When I lived in Houston, I loved to stop at El Rey Taquería for a big bowl of their tortilla soup, which was packed with chicken, shredded cheese, corn, avocado, and crispy tortilla strips, and also called caldo tlalpeño. The restaurant is open until 3 am on the weekends, and has a drive-through. I miss living the easy life in H-town, with all the drive-throughs, cheap prices, and delicious Mexican food! I decided it was time to make my own caldo tlalpeño up here in the frosty north.
A little research revealed that caldo tlalpeño and tortilla soup are not really the same thing. Tortilla soup usually has tortilla strips in it (shocking, right?), and caldo tlalpeño often has chickpeas and other vegetables like chayote. This is my version of the soup, which combines the best of both worlds. If you can’t find chayote (I found mine at the Vietnamese market), you can use zucchini instead or leave it out.
You can make this soup with turkey or chicken. This time, I made it with my leftover Thanksgiving turkey, but I’ve also done it with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (see this post if you’re interested in learning how to make stock from a rotisserie chicken–make sure to save the breast meat to add to the soup later). Of course, you can always just cook some chicken breasts (or buy pre-cooked!) and use store-bought stock to make it easy.
Usually I make this caldo with a chipotle chile from a can of chipotles in adobo, but when I checked my freezer, where I keep the chiles once I’ve opened a can, I realized I was out (on the plus side, though, I found a forgotten tray of unbaked cookies from the day before). I used cayenne to give the soup its kick this time around, and it was still really delicious–just less smoky. You can use whichever you prefer, and add more until you reach your preferred level of spice.
Oh, and don’t forget the toppings! This soup is really fabulous with avocado, cilantro, a squeeze of lime or lemon, and a little queso fresco or cotija. If you like, you could even add tortilla strips to yours–whatever makes you happy!
Ingredients (serves 6):
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 small chayote, chopped (or substitute zucchini)
4 cups cooked chicken or turkey, shredded
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sazón adobo
(or substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt or sea salt)
Cayenne pepper to taste OR 1-2 chipotle chiles from a can of chipotles in adobo, minced
8 cups chicken or turkey stock
1/2 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons organic masa or organic cornmeal mixed with 1/2 cup warm water (optional-omit for Whole30)
Salt and pepper to taste
Lime wedges, chopped avocado, cilantro, red onion, and/or queso fresco, for serving
In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the vegetables and cook, stirring often, until somewhat softened (about five minutes). Add the shredded chicken or turkey and the cumin, chili powder, sazón adobo, and cayenne or chipotle. Stir to coat the vegetables and chicken with the spices. Add the stock and tomato paste and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so.
Add the masa or cornmeal mixed with water, if using, and stir well to combine (the masa thickens the soup a bit, but it’s not necessary). Let the soup simmer for another half an hour or so, then turn off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings by adding salt and pepper if needed.
Serve hot with your favorite toppings. I like avocado, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro, minced red onion, and crumbled queso fresco or cotija.
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