"What do you want for dinner?" "Chili."
If you were to run into me and Dan in the park, on the subway, walking the dog, at Fairway, this would be the conversation we'd be having and I'd beg for you to interrupt.
For Dan, chili is the perfect meal. He never gets sick of chili. He says it's healthy, -- "there's beans!" -- easy to make, and he loves how you have to make a huge batch of it, because then you can eat it throughout the week. He likes to emphasize this last point, saying that I'm "never home," implying both that I gad about nightly (not true) and that all he can do when I'm not around is listlessly microwave a bowl of chili. He's a smart guy who fries eggs like Spongebob flips Krabby Patties, so I'm unsure why this remains the kicker in his argument.
Me? I hate chili. I hate that people act like they have some secret recipe for their chili when it tastes just as good (or better) out of a can. I hate that if you have leftovers, there's a layer of neon orange fat that my mom described to me when I was a kid as, "the stuff that clogs your arteries and gives people heart attacks." I hate that people act like there's a "right" way to make it and I hate that adding beans is controversial. I hate that it's neither a vibrant Mexican stew nor a rich ragu. No matter what, chili tastes like cafeteria food to me. I don't know you guys; me and chili just have beef. (hahaha)
As I type this, I know how bratty I sound. To be honest, I'm a pretty fussy eater and my love of cooking (while no longer the case) definitely grew out of me being a total bossypants who preferred to take matters into my own hands rather than risk my mom/sister/babysitter cutting my PBJ into rectangles instead of the preferred triangles. Aware that the chili thing is clearly way more about my pesty preferences than his tastes, lately when Dan says yet again that he wants chili, I've been trying to offer thoughtful alternatives instead of soliloquizing about why I think it's unappetizing. Personal growth!
One recent and very successful not-chili option was tortilla soup. I was inspired by a tortilla soup we had one weekend at Cascabel Taqueria that was so filling, even split between the two of us, that we had to get the entire rest of our meal to-go. Tortilla soup has all of the good parts of chili that Dan craves without all the parts that I obnoxiously abhor. We both freaked out about how good this not-chili soup tasted and the beauty of finding that middle ground, my friends, is what love is all about.
This recipe is also great if you buy those big bags of corn tortillas, but can't get through them all fast enough. Stale, dried-out tortillas are ideal! Also, the creamy, fatty toppings (avocado, sour cream) balance out spice very nicely, so don't be afraid to turn up the heat!
6 6-inch, stale corn tortillas, cut into strips 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 Poblano chili, diced 1 Jalapeno, diced 1 medium onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, diced 1 10 oz can fire roasted, diced tomatoes 4 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons paprika 1 teaspoon cumin 6 cups chicken stock 10 shakes of your favorite hot sauce (I like a sweet, garlicky habanero sauce like this.) 4-5 cups shredded chicken (I buy a rotisserie bird, remove the skin, and pull apart the meat.) Salt Avocado, cilantro, sour cream and quesadilla cheese for serving
1. Heat oil in a dutch oven on medium high heat. Once you think it's heated enough, splash in a drop of water. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Add your tortilla strips in a few small batches. (Adding too much at once will cause the oil's temperature to drop and you'll have oily tortillas!) Once the tortillas are golden brown and crisp (3-5 minutes), remove with a slotted spoon, transferring to a paper towel-lined plate. Season generously with salt immediately after removing each batch from oil, while hot. Reserve for later.
2. Once all of your tortillas are crisp and removed from the oil, add in your onion, garlic, and peppers. Saute until tender and then add in your tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes to incorporate, season generously with salt (2-3 good pinches) and then add in your spices, coaxing out their flavors. Your mixture will turn a vibrant orangey red from the spices and will become very aromatic. Cook like this for another 5 minutes, or until you feel you've really coaxed the flavor from your ingredients and got them married with one another!
3. At this point, I like to use an immersion blender to blend the soup base, but that isn't required! Next, pour in your chicken stock and tomatoes, bring the soup to a boil, and reduce to simmer. Once the soup has spent about 15 minutes reducing, splash in your hot sauce. Taste. Adjust seasoning as needed (more salt, more hot sauce). Reduce for another 20 minutes and taste. Adjust seasoning again if needed. Continue to reduce if you want a more concentrated flavor - I found that 35 minutes was about right!
4. Once your broth is to your liking, turn off the heat and add in your chicken. Stir to combine.
5. Ladle your servings into soup bowls. Top with a heaping helping of tortilla strips, some sour cream, a bit of grated Mexican melting cheese, a few slices of avocado, and a sprinkling of freshly chopped cilantro.