Monday, January 28, 2013

Southwestern Chicken Soup

Soup. It’s good. Especially when you’re done with all the festive and fun stuff of winter, but winter isn’t done with you just yet. Blustery days with brutal wind chill. Icy sidewalks and slushy roads. The soul needs something to warm it. Or at least the stomach does.

Many soups don’t really need recipes. By that I mean, you can start with a pot of broth, some aromatics, something chunky, perhaps, and just cook it until it becomes soup. You’d probably end up with something good. For those of us who are pretty well addicted to recipes, however, a list of ingredients somehow feels necessary. I would suggest using a soup “recipe” as a guideline, however, especially when it comes to using what’s in the cupboard or refrigerator or freezer rather than going out in the cold and wet and wind to get exactly what’s on the recipe list.

This is why you’ll see ingredients like “1 medium onion, finely chopped” rather than “precisely 1 cup of onion cut into ¼-inch pieces,” in my soup recipes. I cut up an onion and throw it in a pot. Same thing with other vegetables. I dump in cans of things and use up bags of frozen foods of indeterminate quantity. If I don’t have something that’s in the recipe, I’ll replace it or leave it out. If there’s a flavor I like, for example, the smoked paprika I feel like needs to be in just about everything these days, I’ll put it in.

This particular combination of chicken and southwestern flavors was quite delicious and warming on a cold day. The smoked paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes went a long way toward helping this soup reach its flavor potential. It’s just a bit spicy, a little smoky, meaty and substantial with plenty of chicken, corn and beans. I used an unsalted homemade chicken broth, so added a significant amount of salt beyond the 1 teaspoon listed in the recipe. I would suggest tasting your soup for salt after adding the lime juice. For me, such acidic ingredients cover some of the same flavor space as salt does, and I can make a less salty soup with a lot more flavor.

You don’t have to go this direction with your chicken soup, of course, but I can happily recommend that you do. The warm and zesty flavors are a welcome addition to the usual healing powers of chicken soup. Or, if nothing else, perhaps the flavors will invoke an image of warmer places. Whatever helps!


Southwestern Chicken Soup
Adapted from Eating Well magazine

You could leave out the chicken and use vegetable broth to make a vegetarian soup.

1 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, any color, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoon chili powder
1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
6 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cup pinto beans or black beans (about a 15-ounce can), rinsed and drained
1 (16-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 ½ cups frozen corn
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
juice of 1 lime

1. In a large kettle or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions and peppers are tender and beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes.

2. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Stir in the oregano, chili powder, and smoked paprika. Add the chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, corn and chicken. Bring to a boil.

3. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired, especially for salt and acid (lime juice).

Makes about 6 servings.


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