Friday, April 4, 2014

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

One reason I haven't blogged since my second son was born is that my time to cook has become seriously limited.  I still cook for us pretty much seven nights a week, and I'm proud that most of it tastes good and is healthy, but I've come to rely upon a rotating stable of quickie favorites that more often than not aren't so exciting.  This tortilla soup is one of those staples...a fast, throw-it-together, flavor-packed weeknight creation.  But unlike some of our other simple go-to dinners, this one is actually extremely exciting; it's just so damn tasty and too quick to be true.

This is most definitely a slow cooker recipe.  You could adapt it for the stovetop, but the beauty of it lies in the power of my beloved slow cooker.  The slow cooker allows the flavors of this simple soup to develop and deepen over many hours, creating a super savory dish, and it also contributes to the speediness of the prep.  Best of all: you add literally zero fat to this dish.  The only fat in the soup comes from the chicken (which is totally optional) and how wild you opt to go with the your toppings bar.  A stovetop version would require significant glugs of oil to get the onions and chicken cooked, and I kind of love it that the slow cooker version allows you to omit that added fat entirely.

This past Wednesday, I was having a completely rotten and stressful day, the type where you feel like you might burst into tears at the drop of a hat.  I finished feeding the baby his lunch at 12:25 and needed to pick up his brother at 1.  I was able to throw this soup in the slow cooker AND clean up from our lunch and my soup prep in that scant half-hour, which is a momming miracle.  The best thing is, when dinner hour rolled around and I had totally had it, this incredibly comforting soup was ready to go, no further cooking required, and it had filled the house with the most soul-soothing aroma, the way only a great soup does.

It is still bone-chillingly cold here in New Hampshire, but light enough late enough, and just slightly warm enough, that the kiddos on the block are back to riding bikes outside until sunset.  Nothing could be better than coming in to a warming, nourishing soup just waiting for dinner.  Even if you're getting warmer evenings where you are, this would be fabulous with an icy cold margarita or Corona with lime. And like most soups, this one just gets better with age, making perfect lunches for the rest of the week.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup
Serves 8
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (optional -- I think this would make a fabulous vegetarian soup)
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 14 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 oz. can sweet corn, drained and rinsed
1 8 oz. can diced green chiles
4 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 heaping teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
salt to taste (I used kosher salt)

For toppings, any or all of the following:
tortilla chips, crumbled OR, for extra points, you could thinly slice and pan-fry corn tortillas
ripe avocado, cubed
sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
scallions, chopped
fresh cilantro
sour cream or Greek yogurt
hot sauce (Cholula is the house favorite here)

1) Rinse and pat dry chicken.  Place in bottom of slow cooker.
2) Layer chopped vegetables and all other ingredients on top of the chicken, finishing with the broth and spices.  Stir.
3) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
4) When the cook time is complete, use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the pot.  It will be fork-tender, falling apart.  Use two forks to shred the chicken on a cutting board or in a mixing bowl, and return it to the pot.  Stir and adjust seasonings to taste.
5) Serve with toppings, the more the better.

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