My husband has frequently accused me of being a food snob. This is patently false. Though I appreciate well-prepared, beautiful food made from good quality ingredients, I am not a snob. Would a snob admit to this mess, ever? I believe that wonderful cooking can come in many forms, from any place and that, truly, everyone can cook. (Everyone except aforementioned husband. He really just can't.)
Moreover, I believe many people don't enjoy cooking because it involves slavishly following recipes and rigid instructions. Where's the fun in that, right? Cooking is most enjoyable when it includes spontaneity, inspiration, intuition, and creativity. Recipes, though essential for the confounding scientific wizardry that is baking, are just suggestions. With that in mind, and also because my lazy ass doesn't like writing down exact measurements, here's what we're doing today: we're going to make Chicken Tortilla Soup from simple pantry ingredients without using any measuring cups or spoons. No recipe, no safety net. And it will be fun! And tasty! And accessible, without a whiff of snobbery anywhere! It will look something like this:
OK, then. Let's get started.
First, chop up some aromatics, in this case a large sweet onion and an Anaheim chile. But use whatever kind of onion you have, and the type of chile only matters as much as your own heat preference. Chop it, dice it, or mince it: it's up to you. I'll support you no matter what.
Now, sauté the onion and chile in a little vegetable oil, heated in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. After the onion is soft and beginning to brown, add a few cloves of minced garlic and cook for about one minute. If you think you don't like garlic, you can skip that step but, for the record, I secretly think you're wrong. Trust me: you really like garlic, and garlic likes you.
Now, add several fistfuls of crushed corn tortilla chips thusly. I like to use the cheap, authentic Mexican chips for their salty, robust corn flavor, but you can use whatever you have. (Even those flavorless baked tortilla chips if you have to. Just don't tell me about it.) After the chips have cooked, softened, and begun to break down, it's time to add the spices.
Here, I'm using several spoonfuls of cumin, some chili powder, and a few pinches of cayenne. You want the predominant flavor to be cumin, and you can certainly add more later if you need to. Add the spices to your pan and cook for about one minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty. Now, it's time for liquids. Add one can of chicken broth (bonus if you have homemade on hand, you little snob) and one can of this:
In my house, we call this "Duck Sauce." And it is good. (You can scarcely taste the duck.) I think about one cup of any thin-ish salsa would work in its place.
In a perfect world, we would all have access to fresh tomatoes and corn-on-the-cob all the time, but: it isn't and we don't. So, it's time to hit the pantry. Throw in a large can of diced tomatoes and a can of corn and don't worry about draining either. You need the liquid for the soup, and why dirty a colander? While you're a it, chop and throw in some of those roasted red pepper dregs you have hanging around the fridge. And while you're in the fridge...
...feel free to add a splash or two of this. I think it gives the soup some additional depth and complexity, plus you sneak in some extra nutritional value for those of us who absolutely cannot stomach V8 without booze.
After you've let the soup simmer for a bit, it's time for chicken. In the spirit of ease, speed, and accessibility, I am using a store-bought rotisserie chicken. I photographed the store-bought rotisserie chicken. NOT A FOOD SNOB, right?
Here's the shredded meat, about two breasts and one thigh worth. Add it to the pot, heat through, and douse the whole she-bang with the juice of one lime right before serving.
This is where you can really dress things up and have some fun. I like to serve the soup with all green and white garnish: limes, cilantro, avocado, green onions, salsa verde, crumbled cojita cheese, and thick, cold sour cream.
Don't forget more chips.
And there you have it. I promise it will taste like you used every measuring cup in the house. We actually served this to dinner guests (Hi, T. & D.!) and I suffered the awkward humiliation of photographing my plate in front of company just for you, my people. Because I care. Also, possibly, because I have a touch of the O.C.D.
Wasn't that painless? And fun? Now, go forth and cook. Except for you, there in the back. Stay out of my kitchen.