Chicken Tortilla Soup: Repurposing Pain

For the dear and the few who got me through…you know who you are

It’s taken me a long while to get back to writing, mostly because I needed time to think and process and reflect on a year that was by far, one of the hardest I’ve had in relatively short 44 year life.  I never expected a year like the one I just came out of – one that shattered much of my peace and my confidence in ways I had not expected.  There were so many moments of the kind of pain that burns and cuts, coupled with the up and down rollercoaster type of experience that left me feeling most days, mostly nauseated.
I gave myself a lot of talks, prayed a lot, thought a lot, and reflected on pain, and during the time, all I wanted to do was escape it.  I wanted to forget it, run away from it, leave it behind me and never feel the trauma again.  What I wanted most was oblivion – a place and time where the pain would no longer even be in my head and my life could go back to what it was.
I don’t want to write about what private moments of pain have stirred my life this past year, but rather how to come out at the end, and that is how do you come out from pain.  The crazy thing with emotional pain is that it’s haunting and shifting and never in the same place from one moment to the next.  One moment I think I have an understanding of it and the next moment it’s gone, only to have pain seep back in and bring a chill to my soul.  It’s a ghost, a spirit, that moves around me, never as an attack, but more as a reminder. It felt like the shards of my emotional self could never go back to being whole again, and early on in my healing process, I believed that I would never get to my old self again.
The truth of the matter is that I’m not my old self.  I’m a repurposed self.  I’m a person who has seen things, experienced things, felt things that I don’t wish on anyone and yet I stand at the end of it all – still alive, still breathing, and still me.  Just a different me.  I even dare to believe a better version of me.  The broken pieces of my nearly-broken self have somehow managed to come back together and become a new self that knows how to take pain and make it something that grows, builds, and leaves me a little bit better than what I was before.  Tim Keller, in his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, calls this “redemptive suffering,” and writes that God doesn’t waste your suffering, but rather uses your pain to make you greater.  I guess it could also be distilled down to the lyrics of that song, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” which pretty much has the same idea.  I know that the year of having to endure things I never thought I could has proven to me that yes, there are still things I can do to grow my strength and my character. This is not by forgetting that I have suffered, but rather by remember that I have survived it.  God, above all, knows what He is doing.
Which brings me to this soup – which I created, mostly because I had a crazy old bag of unsalted (yuck), white corn tortilla chips in my pantry which NO ONE wanted to eat.  It was there, discarded, but I couldn’t forget it  I would walk into the pantry and see this mostly uneaten bag, and hesitate, and want to throw it away, but when I couldn’t, would leave the pantry and just close the door behind me.  It was one of those things that I wanted to make something with, but couldn’t decide on how.  I decided one day, however, that enough was enough and that the chips would HAVE to become something, and I decided that I’d make chicken tortilla soup.  I have no idea about food origins, but I do remember reading somewhere that chicken tortilla soup was a convenient way to use up stale tortillas, and with that, I figured stale unsalted chips would be the same.
The chips I just crushed with my bare hands while they were in the bag, and I added them to my soup, not quite sure what they’d become.  After cooking them, an amazing thing happened – the chips melted into the soup, creating a wonderful corn flavor in a thicker soup with more body.  It was nothing short of delicious.  Suddenly the mostly full bag of chips looked way too empty for me as I figured out that I’d only be able to get out a couple more soups from what was remaining.
After burning through the unsalted chips, I had to begin improvising and using other things in the soup and discovered that any combination of corn tortillas and chips works well -with the basic ratio being about 2 cups of chip/tortilla mixture with the 2.5 quarts of liquid. Old, unwanted bag of chips/tortillas/taco shells could be repurposed into something better – a soup that had the elements of the corn within, but transformed into something brand new.
The soups is warm, hearty, and a great meal on its own, topped with a few toppings.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Makes 12-18 servings, or enough for dinner with enough to freeze

2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½  cup diced onion
3 bell peppers, red or yellow
1 or 2 jalapenos, deseeded, and chopped (if you like it spicier, add more)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups of any combination of chopped corn tortillas and crushed corn chips
14.5 oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes (pureed if necessary)
2 quarts chicken broth
2 cups water
Two 15-ounce cans black OR kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 
Mix together cumin and chili powder.  Place chicken on an oven proof pan, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of cumin and chili powder mixture. Set aside remaining mixture.   Place into oven and cook chicken for about 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven, and cut chicken into bite-sized cubes.

Next, heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Throw in the onions, red and yellow bell peppers, jalapeños and garlic. Stir to cook the vegetables until they begin to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add spice mixture and cook for another minute more.  Add tortilla mixture and tomatoes and cook for another minute, thickening the mixture.  Add all the chicken broth and water and cubed chicken. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the drained black beans. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, allowing flavors to meld.  Check for seasonings, and add salt if necessary.

Serve soup with toppings: avocado, jack cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips.

Printable recipe

Purposefully yummy.

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