As I recently discovered while making a big pot of Tortilla Soup. There are many similarities between this particular soup and our members. Nothing better than hot soup on cold nights. I will make a big pot on a weekend, and enjoy it throughout the week. One of my favorite recipes is my Chicken Tortilla Soup. It is a hearty soup with lots of personality — just like our members. It is a diverse soup, in terms of flavors, textures, ingredients, just like my job and the people I work with. Some recipes I will follow exactly, more when it comes to baking. But my day-to-day cooking rarely follows a recipe. I am all about taste, and what appeals to me. Family and friends can vouch for me since when invited, they all willingly show up and no one appears to leave hungry. What I love about this particular recipe, every time I make it, is different. Ingredients may vary, and if they do, the flavor will vary as well. As you read on, you will see why this very special soup reminds me of all of you — our very special members.
For a BIG Pot Mary Style — The Recipe
- First step — pour a nice glass of wine. It inspires the chef in me…and clearly makes for a better outcome. Love nothing more than cooking on a Saturday afternoon, with the music going, and a glass of wine as I season the soup. I prefer bold reds: cabernet’s, syrah’s, blends. Yes, even when cooking fish and chicken. If it is 95 degrees, I will enjoy a nice albarino. I only keep a white on hand for those friends that I have yet to convert to the dark side of reds. Anyway, getting back to the recipe. Our members are diverse in their beverages of choice as well.
- Poach 4 – 6 chicken breasts in a large flat sauté pan. I poach in chicken broth to enhance the flavor. If you don’t know how to poach chicken, Google or YouTube It. No time for it here. When the chicken is done, let it cool and set aside. Once cool, shred the chicken with two forks into small bites. Never cube it, looks boring an unappealing. You want it tender like so many of our sweet and wonderful members, but if you overcook it, it can become tough and stressed. This can also be like some of our members when we over tax you and you get tired and stressed. Lesson here — never over tax your chicken or your members.
- In the large soup kettle, pour “about” a tablespoon or two of olive oil, heat on very low heat. Add 4-5 cloves of chopped garlic (be careful not to burn that garlic — if you do, throw it out and start over) and 4-6 of the small “hot” peppers. I have already grilled the hot peppers on the grill or over the flame of my gas stove to get that charred flavor and look. When I am prepping the pepper, I do love to add some of the seeds into the soup because it really adds “the heat” that makes this soup so incredibly good. I also found a random jalapeño in my dry box, so of course I added that. Of the friends and family I cook for, I know some like it hot and some don’t. Some like cilantro, some don’t. I will never compromise the integrity of this soup and make it wimpy, but I will modify and tone it down, ever so slightly in order to accommodate my guests. Then will offer side dishes of cilantro, more green onions and peppers for those that like to live on the wild side with me. Adding the garlic and the hot peppers also reminds me of members. Some like to heat things up at the bar, and create some controversy, while others like to keep things more on the calm and not so spicy side. Some members believe we should be involved in issues that other members do not. In some cases, those members become non-members in order to make their point. Others never become members and claim it is because things are too hot and spicy. In those cases, my response is always an invitation to the table to join in the dialogue and allow their voice to be heard. But if not a member, you don’t have a seat at the hot and spicy table with an ability to subdue some of the spice. Like my friends that don’t like a lot of cilantro. They don’t stop coming to the table, they come and simply say, can we talk about the amount of cilantro you put in your soup? And good friend and chef that I am, I modify to please my guests (members).
- Once all of this yummy is soft and translucent, add 2-3 boxes of chicken broth. Again, depends on how big a pot you wish to make. I am really trying to do organic right now, so this was organic chicken broth. I like a hearty soup, so I want to know that with every spoonful, and I am also getting a spoonful of all the ingredients. When I get down to nothing but broth, that becomes a note to self — too much chicken broth. My tip here is you can always add more broth if it becomes more like a thick stew. The other trick here is you just learn three more people are joining the festivities, and another box of broth makes this manageable as long as you can also add a few other ingredients like corn and beans to keep everything in balance. This is also the trick when managing a bar event. Suddenly you have 50 more people coming, and you have to be ready with some quick additions.
- Next are 2 large cans (organic in my case) of whole tomatoes in juice. Watch that you don’t get the whole tomatoes in basil, garlic or purée. Just plain whole tomatoes in juice. I throw them in my blender for a minute as Tortilla soup is not meant to have large chunks of tomatoes, but I do like small bits, so I am careful not to pulverize this red gift. Again, this is where I modify. If I am using three boxes of broth, I would use two cans of tomatoes, etc. This becomes a taste preference. This point serves to remind me about how much food we serve at the MCBA. For meetings, for CLE’s, for bribery purposes when we are pushing our 27 member Judiciary Committee to do 8 interviews within 2 four-hour interview sessions. We must provide sustenance to this hard-working group. But it never fails. “Mary, would you tell your sandwich maker that we prefer the tuna without onion?” Next member may say, “Mary, tell your place that this tuna is dull, it needs some onion and celery.” No two palates are alike.
