Yes, I am aware this looks like the handiwork of a blind and mentally challenged intern at Chevy’s. The blame lies partly with my iPhone “photography” and partly with the fact that I was hungry and didn’t feel like spending 10 minutes artfully arranging tortilla strips and individual strands of cheese. But trust me, you won’t care what it looks like either when you make it. It’s that good. In fact, I usually make this in the summer when I’m craving light, citrusy things, but my husband specifically requested it this week, so I went with it. And, turns out, it’s just as good in the cold-weather months as it is the warmer ones.
I usually have two types of chicken stock on hand: one made with uncooked carcasses, from when I’ve cut the chicken into pieces, and one made with cooked carcasses, from when the chicken was roasted or cooked whole. The uncooked-carcass stock is noticeably richer and more flavorful, so I freeze it in larger containers specifically for use in soups. (Tip: If you live near an IKEA, it’s an amazing source of super-super-cheap, super-durable containers of a wide variety of sizes.)
This recipe makes 3 large bowls.
2 chicken thighs ($1.79/lb. @ Costco, about 1/2 lb.), cut into bite-sized pieces: 88 cents
1 lime (3 very thin slices and the rest juiced): 33 cents
1 quart chicken stock (frozen from scraps & carcass): $0
6 cloves: 5 cents
1 large stick of cinnamon, broken in half: 5 cents
1 tsp. oregano: 5 cents
1 cup vegetable oil for frying: $0—left over from frying tofu. Strain your fryer oil and it’s good to use 2-3 times for non-meat uses.
6 tortillas ($1.29/30), cut into strips: 26 cents
4 oz. jack cheese (I used Colby jack because that’s what was on sale at Grocery Outlet): $1
1/3 of a 49-cent bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped: 16 cents
TOTAL: $2.78/3 = 93 cents/serving
Toast the cinnamon, oregano, and cloves in a medium saucepan or small soup pot over medium heat. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for at least 10 minutes; you want to really be able to taste each spice.
Add the raw chicken pieces and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is done.
Meanwhile, heat the fryer oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over high heat and fry the tortilla strips in batches, until dark golden brown. The darker they are, the better they’ll hold up in the soup, but be sure not to burn them. You may have to reduce the heat a few times to keep this from happening.
And don’t try to get around the frying by baking the strips—they’ll become instant mush the minute they hit the soup. (Come on, this is a light meal; a few fried tortilla strips isn’t going to kill you.)
Cut the lime in half, slice three very thin slices, and juice the rest. Grate the cheese and chop the cilantro.
When the chicken is done, pick out the cinnamon and cloves and pour in the lime juice. Season to taste. (I always pre-season my soup stock, so it was perfect as is.)
Serve the soup topped with the tortilla strips, cheese, and cilantro, and garnish with the lime slice. (If you’re really feeling fancy you could probably add chopped avocado as well; I didn’t do this because I don’t like avocado, and it would add considerably to the price.)