The first meal in my new place after two weeks of crashing on couches should have been an excuse to go all out and do my gastronomic worst. But I was so tired after the moving process that all I wanted was something simple and comforting that could calm me down after the long, drawn out moving process. And nothing conjures up that feeling more than lime soup. It was about a year ago that I sampled my first bowl on the tiny island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Rather like a tortilla soup, it was topped with a sprinkling of cheese and crumbled tortilla chips. But instead of chilies, it was awash in lime and garlic. It was vibrant and soothing, something that didn't knock you over on the first spoonful, but just slowly crept into your soul like really good chicken soup. I loved it so much; I asked the owner for the recipe. He refused. "Come back again and I might think about it." We returned three times to try and coax him out of that recipe, but somehow I still left that island empty handed.
To recreate it, I decided to start with this recipe from the New York Times. What really impressed me was the use of cinnamon, clove, and oregano which infuse with the stock for ten minutes and are then discarded. The spices may be tossed, but they haunt the final dish, adding sweet and savory notes to this very quick meal. The absolute hardest part of the process is frying the tortillas to create the chips, requiring a bit of oil and some patience. This can obviously be avoided by buying tortilla chips, but I always find the store bought kind turn to mush a little too quickly.
I know lime soup doesn't sound like much, but it is oddly appealing to me. Though not quite the same bowl I fell in love with a year ago, it was still all I needed to relax.
Lime Soup (Sopa de Lima)
- 1 stick of Mexican cinnamon, broken up
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 3 whole cloves
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 pound chicken breast, chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Vegetable oil
- 4 ounces corn tortillas (about 6), cut into 1 inch strips
- 4 ounces Chihuahua or Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 avocados, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 lime, sliced thinly
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the cinnamon, oregano, and cloves onto a baking sheet. Place in oven; toast 5 minutes, checking after 3 minutes to make sure they don't burn. Transfer the spices to a clean bowl; set aside.
Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan; bring to a boil. Add the spices, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes. Strain the stock into another pot, removing the spices. Bring the stock back to a simmer; add the chicken. Cook 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Pour in the lime juice, and season with salt to taste.
Meanwhile, pour a 1/4 inch of oil into a skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add a few strips of tortilla, and cook for about 30 seconds or until crisp. Drain these on a plate covered with paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the strips.
Ladle the soup into two bowls. Top each bowl with some tortilla strips, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro, and lime slices.