Nearly a decade ago, I visited a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant out in Tucker named El Matador. If you know me well, than you know that I'm not a huge Mexican food fan. Actually, I really enjoy it when it's fresh or homemade, but the typical "Combination" plate places (La Parilla, El Toro, Los Reyes, etc.) are NOT my favorite. The food always tastes cheap and full of fat to me. So, this particular day at El Matador, I wanted something lighter than an enchilada, rice, and beans. I went with their chicken tortilla soup. And let me tell you, it was great! So fresh and filling, yet light. Topped with fried tortilla strips, avocados, pico de gallo and lime juice...let me tell you, I was in heaven. I remember all the combination plate eaters were saying, "Wow, what did you get? That looks incredible." And it was.
Amazingly, just a few months after the soup and heaven experience, the AJC ran the full recipe for El Matador's Chicken Tortilla soup. I couldn't believe it! The one recipe from the one little hole -in -the -wall restaurant with the best soup was now all mine!
I've tried soups at many other Mexican restaurants, and while some are good, none have compared to El Matador's. I don't even know if the restaurant is still there.
Over the past several years I've made the soup for people and all have loved it. I've been asked many times for "my" chicken tortilla soup recipe. It's funny to me that even though Mexican is not my favorite cuisine, I'm known for a dish of this origin.
I've made a few tweaks to it to make it a little more healthy, such as using brown rice instead of white, chicken stock instead of chicken bullion cubes, and recently I fried up some whole grain tortilla strips in grapeseed oil instead of plain white tortillas.
Timesaving Tips: It calls for a homemade pico de gallo (below), but I usually use premade store bought fresh salsa. And if your life is anything like mine and you don't have all day to devote to one recipe, you can make the "special sauce" a day or two in advance. You could also cook the chicken in advance and just save the stock in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble it all together on the stove. The recipe calls for cooked rice, so make sure you do that in advance as well, or while the chicken is cooking. Don't even think about skipping the "special sauce"...it won't be nearly as good without it.
Also, please keep in mind that when serving the soup, it's imperative that you squeeze fresh lime juice into each serving, top with avocados and chips (or fried tortilla strips if you decided to be an overachiever and make some). Without the lime juice, the soup is flat. You can also add some hot sauce for those who like it hot.
One more thing...you'll need a big pot. Maybe not a stock pot, but grab your biggest soup makin' pot you have on hand. It makes a lot...invite people over to share. They'll be impressed!
And so sweet friends, here is the recipe as I make it. It is rather long.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic salt or powder
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 to 2 1/2 quarts water
4 cups cooked brown rice
special sauce (recipe follows)
Pico de Gallo (for topping, recipe follows)
Tortilla chips or fried tortilla strips
In a large pot, combine chicken, salt, garlic powder and onion. Add the water and bring to a boil. Let boil for 30 minutes or until chicken breasts are cooked through. Remove breasts and allow to cool. When the chicken has cooled, shred and place back into the broth. Add rice and special sauce to broth. Simmer until hot or ready to serve. When serving, top with sliced avocado, pico de gallo (or salsa), freshly squeezed lime juice and crushed tortilla chips or strips.
Pico de Gallo
2 cups finely diced yellow onion
7 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves and be careful not to touch your eyes)
1 1/2 cups finely diced tomato
1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine onion, peppers and tomato. Stir in cilantro and mix until well blended.
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt or powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 large fresh whole tomatoes (or used canned whole tomatoes) peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat the oil. Stir in flour, pepper, garlic, cumin and chili powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and tomatoes. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes.
There you go! If you make it, please let me know how it turns out.
Now I'm on to making dinner tonight...sweet and sour shrimp.