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Chicken tortilla soup is an excellent idea for an entrée or side dish, especially for the holidays. It's hearty enough to be a meal.

I'm not a chef -- I'm a restaurant operator -- so this recipe came together through trial and error. I was trying to come up with something original because we are not a cookie-cutter kind of place. I wanted something that was different, bold, and hearty. It took a couple of weeks, and we finally hit it. It's a little spicy, and our customers love it. We are selling it in jars to take home.

It's very easy to make and the ingredients are accessible. The spices required can be found at any market.

If I were serving this as an entrée, I would have a glass of wine with it. Chardonnay or Cabernet will work, but since I'm a Cabernet drinker, I would serve an Annabella Cabernet, or a Steven Bannus -- both are easy drinking and would go great with the soup.

HOW TO DO IT

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake chicken breasts for 25 minutes. (Meanwhile, start the soup.) Cool, skin, shred, and season chicken with chicken seasoning and then reserve. Purée the olive oil, green pepper, and onion in a blender. Combine all ingredients except the shredded chicken, and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer until heated. Serve in large bowls topped with crisp crumbled tortilla chips and grated cheese. We serve it with shredded pepper jack and cheddar cheese.

This recipe serves 12 to 15 generously.

INGREDIENTS

2 chicken breasts

1 tablespoon chicken seasoning (Chef Merito)

1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced1 small onion, diced

2 32-ounce boxes 99 percent fat-free chicken broth

1 tablespoon paprika

2 1/2 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce (such as Louisiana brand)

2 tablespoons seasoning salt (Trade Winds)

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 diced tomato

5 stems fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 cup cooked white rice

Crisp tortilla chips and grated cheeses (e.g., jack or pepper jack, cheddar), garnish as desired

By Johnny Downs, Owner, Johnny Mac’s, Vista

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