- Next are the black beans. Strain 2-3 cans of this wonderful and healthy food. In a recent blog from the Cleveland Clinic, they stated that black beans are one of the 8 healthiest foods you can eat. Packed with good protein and lots of other nutritional benefits. But as we all know, beans can affect people very differently. So beans also serve to remind me how similar they can be to our members, and how different our members are. But most importantly, how our members respond to different things. One issue may fire up a member and they really become passionate and a bit explosive over an issue. That same issue will have no effect on another member. I guess it just depends on the issue, the member and the bean.
- And in this pot of hot, spicy and zing, you need a touch of sweetness, and that is where the corn comes in. When I can get it, I will buy fresh corn on the cob, grill it, and then shave it off the cob or if a can 2 cans. That grilled flavor is the secret ingredient to this soup. I am telling you it is worth the extra steps. When I have to go with canned corn, I drain it, then sauté it in a hot, dry pan which also gives it the charred look and flavor — I am all about the burn! This sweet corn ingredient is such a reflection of our members as we are gifted with so many sweet and kind members. Members that make a point of stopping in and thanking us for something that did not require thanks. Or we will receive notes and emails after an event or about a matter that provide a simple thanks for the support we provide to members. Never necessary, but always appreciated.
Reminder about my gauge in terms of the balance of ingredients, when I scoop a spoonful, I want to see a little bit of everything. If I get no chicken, 8 beans, and 1 kernel of corn, I need to balance it up. But that’s just me. For those that know me, I like harmony in my life. I don’t always get it, but I like to strive for it.
The toppings…and this is where it gets fun! Have a few small bowls of the following available, and allow your guests to customize their bowl of soup.
- Cilantro — adds this fresh and unique flavor when sprinkled over the soup. I do add some to the big pot, but this is one of those ingredients not everyone likes, so I respect that…to a point!
- Scallions/Green Onions — the addition of these bright green and white onions, raw, over the top of the soup bowl, add a bright flash of color, yet another intriguing flavor, and freshness.
- Red Onions — another gift of the gods. Sautéed red onions. With no need to add sugar, a sautéed red onion develops its own natural sugar. I provide a bowl of these and encourage guests to throw a little fresh scallion on top along with a few strands of the sautéed red — together they are heavenly.
- Lime — oh man, this is like the best. That touch of citrus squeezed over the bowl just enhances the flavor even more. I do place about half a lime in the big pot while cooking. But always have some cut up for your guests.
- Avocado — there is no Tortilla Soup without this nectar of the gods. The secret to picking a good avocado is by touch. If you give it a gentle squeeze, and it is hard as a rock, it is not ready. If serving a crowd, I have lots of avocado to go around because this is always popular. Remember, though a fat, avocado is considered a healthy fat.
- Cheese and Sour Cream — some recipes call for a Monterey Jack, others a cheddar, which is what I prefer. Not a strong cheddar, but not mild either. Something in the middle. Plus, don’t forget the sour cream, and “only a dollop will do!” I have chosen to allow only one dairy in my bowl in an ongoing effort to be as healthy as I can be, but if you don’t offer the sour cream, no harm in the low-fat version, someone will ask for it. Best to provide. The touch of dairy from the cheese or the sour cream does add an even richer flavor to the soup in terms of texture, while cutting back some of the zing-power in this soup for those that want to have this effect.
- Tortilla Strips or Chips — some recipes call for cutting up a flour tortilla into strips, and then cooking them really quickly in a skillet with light oil till crispy. This is the best way as they really enhance the texture of the soup giving it the crunch that it needs. When in a rush, there is no harm in grabbing a bag of corn tortilla chips off the rack. As long as you have that crunch factor in the meal.
So in the end, you have this rich, robust, spicy, zingy, creamy, flavorful, crunchy, colorful soup — and every bowl at the table is as diverse in personality as the members of the MCBA. Perhaps one day I will need to bring in a big crockpot of this soup, and if you happen to be so lucky to be there, you might be so lucky to grab a bowl.
And last but not least, some like beer with this soup; others may prefer a red, while someone at the table will opt for a white wine, or some sparkling water. So as you gather at the table surrounded by your family and friends, getting ready to enjoy this wonderful soup, recognize that you never all agree about everything because you are all diverse in experiences and opinions, but in the end because you love and respect each other, harmony will prevail, just like our MCBA members.
Thanks for checking in. Bon appétit,