Yeah, okay, spinach in Tortilla Soup is not generally a thing.
Spinach has been referred to as a “superfood” in recent media, the kind of new-agey jargon term that would normally set off scam/fad alarm bells in my head- but this is actually a legitimate claim based in nutritional science. This leafy green is filled with fiber, and all kinds of vitamins and minerals your body needs.
I thought spinach was the most disgusting thing in the world as a child- but since the household rule was to clear your plate, I eventually came to lukewarm terms with it. After moving a college with a notoriously limited and unhealthy dining hall, (no, Bard, a “pudding bar” is NOT a suitable replacement for tonight’s main entrée) I rediscovered spinach as one of the very few fresh, raw foods available. In retrospect, I think spinach definitely gets a bad rap- it’s often listed as a least-favorite among children, and yet there’s no need to serve it up solo, boiled and slimy, like it so often appears on plates. Fresh spinach salads are a whole different taste experience, and in soup, spinach’s off-putting texture is literally swallowed up by its surroundings, so it adds to the taste and the nutritional value without grossing anyone out.
Light, delicious, easy, and hot, tortilla soup is a great comfort when you’re warding off a cold, or any symptoms of our various springtime plagues. The spinach in my recipe also serves to give your body an extra boost.
Tortilla Soup with Spinach
1 large red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 lb boneless chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into strips
6 cups chicken broth
multiple handfuls of spinach
3 medium tortillas
1 lime, juiced
½ tsp cumin
salt, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
shredded cheese, scallions, avocado, tomato
Give the inside of a soup pot a quick PAM, and set it to medium-low. Cook onion about 5 minutes, before adding in the minced garlic and cumin. Add a pinch of salt, and however many red pepper flakes you think fit your own heat-level preference (note: better to under-estimate yourself at first than to be sipping the soup in between gasping and gulps of cold milk).
Pour in the chicken broth and crushed tomatoes, and then stir in about half of your freshly-squeezed lime juice. Add spinach. Simmer on low for a half hour while enjoying a glass of wine and assembling little bowls of prepared toppings (if family-styling).
Many tortilla soup recipes call for frying your tortilla strips in a pan of deep, sizzling oil. There’s no need to commit to that many calories to find fantastic flavor. Instead, set your oven to broil. Using a pizza cutter or small knife, slice your tortilla (1/2 a person is enough, but if you want a whole one, feel free) into medium-sized strips. Then layer out some tin foil on a baking sheet, throw the strips on it, sprinkle on a little of your lime juice and a tiny bit of salt, and bake only a couple minutes, until crisp. Set aside.
Blend the soup in batches, before returning it to the soup pot.
Slice the chicken into strips- if desired, you can roll each piece in some cornstarch, which helps retain more of the meat’s moisture. Add the chicken strips into the simmering soup carefully and wait at least 5 minutes, to ensure full cooking. At this stage, take a sip to see if you need to adjust for spice or salt.
On to toppings! I know this totally undermines the soup name, but sometimes I eat this soup without the tortilla strips on top, and it’s still good. Other options include a few pieces of chopped avocado and tomato, thinly-sliced scallions, and shredded cheese which can be sprinkled over top.
For the purposes of this recipe’s costs & calories, I’m going to go with my usual toppings- half a baked tortilla and about ¼ cup of shredded Mexican cheese per person.
This soup is best served hot, but also keeps really well in a frozen air-tight container.
crushed tomatoes- $0.40
chicken thighs- $2.00
6 cups chicken broth- $2.80
1 large bag/3 cups fresh spinach- $3
3 whole wheat Trader Joe’s tortillas- $0.33
1 lime, juiced- $0.50
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheese- $6.00
red pepper flakes- pantry
1 large red onion- 60
4 cloves garlic- 18
¼ can crushed tomatoes- 64
1lb chicken thighs- 1113
6 cups chicken broth- 60 calories
3 cups spinach- 21
3 medium tortillas- 300
1 lime, juiced- 11
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheese- 600
This recipe costs $16.10. At first, that may seem like a lot, but it also feeds 6 people, which means it’s $2.68 per person. Each serving is around 375 calories. Without cheese, that’d be 275. Possible toppings-wise, ¼ an avocado is around 72 calories, ½ tomato is 12 calories, and a sprinkling of scallions is really not worth counting. Enjoy!