Napalm in a Bowl
I just realized I have a shitload of chiles in various forms around the kitchen – canned chipotles en adobo, a dozen fresh jalapeños, a big jar of various dried chiles, and some nice anaheims and red bell peppers. It’s a capsicum wonderland! Also, I haven’t made my chicken enchilada soup in awhile, and today it is fucking FREEZING out (like in the 20s, clear and windy). So I decided to make some nice spicy soup for dinner.
So I start going through the cupboards and freezer to see what else I can purge from deep storage. This is my favorite part of cooking sometimes, just taking stock of my reserves. I find a tub of poultry stock in the freezer leftover from the holidays. It is as rich and brown as beef stock from roasting the birds (turkey, cornish game hens and chickens) prior to converting their carcasses to velvety broth. I like to chop up the hollow bones with my cleaver to get every atom of flavor into that unctuous stock, and I really think it shows.
And oh, how nice! I also find a little reminder of sunnier days: a freezer bag of corn cobs left over from summer’s harvest. I grew corn in the garden – our first vegetable garden in the new house – and we relished every kernel. Ever the frugal gourmet, I saved the cobs after cutting the corn from them and froze them for a later broth. Corn cobs add something so indescribably sweet and earthy to broth for chowders (and my spicy chicken enchilada soup).
This got me sort of thinking about my childhood. We were on food stamps when I was a kid, and frequently received donations from the food bank. I have eaten the “gub’ment cheese”, and not ironically. But aside from converting 50 cents’ worth of dried beans into a week’s meals, I don’t think my mom really knew how to stretch a food dollar other than buying generic. I don’t think it would ever have occurred to her to save bones or corn cobs in the freezer for later stock-making. Instead, she’d buy a box of bouillon cubes or a gravy mix packet. The funny thing is, even though I can afford nice things now, I am far more parsimonious and resourceful than my mother ever was when I was growing up (sometimes I joke that my last life was spent during the Depression). And I think my soup is the better for it.
So I’m making the soup, and I give the broth a taste. Haha, wouldn’t you know the soup came out way too spicy! And without enough corn kernels left in the freezer I had to add a can of pinto beans to starch it up a bit. So this is a new soup. And I shall name it:
Sopa del Fuego (con frijoles)!
Makes ~8 bowls, give or take
1 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh – canned would probably not be the best choice for this)
1 fresh jalapeño
6 cups chicken stock, preferably home-made from the carcasses of birds you’ve eaten in the past
4 corn cobs, if you save that kind of thing
6 large dried chiles such as ancho, pasilla or guajillo (I use a combination of these), seeded and stemmed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 or 5 sun-dried tomatoes
2 bay leaves (not California laurel!!)
2 chipotle chiles (canned “en adobo”), plus a tablespoon or two of the adobo
1 7 3/4-oz. can tomato sauce (I used Mexican hot style by El Pato)
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped bell pepper, any color
8 oz. ground chicken breast, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp ground cumin seed
1 tbsp Mexican oregano (regular oregano is an acceptable substitute but really not the same at all)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups cooked beans (pinto or black is probably best; I used pinto)
S&P to taste
fresh cilantro, chopped
Roast corn kernels and jalapeño in a 375-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes until the corn is slightly browned and the jalapeño slightly softened. Seed and stem the roasted jalapeño and mince.
While the corn and jalapeño are roasting, bring 2 cups of the stock to a boil. Add corn cobs, dried chiles, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove corn cobs and bay leaves, and discard. Puree the remaining stock, chiles (including the chipotles), tomatoes and garlic in a blender or with an immersion blender. Strain through a fine sieve to remove the chile skins and errant seeds, rubbing the flesh through the mesh with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Scrape the puree off the outside of the sieve to get every last drop.
Return the puree to the pot and add remaining 4 cups of stock, adobo and tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer and add all of the other ingredients except the sour cream and cilantro. Let it do its thing for about 30 minutes on low heat, stirring once in awhile. Add salt and pepper to taste. I added about a teaspoon of sugar at the end because it was really spicy.
Ladle into bowls and top with a spoonful of sour cream and sprigs of fresh cilantro. I also like to throw some tortilla strips on top for crunch. For the tortilla strips, just slice a corn tortilla into 1/4″-thick strips, spritz with cooking spray and sprinkle of salt, and bake at 350 for about 5 minutes or until crunchy. You could also just crumble up some tortilla chips if that’s how you roll.