The yellow ones tasted like Fritos, and while that is never shameful, it is different). Then you desecrate it with dairy, and the smallest, most luscious Avocados and bright, floral Cilantro and a squirt of lime and you stir it all up and eat it and half the tortilla strips are all sogged out, while the other half are still crispy and fresh and you inhale that richness, that sweet chile-spiked broth and try to remember how you made it - the soup, or more likely, to wherever you are.
I think of last October, all the mistakes I made - staying out too late, chasing, being afraid to unclench my fist. Throwing myself against walls. And now we're here, a year later, and I'm getting ready for something I cannot predict or expect, but it is something I want to cherish, devour, relish, and wear OUT. I'm not pregnant - I'm not planning a betrothal. I am not raising bail money. I am just happy to be here, Sal - on the precipice. This little bit of time, to fill with big pots of soup and as many visits with friends as I can fit in, and no day dreaming, no swollen, aching hearts. Just awareness and anticipation and joy.
I am starting a new job. That is what all the bullshit above means. I don't start it for a few more weeks. Which is why I'm cooking a lot.
So if you have time to fill, this is a great project to keep your hands and mind distracted. The end result is a rich pot of satisfaction. You're going to have to tend to it, for a bit, and the first time I made it I used every pot around. Then I used my brain, and thought about it for a minute. The fussiest part is blending a portion of the soup and returning it to the pot, but it makes for liquid, velvet-like luxury, and where else are you going to get that besides the walls of Prince's compound?
If you don't want to fry your own tortilla strips, buy a bag of Juanitas and you'll be so thankful and that much less stressed. But only Juanitas. Only those golden triangles - the Official corn chip of the Illuminati. Or my house.
Chicken Tortilla Soup for When You Want to DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR ANXIOUS, ANIMAL HANDS
White or Yellow Corn Tortillas, as many as you think is appropriate
Oil, for Frying
1 3-4 lb Chicken, degutted and gunked
2 dried California or New Mexico Chile pods, or a mix of both, destemmed and seeded
1-2 TBS ground red Chile powder (lighter red, mine was made from California chiles - not the blended chile powder you would use for Chili)
2 large white or yellow onions, one halved and the other diced
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 head (split) plus 3 (large, peeled and minced) cloves of garlic
2 Carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano
1 15 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Crema, Cojita, Cilantro, Avocado and Lime, for serving
In your absolute largest stock pot or Dutch Oven, place the split head of garlic, halved onion, Chicken, Bay leaves and 2 dried chile pods. Fill with water, enough to submerge the chicken by 2 inches or so, and place over medium to medium-low heat - simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, topping off with water if neccessary, never vigorously, until the chicken is tender and falling apart and everything smells GREAT.
Remove the chicken from the pot, set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the chicken from the bones, making sure to pick out any bits of cartilage or bone. Just get in there and DO IT, TIM.
Now, fish out the onion and garlic. Throw all that away (not the Bay, leave that in there). Fish out the chili pods - reserve those, in the 'jar' or pitcher of your Blender.
In a shallow pan, saute the diced onion, carrots, red bell pepper, minced garlic, and season with oregano, salt, and pepper and chili powder - start out with 1 to 2 Tablespoons, depending on heat tolerance. The broth straight-up will seem hotter than the finished product. Once tender, dump the sauteed vegetables into the stock pot, along with the crushed tomatoes. Season with more salt, to taste, add the honey, and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced by around an inch. Fish out 1 cup of the broth, and add to your blender/reserved chile pods. Puree until frothy, then add that mixture back to the pot.
Now just simmer forever. For as long as you can. When you're fifteen or thirty minutes out from wanting to feed yourself or others, add the chicken back into the soup and lower the heat, letting it warm through and mingle. Check seasoning one last time - add salt, honey, and a good squeeze of lime to taste.
While that is happening, fry up some tortilla strips - in a heavy-bottomed pan or skillet, heat one inch of Vegetable or Peanut oil over medium to medium-high heat. Thinly cut your chosen flat corn wraps into strips - I use a pizza cutter for this surgical-like task. Place one strip in the cold oil, and when it begins to bubble furiously around the edges and float, fry the rest of the strips in sensible batches (I usually divide the amount into thirds) until golden brown and crisp and great.
Drain on a paper-lined plate, and shower with salt. Make sure all burners are off, and serve with your choice of accompaniments. I feel, personally and deeply, that cilantro is not optional for this particular soup. Cojita is great. Just do You. Just Do You.
Slurp it up, slurp it down, pass it round.