June Gloom: Chicken Tortilla Soup

The weather in L.A. is awful, which is great news for my soup pot.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I moved from New York to Los Angeles.  Honestly, this year has been the best year of my life.  I am so happy.  I wake up and I smile, clumsily fussing with the coffee pot and a huge vat of salted peanut butter.  Oh, heaven is a banana and a sunny Southern California day!  I’ve finally made a habit of eating healthy more often than not, and I am finally the gym rat I always talked smack about wanted to be.  And I do it all because I love the way it makes me feel, period.  I drink about two Diet Cokes a month, if that.  I once went through two 24-packs in a week, so yeah, it’s a big freakin’ deal.  Really, I only drink them when we order pizza, which is every other month.  And then every once in a while when I find myself bored in a gas station mini-mart, I give in.  So bow down to me, for I am the queen of cutting back on diet soda!  Nobody ever told me how kind a glass of water could be to my little muscles!

Oh, college. Oh, pizza after midnight.

A lot of people ask me why I left Manhattan.  And a lot of those inquirers ask with the widest eyes, because, honestly, “isn’t New York just absolutely fabulous?”  Well, um, yeah, New York is pretty fabulous.  But it is also difficult and small and crowded and dirty and cold, and I was exhausted.  I couldn’t just buy a cantaloupe, no.  If I bought a cantaloupe, it meant that everywhere I went, the melon went, until I got home.  There was no trunk.  There was no mercy.  There were people-pushers and blisters and overflowing trash bins and the heels of my Frye boots stuck in the slats of urine-scented subway vents.  There was no space to store an extra roll of paper towels and so the inherent dirtiness of the city seemed to perpetuate itself in my “one bedroom” apartment.  Ryan and I had to set an alarm for 7 in the morning on Sundays so we could do our grocery shopping without waiting in line for, oh, forty minutes, at Whole Foods.  A box of Wheat Thins was a good deal at 4 dollars.  Folks, I craved sunshine and flip-flops in February and just good old space to breathe.  I wanted trees.  I wanted ocean.  I wanted to not have to triple-tupperware-protect a bag of pita bread from my roommates, who were furry and feisty and not cute.

I also hated the way I looked in winter clothes—ugh.

I hold dear the memories of my first winter in New York.  Here, I’ll share a few:

  1. It was Valentine’s Day and it was awful outside, and I had to wear this puffy coat thing my mom bought me, and I swear, I was a walking body bag.  I felt like the ugliest, dirtiest, puffiest, water-resistant-girl-in-a-Twinkie-suit ever to waddle 3rd Avenue.  And trust me, there have been other Twinkie-waddlers to walk the streets of lower Manhattan.
  2. I thought I had gotten the hang of this whole “layering” concept and bundled up for my early class, an 8 a.m. Recitation on Caribbean History.  I stopped halfway through my walk at this place I always went to for my morning bagel and coffee (their pizza is terrible but they do sell a solid bagel).  The line on this particularly cold morning was a bit lengthy, but I didn’t want to unlayer my, um, snowsuit, as I had to run to class and just didn’t have the time.  So I waited, and waited, and ugh, I started to feel very sick.  I thought maybe the bread would help my tummy, and I got tea instead of acidic coffee, and tried to walk to class.  Which I did, all red and hot and sick and dizzy, with the freezing cold wind blasting against me at that awful Astor Place too-many-corners, too-many-buildings wind-trap.  By the time I got to the lobby, I was apparently pretty blue-looking, and the security guard made me hang out with him for twenty minutes before I could go up to class.  Because he thought I was going to die in the elevator.  Charming!
  3. Hello, mouse.  I’m so glad you decided to move in with me.  Are you happy with the variety of granola bars I’ve got stocked up in the pantry?  Good, good.

Clearly, this whole cold and grungy look didn't work for me.

Okay, anyway, the point is, one of the big things I couldn’t stand about living in Manhattan was the weather.  I’m from Miami, and I found it too hot, too humid.  New York, too cold, too wet.  Los Angeles, well, just right.  I’m Goldilocks, and Santa Monica is my warm and inviting bowl of baby bear porridge, I guess.  Oh, the sun is always shining and it’s always 68 degrees.  But wait, what’s this, this fog, this darkness, this dampness, this… JUNE GLOOM!??!  Yuck!  I do not remember reading about this when I signed my lease!

Oh, and so the yuckiness of a dark summer morning pushes itself through our little apartment and you know what, there is still the slightest bit of glory in which to bask.  Why?  Because June Gloom, if nothing else, at least allows me to extend soup season into early summer.  And I love me some soup.

Read on for the recipe, my super-important opinions and not funny jokes, and pictures!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course, but I guess that varies because sometimes, people are just very hungry, or not so much.
Download a printable version of this recipe: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Vegetables ready to be souped, which is an honor, as far as I'm concerned.

I grilled boneless, skinless breasts in lemon pepper, fresh lime juice, and a little bit of vegetable oil. Then I shredded the chicken with two forks, with gusto!

Frozen corn! Because I couldn't be bothered to shuck anything and I like to save money.

For the soup:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can (28 oz.) best-quality crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock/broth, low-sodium recommended
  • 2 medium onions, yellow, white, and/or red, diced
  • 2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded if desired, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 2/3 lb. shredded chicken
  • dashes of dried herbs: oregano, cilantro, cumin, sea salt, cracked black pepper

For the toppings:

  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges
  • corn tortilla chips
  • sour cream
  • cheddar or jack cheese, grated
  • avocado, diced
  • cilantro, chopped

Method:

  • In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, or as high as possible without burning your oil.  Add onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper, coating with olive oil immediately.  Add a dash of sea salt to encourage veggie “sweat”.  Stir constantly as the vegetables saute and soften, anywhere from five to ten minutes, depending on heat and size and taste.

