an improvised winter soup: chicken, corn and pumpkin in chipotle lime broth

Cobalt Violet

One of the biggest rewards of writing recipes is discovering the pleasure they’ve given people, or how folks have taken the recipes and made them their own. I was delighted last month to hear from reader/blogger Lucinda Keller of Cobalt Violet, who has been making my Chicken, Corn and Pumpkin Soup in Chipotle Lime Broth since she first cut the recipe out of Food and Wine Magazine in 1999. She wrote:

“It is my hearty, go-to soup for fall and winter. You can substitute pumpkin for butternut or another sweet squash. It is also hearty enough to skip the chicken (I usually do) or even make it vegan/vegetarian soup with vegetable stock.” Lucinda adds extra garlic and avocado.

It’s a great winter soup so I’m glad to hear it’s resonated over the years. The chipotle lime broth is a fine thing unto itself; you can use it as a base for improvising other soups – say leftover roast pork, spareribs or chicken with grilled onions… or shrimp with fine egg noodles. I’ve been known to poach an egg in it. Here’s the original recipe and the story behind it:

Cobalt Violet

Chicken, Corn and Pumpkin Soup in Chipotle Lime Broth

This soup is pure invention on my part, inspired by the food I saw and ate all around Cuernavaca, Mexico many years ago, especially the markets, and a conversation with a complete stranger about a chipotle-infused broth used to nap pumpkin raviolis he had tasted at  “nouvelle Mexican” restaurant in Mexico City. Alhough I never came across a fresh pumpkin (it’s possible they weren’t in season), I ate dishes with pumpkin flowers and seeds daily so have used it in my soup. It makes a happy hearty marriage with either corn or beans (or both). Chipotle chile gives the broth a mildly smoky, spicy flavor. A hefty squeeze of fresh lime juice just before serving is essential to the flavor.

Instead of cooking chicken breasts in the broth, you can use shreded leftover roasted chicken, added at the last minute to just heat it through.

Serve with hot corn tortillas on the side.

Serves 6

2 quarts unsalted chicken broth

2 chicken breasts, about 10 ounces each, skin removed

1 1/4 pounds pumpkin or winter squash

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

1 1/2 cups cooked beans (optional)

2 chipotle chiles in adobo, rinsed

Juice of 1 lime

2 limes, sliced into wedges

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 ripe avocado

Preheat the oven to 400.’ In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the chicken breasts, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the breasts are just cooked through, about 14 minutes. Remove the breasts to a plate and allow to cool.  Set the saucepan of broth aside.

Slice the pumpkin into 1 1/4-inch thick wedges.  Brush lightly with the oil and arrange on a baking sheet.  Bake until tender, about 20 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Heat the remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderately low heat.  Add the onion, cover and cook until the onions have softened slightly and released some of their liquid.  Uncover, increase the heat slightly, and saute tossing frequently until the onions are soft and golden brown.  Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is soft about 2 minutes.   Set aside.

Cut the peel off the pumpkin and slice the flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Pull the chicken off the bones and shred the flesh. Slice the chipotles in half and remove the seeds.  Slice crosswise into thin strips.

Bring the broth to a simmer, add 3/4 of the chipotle strips and cook 2 minutes. Add the onion mixture, corn, and the pumpkin and simmer 10 minutes. Taste the broth;  if you want it spicer, add the remaining chipotle. Add the lime juice and salt to taste.

Just before serving, slice the avocado into wedges and  add the chicken to the soup.  Simmer about 3 minutes until the chicken is hot.  Stir the cilantro into the soup.  Instruct your guests to add a slice of avocado to their soup and squeeze in more lime to taste.

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