Last week we recognized Cinco de Mayo at Sarello's with a special menu of Mexican-inspired dishes. We featured fish tacos, a colorful mariachi mixed green salad, Mexican seasoned pork tenderloin and tres leches cake, but the surprising standout was Chef Ben's Chicken Poblano Tortilla Soup.
My family and I gathered at the restaurant on Saturday for an early Mother's Day celebration with my parents, my sister and brother and their families. Many of us ordered the soup just to see what all the fuss was about. I have to confess that I adore our fish tacos and found it difficult to believe that a soup could be a worthy competitor.
However, Chef Ben's chicken poblano tortilla soup was beautifully presented, which immediately made us eager to try it. Unlike other versions of chicken tortilla soup that are often red or brown in color, the addition of four mild poblano peppers gave Chef Ben's soup a rich green color, with several garnishes artfully placed on top.
The result was a thoughtful balance of flavor and texture. Chef Ben's chicken poblano tortilla soup is wonderfully tasty with a little kick from the addition of two jalapeno peppers, which bring a gentle heat to the soup without overpowering it. This soup has a surprisingly creamy texture, not from the use of cream, but from six white corn tortillas which are blended in to create the base of the soup.
The garnishes enhance the overall texture of this dish and really make the soup sing. From the crunch of grilled corn and crispy fried tortillas, to the tender chunks of chicken and the finishing touch of cilantro-lime sour cream, the garnishes are every bit as important as the soup. Making them adds a bit of time to the process, but the steps are easy, and the investment is well worth it.
Fresh ears of corn are now available in our local grocery stores, and we grill ours plain over direct, high heat for about five minutes just until charred, not blackened. When ready, the corn should appear golden brown and blackish in some places, but not every kernel will have color. Remove from the grill and cool until easy to handle.
Use a large, sharp knife to remove the wider end from the cob to create a flat base, and then stand the cob upright and cut the kernels off by slicing from top to bottom on each side. If you can't find fresh corn, you can roast frozen or canned in a 400-degree oven for about 10 to 12 minutes until lightly charred.
For the fried tortillas, we used fresh white corn tortillas, cut them into strips, and then fried them in canola oil until they appeared light gold in color. You could also use store-bought white corn tortilla chips and break them into smaller pieces.
For the chicken, brush two chicken breasts lightly with olive oil followed by a squeeze of fresh lime juice, then sprinkle each with salt and pepper and bake at 400 degrees for 22 to 28 minutes, depending on your oven. If you're pressed for time, feel free to save a step here by using the meat from a rotisserie chicken.
For the final flourish, mix a pint of sour cream with the juice of two limes and ¼ cup of finely chopped cilantro, then drizzle it over each serving of soup.
We were all delighted by this fresh take on a classic soup favorite and can't wait to make it at home, regardless of the date.
Sarello's Chicken Poblano Tortilla Soup
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 green poblano peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, diced (remove seeds for less heat if desired)
2 garlic cloves, whole
2½ quarts (10 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
6 white corn tortillas, roughly chopped
3 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh cilantro, stems removed
3 ears of corn, grilled until charred - use a large, sharp knife to remove kernels from the cob
3 white corn tortillas, cut into strips and fried, or store-bought chips, broken into pieces
2 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced (rotisserie works great)
Cilantro lime sour cream (1 pint sour cream, 2 limes, ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped)
Prepare the garnishes before starting the soup.
To grill the corn: Remove the husks and place over direct, high heat and grill until charred, but not blackened, about 5 to 6 minutes, turning often to prevent burning. Remove from grill and cool until easy to handle. Use a large, sharp knife to remove the wider end of the cob, then stand the cob upright and cut the kernels off by slicing from top to bottom.
To fry the tortillas: Cut them into wedges and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Use a deep fryer set to 350 degrees, or fill a skillet with ¼ inch of canola oil and heat on medium-high heat until the corner of a tortilla sizzles when dipped in the oil.
Place a single layer of the tortilla wedges in the oil and fry until lightly golden and crisp, then remove and drain on paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt to season.
For the chicken: Use a store-bought rotisserie chicken and cut the breasts into small slices. Or, use two whole, boneless and skinless breasts, and brush each with olive oil, followed by a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and evenly cooked. Cut into small slices.
For the cilantro-lime sour cream: Mix one pint of sour cream with the juice of two limes and a ¼ cup of fresh cilantro, finely chopped. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to one week.
To make the soup: Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat until warm, about a minute. Add the poblano peppers, onion, jalapeno and garlic, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes, until onions are translucent and other ingredients become soft.
Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock and chopped tortillas and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt and fresh cilantro and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.
Use a handheld immersion blender, liquid blender or food processor to puree soup until smooth. Pour into serving bowls and garnish individually with a sprinkling of grilled corn, fried tortilla chips, a few slices of chicken and a dollop of cilantro-lime sour cream.
To store: Keep in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.