    Veggies in the first saute stage.

  • Add the garlic now.  When fragrant, turn off the heat and stir.  The leftover veggie steam will help cook the garlic without burning it.  You can add chicken stock to deglaze the pot if sticking/burning becomes a problem.
  • Add a little bit of chicken stock to reduce risk of burning.  Then, bring the heat back to medium-high and add the jalapeños.  This is going to be smoky and hot and interesting.  Don’t breathe in the smoke, especially if you opted to keep the pepper seeds in your soup, because it will actually hurt you.

    Watch out for jalapeño smoke. For serious.

  • Add spices.  I used dashes of oregano, cumin, and dried cilantro.  Not much of anything, though, really.
  • Once the jalapeño smokiness has somewhat settled and the vegetables have incorporated into a thick, soft base, add the tomatoes and stir.  Leave uncovered for about ten minutes to allow the flavors to marry and the soup to thicken.  I would encourage a simmer, not a rapid boil, of the soup.

    San Marzanos, obviously. Don't you know me by now?

  • Add the shredded chicken to the soup and incorporate.

    You could also use chicken thighs, or leftover rotisserie.

  • Add the cup of corn to the soup and incorporate, giving the corn a few minutes to warm up and settle into the soup.
  • Taste and season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, if desired.
  • Serve in pretty bowls with a dollop of sour cream, a few sprigs cilantro, a lime wedge, and avocado, if you please.   And shredded cheese!  And the tortilla chips!  I like a few cracked chips in the bottom of my bowl and then lots on top of the soup for crunch and style(!).  Don’t forget to squeeze a little bit of lime on your soup for a bright and zesty, fresh finish to your glorious bowl of warmth, savored at your dinner table on a cool, gray summer’s night.

Chicken Tortilla Soup, all dolled up!

That’s all, that’s all, that’s all.

Except one thing: a part of me will always love New York City.  For all its dirty glamour.  And pizza.  And bagels.  And the flagship Bloomingdales on 59th and Lex.

Oh, shucks.  Now I really, really miss college.  Blah.  I want to read books and talk about them and sound important.  I want to spend four days writing a paper on promiscuous young women on the cusp of an American Revolution meant to incite political independence, not domestic independence!  I want to spend hours sifting through useless information on the internet before finally grabbing a big cup of coffee and trekking over to Bobst, where the perfect “aha!” reference invariably awaits, bringing together every scattered, halfway-there argument in my paper, so I can finally get some sleep get back to staying up all night watching LOST on my laptop in the dark with a bottomless bowl of Fiber Flakes.

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Comments
16 Responses to “June Gloom: Chicken Tortilla Soup”
  1. This looks very colorful and tasty. Tortilla soup is very popular in Mexico and found on many menus.
    Thanks for the recipe.

    Kathleen

  2. dave says:

    When is this June Gloom going to end? In San Diego now, and wondering when my next Tortilla Soup fix is coming from… thanks for the recipe.

  3. Those glasses look great on you!!!

    That tortilla soup looks phenomenal – yummmmm!

  4. Chef Dennis says:

    hi Lauren
    this has to be my favorite soup of all time…
    what a great job you did with it!
    All the best
    Dennis

  5. This looks so good! As usual, a fun post:)

  6. jenna says:

    i miss visiting you in new york and going to think coffee for the cold brewed ice coffee that i loved so much. LA is so much further away. uhggg i miss the old days 😦

    remember new years? and when the comb fell on my head from like 6 stories up?

    i missssss youuuuuu

  7. MAry says:

    What a fabulous soup. I’m new to your blog, so I’ve taken time to read your earlier posts. I’m so glad I did. I love your recipes and the convivial tone of your blog. I’ll be back often. I hope you are having a wonderful day and enjoying all that sunshine. Blessings…Mary

  8. Hi, twitter’s not working so I feel like it’s been a while! This looks wonderful…One of these days I’m actually going to make it. I mean that. Andd… I used to have a horrible, HORRIBLE diet soda addiction: A&W and Dr. Pepper. Oh the days… I’ve come a long way. You too. Ta ta!

  9. Monet says:

    I want some soup! I’m a sick girl right now…some nasty sinus/cold bug. And yes, I think the weather would get me in NYC. I fell in love with the place when we visited, but it was May and everything was bright and blooming and the temperature hovered at a lovely 72 degrees. We probably hit the city at the perfect time. I am such a baby when it comes to cold though…so I don’t think I could handle those bitter cold winters. Much love sweet heart!

  10. I’ve never been to NYC, but have a feeling a visit is all I could take. Too crazy for me. Hope you have been loving the west coast this past year…I definitely do!

  11. Mom says:

    Yum! It looks delicious. Seriously I need some soup delivered. I broke my baby toe in Bloomies shoe department today…please deliver for Dad and me!

  12. Hello, L.A.! Great recipe – I’d love to eat some now.

  13. I’ve always wanted to make chicken tortilla soup. Looks great!

  14. Debbie says:

    I love this post, so honest and hilarious! And I think the soup looks summery enough for me here in Texas!

  15. roxan says:

    What a difference a day makes. Yesterday there was June Gloom and today I’m so hot!!! I work downtown though so it’s warmer here, but still…. I just went for a walk and i’m sweating bullets. I’d still go for a delicious bowl of your chicken tortilla soup though.

  16. Georgia says:

    Oh God, I LOVE New York City, especially in the winter. The day after Christmas my family and I always go and spend some time walking around. It’s the best part of my year! That being said, this soup is the perfect thing to take the chill off on those nights we’ve been having here in CA lately… Hopefully it’ll warm up soon!

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