Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup

Being from Texas, I have a deep abiding love for all things southwestern, especially Tex-Mex. If it has salsa, guacamole, melted cheese, pinto beans, or tortillas, I love it and I would like seconds thankyouverymuch. But since I am a New Yorker (can I finally call myself that after eight years?), there aren’t many Mexican restaurants or grocery stores that carry much besides packaged taco seasoning, and that simply won’t cut it. Also, that stereotype of New Yorkers being busy every minute of everyday? Totally true. When we get up and leave in the morning, we pack our entire lives into one supposedly-convenient bag. There are no cars for carrying those rain boots or options to make a quick trip home on lunch hour. This week is especially crazy because we are finally expecting snow. So now, in addition to everything else, everyone is preparing for the snowpocalypse (mostly by standing in line at Trader Joe’s). On my list for storm prep? Buy new winter boots and make a big pot of this Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup.

This recipe is adapted from one that my mom made when I went home to visit in 2010. Nearly every time I make the trip to Texas, my allergies flare up and I can barely enjoy the family time. Knowing what was in store once I landed on Texas soil, my mom did what really good moms do–she made the ultimate cure-all, chicken soup. But instead of the traditional variety with carrots and celery, she used salsa and pinto beans, and threw it all in the slow cooker. She served it ladled over rice, and it hit the spot. Simple, comforting, and full of shredded chicken and beans, it was just what was needed to keep my allergies at bay (…somewhat–I don’t promise any miracles 😊). When she told me it had been made with a jar of Pace Picante, I was shocked! This soup was so much more than the sum of its parts.

When I got back to Brooklyn, I put it into my regular dinner rotation, with a few adjustments. I ditched the jarred salsa in favor of homemade, and as I lack a slow cooker, I made it on the stovetop. Where the slow cooker would probably take four to eight hours, my version takes one hour from start to finish! My mom calls this recipe Chicken Chili, which is absolute sacrilege, apparently. In Texas, chili is not supposed to have beans. It’s something I’ll never understand. So, with Henry’s help, it’s been renamed. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious.

Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup begins as many soups do, with sautéing diced onion and minced garlic together until they are soft and fragrant. Stir in some chili powder and cumin, followed by two cups of salsa. I like to use the Restaurant-Style Salsa that I posted yesterday. It’s a snap to put together and is super smoky and flavorful. You may also use a jar of your favorite prepared salsa. I think a tomatillo version would be great here! Next, place two pounds of bone-in chicken breast in the pot, followed by four cups of chicken stock. If the chicken is not completely submerged, add water until it is. By using bone-in chicken in addition to chicken stock, we are giving the broth a double dose of chicken flavor. Cover the pot, bring the soup to a boil, and then let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot, toss the bones, and shred the meat before adding it back in. Then throw in some pinto beans that you’ve drained and rinsed, and let everything cook for just ten more minutes before enjoying.

 I like to serve this soup similarly to my Red Posole. I put out little plates of shredded cheddar, chopped cilantro, and diced avocado, so everyone can customize their bowls. Having eaten this soup on four occasions this week, I highly recommend crushing some tortilla chips over the top as well. So. Good. You could also take a page from my mom and serve it over rice. And a side salad couldn’t hurt 😊

Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup is a warm, comforting meal perfect for cold weather. Simple, nutritious and brimming with the flavors of the southwest, it’s a favorite in our home. I’m sure it’ll become a favorite in yours, too.

 Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup
makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups salsa
2 lbs bone-in chicken breast, skin and excess fat removed
4 cups chicken stock
water
2 15 oz cans (3 cups) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt (or to taste)

Suggested Accompaniments:
diced avocado
chopped cilantro
shredded cheddar cheese
cooked white or brown rice
crushed tortilla chips

Heat a 4-6 quart heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl it around to coat the pan. Sauté onions until soft and translucent, five to seven minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in chili powder and cumin. Pour in salsa, and stir to coat everything. Lay chicken breasts in the pot and pour in chicken stock. If chicken is not completely submerged, add water until it is. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer for 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Use tongs to remove chicken breasts from the pot. Allow to cool five minutes before shredding with two forks. Add shredded meat back to the pot, followed by pinto beans. Let simmer uncovered for an additional ten minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt to taste. Serve warm with accompaniments of choice.

Spicy Southwestern Chicken Soup can be covered and refrigerated for up to five days.

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