I'm deep into week three at school. Yesterday I roasted a leg of lamb. Raspberry tarts haunt my dreams. I eat a gourmet three-course meal for lunch every day.
And all I want is some frickin Mexican food.
Corn tortillas apparently don't exist in Ireland. At least not at school, nor at the rural gas station that serves as my grocery store these days. But you know what they do have? Old El Paso fajita wraps. Oh yeah...
Cooking has taken on a whole new set of challenges these days. On one hand, I live on an organic farm. I've been nicking fresh herbs from the student garden across from my house, and buying milk and yogurt made from cows whose names I know. And on the other hand, half the time I end up at the gas station, which really comes to the rescue when you're craving a nice imported banana and a little processed taste of home. It's a really strange dichotomy. I realize how spoiled I am at home, with a car and access to any food I can imagine. I just have no clue where it came from.
I need to practice jointing chickens for class, so I used a whole bird for this soup and made some stock from scratch. If I were home, and if I wouldn't be sneered at for buying a precut chicken, I would trot off to Whole Foods and let them do the cutting, and probably snatch up a few cartons of broth while I was at it. Regardless, do use both white and dark meat chicken - it really helps build flavor.
Mexican Chicken Soup
Yield: Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 40 min Total Time: 1 hour
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and chopped into half moons
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped into half moons
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1-2 chiles, halved and deseeded (depending on your spice tolerance, you can keep the seeds)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 14 oz / 400 g can diced tomatoes, drained of juice
2 L / 2 quarts chicken stock or broth
6 cilantro sprigs
1 large chicken breast and 2 chicken thighs (or any other combo of chicken you have)
4-6 corn or flour tortillas (Corn is ideal. But Old El Paso can do the trick.)
Juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
Thinly sliced radishes
Preheat oven to 400F / 200C for tortilla strips (or just make in a skillet on the stovetop).
Heat a glug of oil over medium heat. Cook onion with a pinch of salt til translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Add carrot, garlic, zucchini, bell pepper, chiles, cumin, coriander, a pinch of salt and good grind of pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, broth and cilantro sprigs, bring to a low boil.
Add chicken pieces, bring back to a boil, and then reduce heat and cover partially. Simmer til chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, brush corn tortillas with a bit of oil. Cut into thin strips. Either fry in skillet with a glug of oil over medium-high heat, or bake on an oven sheet til crisp. It will take about 8 minutes in the oven - give them a stir every now and then.
Remove chicken from pot and let cool. Remove cilantro sprigs as well. Shred chicken with a fork or your hands. Add lime juice and chicken to pot and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, put some tortilla strips in the bowl. Top with soup, then garnish with cilantro, avocado, radish and some more tortilla strips.