Ex-pat Chicken-scratch Black Bean Tortilla Soup

If you know Jess and I, then you’re probably tired of us bitching about the lack of black beans and corn tortillas in Kenya, but another thing they are critically lacking here is chicken stock. Like canned or ready-to-use chicken stock, that is crucial for things like risotto or homemade noodles or just to have on hand for cooking in general. Of course you can make the broth yourself, but who wants to fuss with that? I was really craving black bean soup though so I got pushed over the limit and decided to make chicken stock myself, for the first time in my life.

There’s recipes out there I’m sure for stock, but I’m one to follow instinct rather than recipe. So here is my take on it. Based on what we had available, it turned more into a chicken black bean tortilla soup. It of course starts with the chicken. We normally get our chicken from the only organic shop in Nairobi, but they were out, so I got a fresh one from (gasp) Nakumatt. Always one to kill two birds with one stone, I used the bird for an art experiment before cooking it. I’ve been thinking about cover ideas for the Gary Lutz’ Stories in the Worst Way book which I’m reprinting soon under Calamari Press, and have decided that the perfect canvas for the image is our kitchen sink, though I haven’t quite figured out what will be in the sink yet. Gary suggested an article of clothing or some other item that you wouldn’t typically see in a sink. The chicken seemed obscenely appropriate, so I staged it for a few photos before throwing it in the pot.

potential cover for Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz?

potential cover for Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz?

A whole chicken seemed like the only way to go (rather than parts). I quartered it first and threw it in the biggest pot I could find full of cold Nairobi tap water (not NYC tap water, but quite tasty nevertheless). I tossed in about 8 or 12 cloves of garlic and 2 or 3 white onions (actually I saved one to throw in towards the end so it wasn’t so depleted). Mixed in a bunch of spices: salt, sage, bay leaves, oregano, basil, pepper, etc.

Brewing the Broth

Brewing the Broth

Bring it to a boil and then just let it simmer. While this was going on I read The Singing Knives by Frank Stanford (which I highly recommend you do regardless of whether you are following this recipe) whilst sitting in my Malawian Chief’s Chair enjoying the brothy smells that permeated our den. Okay, I admit at one point I got sleepy and took a nap in our hammock. The longer it simmers the better.

The black beans I started the day before. Chedro brought them to us from NYC, actually Pedro brought them, but it was Cheryl who slipped them into his bag). Sort them and soak overnight and then, just like the chicken, keep it simmering on the back burner.  Chedro also brought us the corn tortillas bless their souls (I know, I know, far from Slow Food…). The thing is though, we were greedy and tried to freeze them in our landlords freezer to make them last. When you freeze corn tortillas they get all janky and fall apart when you try to reheat them to have tacos or whatever. So what I did was bake them to make REAL tortillas chips.

proper tortilla chips

proper tortilla chips

And let me tell you, this is a must for tortilla soup. You can’t use store bought tortilla chips. The other thing is you should sort of only half bake them so they are crispy yet soft, makes all the difference in the world. I added some carrots and another onion to the broth when it was closer to done, as well as lime and pepper and more spices to taste.

brother broth and developing condiments

brothier broth and developing condiment spread

At this point, things started taking on a pozole-ish slant, in that I decided to add some raw condiments on top. It helps to have minions at this point, as well as people to help eat it, so I went to pick up Ro and Jess. They chopped up some cabbage, green onions, little green peppers (not serranos unfortunately, but an ok substitute of some Kenyan variety), cilantro, limes, etc. We had an avocado which would have been the icing on the cake, but it wasn’t ripe yet so we didn’t use it. I grated some cheese (expensive imported cheddar unfortunately). And of course you need fresh pico de gallo, but we always have some of that on hand.

condiment assembly line (with pico de gallo)

condiment assembly line (with pico de gallo)

Once everything is ready, this is what you do:

1.    Put tortilla chips in a bowl.
2.    Ladle in some chicken soup.
3.    Ladle in some black beans (be sure to include some of the juices).
4.    Put grated cheese on top to melt in. This is what it should look like at this point.

broth_chips_cheese
5.    Sprinkle on cabbage, cilantro, green onions, chili peppers and pico de gallo to taste. Squeeze in some lime and voila.

Best washed down with Mexican beer or even Tusker, but we didn’t have any on hand and it’s not like you can just pop into a bodega to get some here. So we washed it down with South African red wine.

the finished product

the finished product

Of course make enough for leftovers, because it’s even better the second time around. Since this whole excercise was to make chicken broth, here’s what you can do with leftovers for a little variety:

1. Remove the broth from the mix.

What’s left is a perfect concoction to make chicken-black bean tostadas with!

Buen provecho.

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5 Responses to Ex-pat Chicken-scratch Black Bean Tortilla Soup

  1. Mike Dresser says:

    Looks delicious. Making stock is a habit I’ve gotten into every time I roast a chicken; there’s still a lot of flavor in the bones, back meat and other gristly bits.

  2. Sheila Ryan says:

    It’s winter in the Driftless Region. It’s Soup Time. I’m making this. You bet. Thanks, Derek.

  3. camillE says:

    WOW, the photo of the chicken in the sink is REALLY great!

  4. Daniel says:

    this is super. how funny–i’m also an expat in kenya (naivasha) and was googling to see whether the local njathi beans are the same as black beans. Do you know???

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