One year, I accidently grabbed the cayenne pepper instead of the chili powder. Holy Christ. I had to make two more batches with no pepper at all in order to dilute the soup enough that I wouldn't kill anyone. Not only did it turn out well, that's when I realized that this is actually a very easy recipe once you practice it.
I found this recipe in the Houston Chronicle back in 1990 or so.
This tortilla soup was served at the economic summit working dinner for leaders at Bayou Bend last week. The recipe is from chef Dean Fearing's cookbook The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook. I just checked - this book is apparently still in print after 20 years. I have to get this. It is the same soup served at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, formerly the Remington.
3 tablespoons corn oil 4 corn tortillas, coursely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote (see note) or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh onion puree
2 cups froms tomato puree (Canned is fine)
1 tablespoon cumin powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons canned tomato puree
2 quarts chicken stock
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 cooked chicken breast cut into strips (I make 3 or 4 and shred, rather than slice, them.)
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed (I pass on this. I think it messes with the flavor - yanking it away from the rich corn, chicken and cumin tastes. On the other hand, I serve it with sour cream, which it could be argued has the same result. Your milage may vary.)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
3 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips and crisply fried. (This just has purist pain-in-the-ass written all over it for me. Buy restaurant style chips instead, those locally produced ones if you can.)
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the chopped tortillas and garlic and epazote over medium heat until tortillas are soft. Add onion and fresh tomatoe puree bring to boil. Add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, canned tomotato puree and stock. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste and cook, stirring frequently, 30 minutes. Skim fat from surface if necessary. Strain and pour into warm soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with an equal portion of chicken breast, avacado, shredded cheese and crisp tortilla strips. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10. I don't strain it (though I remove the bay leaves). Also, people really enjoy mixing the stuff themselves. I often do the first one and set it by the "mix-ins" as an example. I serve sour cream as one of the options.
Notes: Epazote is a Mexican weedlike herb. Occasionally it is available at Fiesta markets and other Mexican food specialty shops. Soup may be made a day ahead and gently reheated before serving. Needless to say, I almost never find fresh epazote here in Chicago - maybe sometimes at Whole Foods. However, I prefer it, since cilantro as a fairly strong, distinctive taste and smell. What I often do is buy dried epazote (readily available with the Mexican bagged spices, usually in the produce section ), soak it in water for a few hours and double the amount (from 1 -> 2+ tablespoons) to compensate for the loss of flavor in drying.