1 large dried pasilla (negro) chile, toasted, stemmed and seeded
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 quarts chicken broth
1 large epazote (or Mexican tea) sprig, optional*
4 (5-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/4 pounds total)
1 large ripe avocado, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
6 ounces shredded Mexican melting cheese, (like Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild Cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces tortilla chips, coarsely chopped
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges
*Can be found at Mexican specialty markets. A note about pasilla (sometimes called negro) chile: Its unique flavor defines tortilla soup in central Mexico. In Michoacan, it's ancho chile. In your kitchen, it might turn out to be another chile, like New Mexico or even a little smoky chipotle (be forewarned that chipotle will make the broth quite spicy). Though for these everyday recipes I've relied heavily on the easier-to-use powdered dried chile, finding powdered pasilla (negro) can be harder than finding the whole pod. Should powdered chile be at your finger tips (be it powdered pasilla (negro), ancho or beyond), add about 1 tablespoon to the pan about halfway through the cooking of the onion. In Mexico, it's more common to crush toasted chile pods over the soup than to add it to the base. You can follow that lead, or do both as we do in our restaurants. Vegetarian tortilla soup: Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and omit the chicken. Or replace the chicken with 1/2-inch cubes of firm tofu (I like to cut half-inch slices, sear them in my grill pan, and then cut them into cubes before adding to the soup). Tortilla soup with greens: Add a couple handfuls of sliced chard leaves (or practically any other green) to the soup along with the chicken. Hearty greens like collards and kale should be added before the chicken; soft greens like spinach or arugula should go in when the chicken is half done. Contemporary riffs on the tortilla soup theme: Goat cheese can replace the melting cheese. Rotisserie or grilled chicken and grilled duck breast or confit-style legs may be substituted for raw chicken breast (add it at the last second). Blue corn tortilla chips are delicious, though perhaps not as pretty.
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