It’s not soup season.
Obvi. It’s not cold, it’s not dreary, it’s not getting dark too early and it is certainly not going to snow anymore.
(At least it better not - those nightmarish stories of June snowfalls in Boulder best be tall tales. But I digress.)
Anyway – it isn’t really that sort of time where soup sounds like an appealing lunchtime option. Perhaps a chilled soup – a gazpacho, or maybe a chilled garlicky cucumber – but a big steaming bowl of a spicy-hot soup when there are espadrilles on your feet and a floppy sun hat on your head?
Not an ice cube’s chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks.
And I know this. I get it. I do. Right now the entire country seems to be in the throes of an extra-wonderful Springtime, whose expanses of sunshine and soaring temps have only briefly and barely been interrupted by just a couple of rainy days and just a couple of chilly nights. It’s the season of fresh new vegetables, lightly dressed salads, crisp glasses of white wine, and more fresh herbs than you can shake a stick at.
In essence, right now is the very antithesis of soup season.
But at the market, even knowing all of these things well and good, I very purposefully bypassed the ruby red rows of early hothouse tomatoes and piled-high-piles of purple-tinged spring onions, and waltzed over to the center aisles to grab some Wintertime stalwarts – canned black beans, canned tomatoes, frozen corn, and chicken stock. If ever there was a shopping list that contained less Springtime-celebratory items – this list was it.
And said shopping list was for making said out-of-turn soup - the very thing that I should not be craving at the present hour. After stepping outside on a particularly crisp morning last week, I saw that though the forecast for that day was sunny, the high temperature wasn’t meant to eek up much past sixty – and sixty, for me, is not high enough. Having feasted on delicious salads piled high with exciting and new farmer’s market wares for the past few weeks, I was craving something a bit more cozy for lunch, and, while I was at it, it wouldn’t hurt to cross lunchtime dirty dishes off my to-do list for the remainder of the week.
No dirty dishes never, ever hurts!
A favorite soup of mine is the highly spiced and warmly flavored chicken tortilla, and this healthy soup is my heartier, thicker take on that classic. I baked off some chicken breasts, shredded them finely, and made a warm broth accented by a few tablespoons of smoky chipotle sauce. Instead of corn tortilla strips, I subbed in a generous cupful of healthy and filling quinoa, which cooked up perfectly in the simmering broth and suspended itself in every bite. Fresh peppers and onions add crunch, and using canned black beans, canned tomatoes, and frozen corn both made the preparation easy, but also didn’t force me to use fresh produce that just wasn’t quite ‘there’ yet.
(We aren’t quite in the prime tomato season, and good, fresh, corn [sadly] won’t make an appearance in the markets till early August. Patience is a virtue, they say.)
By all means, if it is August when you are reading this (and surely when I’ll make this again), use fresh corn and fresh tomatoes; but if you want this any other time of the year, you can still get an excellent flavor using the more shelf-stable canned and frozen stuff – I’m certainly not going to judge you.
This was an awesome lunch and easy dinner to have on hand, and we made good use of it almost every day, topping the savory soup with a thick dollop of greek yogurt and a healthy smattering of grated cheese. The cheese melts ever so subtly into the broth, and the yogurt adds a welcome and cool break from the smoky and spicy broth. The chicken, though I used only two breasts for a soup that feeds 8-10 people, goes a long way when it is shredded, and allows for the other ingredients – the quinoa and vegetables – to take more of a starring role. This is a great budget-friendly meal for a group, and also would make a great gift for a new Mama (frozen in tupperware, that is).
I am hereby declaring soup season to officially be in full swing.
Smoky Chipotle Chicken Soup with Quinoa + Black Beans
Makes a very large pot, 8-10 servings
Like most of the soup recipes I have posted, this makes a big batch of soup. Even though we are just two people, I never reduce the amount of soup I make; this soup freezes really well (making it ideal to freeze some off for a harried night down the road) and also keeps excellently in the fridge for about a week. The flavor improves with time, and becomes much more rounded each night it sits.
I buy chicken breasts that are skin-on and bone-in, season them well with kosher salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil, and roast them at 400F until they are cooked through. When they are cooled, I’ll remove the skin and shred the cooked meat off of the bone. The skin and bone helps to keep the white meat juicy and prevents it from drying out in the oven.
The little bit of cornmeal dissolves into the broth and helps to thicken the soup, and also gives it a really pleasant texture and body that the quinoa will suspend itself nicely in.
If you cannot find a jar of plain adobo sauce, look for a can of chipotles packed in adobo. I just use the sauce for this recipe, but feel free to mince up a couple of the peppers and toss them in if you’d like a lot of extra heat (buyer beware though….they are really hot!). This recipe as is already has a bit of spice and kick to it, and I also like to customize the spice levels with toppings (pickled jalepenos) and a drizzle of hot sauce.
2 cooked chicken breasts, 1 – 1 1/4 lb total weight, shredded
1 – 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 – 14 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large red onion, chopped
3 bell peppers, preferably a combination of red, yellow, and green, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp cumin
1 fresh jalepeno, stemmed, seeded, and diced
3 Tbsp adobo sauce
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 – 10 oz bag frozen corn
8 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp medium ground cornmeal
juice of one lime
large bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup total)
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
optional, for serving
2% greek yogurt
shredded jack cheese
pickled jalepenos, diced
hot sauce, such as Cholula, Tapatio, or Frank’s
In a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, heat a few turns of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the chopped red onion and a healthy pinch of kosher salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onion softens and the edges become translucent, 5 minutes. Add the chopped bell peppers and diced jalepeno, and cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers begin to soften, another 5 minutes. You are not looking to color the vegetables at all, just to soften them and combine their flavors.
When the peppers and onions are tender, stir in the minced garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and stir the spices and garlic into the vegetables. Cook just long enough to toast the spices and make the garlic fragrant, 2 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes and their juices, the adobo sauce, and the chicken broth, and bring the mixture just to a boil over high heat. When the soup is boiling, add in the rinsed and drained black beans, quinoa, and ground cornmeal, and stir well. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the soup, removing the lid to stir a couple of times, until the quinoa is tender (you will see the little curlicue separate when the quinoa is ready) and the broth is thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning levels; I like to add a good pinch of salt here and a few grinds of black pepper.
Stir in the frozen corn, the cilantro, and the lime juice, and simmer the soup an additional 10 minutes over medium-low heat to combine the flavors. Serve the soup with the toppings on the side; I find it particularly good with a dollop of greek yogurt, sprinkling of cheese, and drizzle of hot sauce.