Americans have quite a love affair with Mexican and TexMex foods. The grocery shelves are packed with beans, tortillas and spices – and if you’re not in the mood to cook – chances are there’s a restaurant nearby. There are two holidays when Mexican-themed foods shine the brightest in the US: Super Bowl Sunday and Cinco de Mayo.
Many folks think that Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day. They’re incorrect - Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th.
Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico that celebrates the 1862 victory of the Mexican Army over Napoleon III’s France in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Had the French won that war, we might be eating baguettes rather than tortillas on the fifth of May.
With the chilly weather lingering here in the Berkshires, I decided to make a large pot of Tortilla Soup accented with the flavors of Mexico – corn, chicken, cumin, peppers and lime in a light chicken-tomato broth. My recipe is not an authentic Mexican rendition of the soup but rather a quick and easy recipe. Instead of frying up strips of tortillas, I crush corn chips into the soup to thicken it. Although my recipe begins with roasting chicken thighs, if you want to simplify the recipe even more, buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken.
Put on some mariachi music, grab a bottle of Corona beer with lime and let the festivities begin!
8 chicken thighs* (skin on/bone in)
2 bell peppers (I prefer red bell peppers for their sweeter taste)
1 large Vidalia onion
3 garlic cloves, skin on
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus more for baking
½ teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
Salt & pepper
6 cups chicken stock
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 bag of frozen corn
1 dried Guajillo pepper, stem and seeds removed
Shredded Mexican cheese blend and sour cream, for serving
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken thighs, then dust with a light coating of ground cumin. Put into a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Roast for 10 minutes.
While the chicken begins roasting, core the peppers and remove the seeds cutting the peppers into quarters. Thinly slice the Vidalia onion. On a large baking sheet lined with foil, spread out the peppers, onions slices and the garlic cloves (with the skins still on). Spray the vegetables with olive oil spray and then lightly dust with a little salt, pepper and ground cumin. After the chicken thighs have baked for the initial 10 minutes, put the tray of vegetables into the oven and continue cooking the chicken and the vegetables for 10 to 15 additional minutes. You’ll notice that your kitchen is already beginning to smell like a Mexican restaurant as the chicken, vegetables and cumin begin to meld into delicious flavors!
When done, the internal temperature of the chicken thighs should register 165 degrees and the vegetables should be lightly charred. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the oven and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Pour off any grease that has accumulated under the chicken.
In a large soup pot put 6 cups of chicken stock. Add the can of tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes by hand before adding them to the pot.
Remove and discard the skin and bones then shred the chicken meat or cut into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup pot. Roughly chop the roasted peppers and onions. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and finely mince them. Add the roasted vegetables to the soup pot along with the corn, cumin and oregano.
To add a bit of “heat” and flavor to the soup, I add a chopped dried guajillo pepper. You can add the pepper of your choice depending on how spicy or mild you like your food. If you’re adding a fresh pepper such as a jalapeno or serrano, I would first sauté the minced pepper in a little olive oil to reduce the bite and soften the texture.
Let the soup simmer until heated throughout. To help thicken the soup and give it its delicious flavor (and name!) crush about 6 corn chips on top of each serving. Top with chopped avocado, cilantro and a squirt of fresh lime.
If you’d like, you can also add some shredded Mexican blend cheese and sour cream or, if you’re lucky enough to find it, some crumbles of Mexican queso fresco (fresh cheese).
* If you are starting with a rotisserie chicken, don’t bother heating up your oven. Just sauté the peppers, onions and garlic in a little olive oil until soft and lightly browned.