E-Z Meal: Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

9 Oct

Sunrise over the lake

New York City gets under your skin. Live there for a decade or so, and getting bottles of urine thrown at you on the subway becomes fodder for light dinner conversation. Catching someone’s hand inside your bag and around your wallet while pushing past stands selling half-dead pet turtles and knockoff Chanel bags on Canal Street is just part of your average Sunday morning routine.

The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, dinner at Le Cirque, sudsy mugs of beer on the Bowery, shopping on Spring Street, browsing for books in the Strand. It’s all around the corner, it’s available, it’s background noise, baby. You live in New York.

As John Updike put it, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding. ”

And then I moved. I realized that, holy crap, life doesn’t come to a grinding halt when you leave The City. That, sometimes, it gets a hell of a lot easier. E-Z. Yes, it’s pared down. Pho with pickled tripe is not a good idea in Kent Lakes, New York; spicy wings eaten on the lake with a bunch of Harley dudes — we’ve gotcha covered. And space? We’ve got it in spades. Big blue skies, wide open roads, towering trees, fields as far as the eye can see.

I haven’t started getting my coffee from drive-throughs (or spelling it drive-thrus) yet, but I’ve definitely thought about it.

For years, I had the same “hard is better” philosophy with food preparation; instinctively, I felt that any meal prepared with pre-made ingredients in any form was a horrifying Duncan Hines-sponsored, partially hydrogenated oil-dipped Sandra Lee cop-out.

And then I had my Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup for the 700th time. But this time, I asked for a recipe. It’s so rich, full of complex textures and layers of kicky spice and gooey umami goodness, I was sure she spent hours over the stove, roasting the perfect bird and building each component of soup separately.

“How do you do it?” I asked, expecting her a session of coy reticence on her part, wheedling on mine and eventual surrender of a five-page recipe after hours of back-and-forth and several glasses of wine.

“I use a rotisserie chicken!” she crowed. The woman will never cease to surprise me.

It doesn't get any E-Z-ier

This soup is a snap to throw together. Perfect for a hearty cuppa’ while you’re unpacking boxes, figuring out the feng shui of your cute little foyer and constantly running out to the backyard to see how your city dog is adjusting to life in the country.

Click on for the recipe.

My new pet, Sammy the Salamander, lives in that grim hole in our basement. Bon appetit!

Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

Makes 8 servings


  • 1 rotisserie chicken (remove skin and set aside for another use; shred skin; use carcass to make stock for future use)

Stock up

  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced (retain some, but not all of the seeds for heat; more if you love spice, less if you don’t)
  • 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 quarts chicken stock (homemade if possible)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin, coriander
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 corn tortillas, chopped into thin strips
  • Optional garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese, tortilla chips (I fry up some of the strips in oil for crunch), sour cream, sriracha sauce, lime wedges.


  • Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent; add carrots and cook until softened and both are just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Add jalapenos and garlic, cook until fragrant. Season each vegetable with salt as you go.
  • Toss in the chicken stock, tomatoes and spices, bring to a boil  Season with salt and pepper. Reduce to simmer. Add tortilla strips, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add chicken and simmer until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve with desired garnishes.

Nutritional Breakdown for Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup: About 375 calories and 12 grams of fat. Full of protein, iron, Vitamin C.

Cost Breakdown for Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup: Rotisserie chickens are ridiculously cheap. Who knew? I got mine for $4.99 at Costco. All told, this comes in at about $1.50 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: This soup is synonymous with my mom and I’ll always associate it with her; complex, refreshingly straight-forward, warm, wonderful. Stephen and I sipped it with a can of Yuengling between bouts of unschooled attempts at home improvement.

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