I find it a source of great comfort that pretty much every culture, every cuisine has its own interpretation of chicken soup.
The Mexican version in particular speaks to me, scented with chilies and spices like cumin and coriander, riddled with slightly softened tortilla chips.
In Mexico, whole chilies may be used, often toasted and the crumbled into the soup. I rely on dried chili powder, pure ancho if you can find it, but in this recipe, regular blended chili powder also works just fine.
Cooking the chicken breasts in the broth enriches both broth and chicken, but if you are in a rush, go ahead and use about 3 cups of shredded cooked chicken, maybe from a rotisserie chicken. Need one more shortcut? Skip the frying of the tortillas; grab a bag of tortilla chips, lightly crush a few handfuls and use those instead.
The garnishes are what make this soup so special. Do not be timid with the offerings: An assortment of shredded cheese, diced avocado, fresh cilantro, salsa and lime wedges will turn a comforting soup into a feast.
You can make the soup ahead — stopping after adding the chicken — and keep it refrigerated for up to four days. Reheat, adding the lime juice when you are ready to serve (and, of course, don't fry the tortillas or prep the toppings until just before serving!).
Mexican tortilla chicken soup
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
For the soup:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-size onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon pure ancho chili powder
1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Canola or vegetable oil, for pan-frying
6 corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into thin strips
Juice of 1 lime
To serve (optional, pick and choose):
1 or 2 avocados, peeled and diced
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salsa or Pico de Gallo
1 lime, cut into wedges
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender and golden, 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and chili powder and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered (don't let the soup come to a boil), stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just barely cooked through, about 12 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and let sit until cool enough to handle. Keep the soup gently simmering over medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, pour the oil to a depth of 1 inch into a medium-size skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Line a plate with a couple of paper towels. When the oil is hot, add the tortilla strips in batches and fry, stirring often, until they are crisp and lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the plate, and sprinkle lightly with salt while they are still hot.
Shred the slightly cooled chicken, and stir it and the lime juice into the soup.
Ladle the soup into soup bowls and top with the fried tortilla strips, along with your choice of diced avocado, cheese, cilantro, salsa and lime wedges.
Nutrition information per serving: 291 calories; 95 calories from fat; 11 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 362 mg sodium; 23 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 26 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman.