This wonderful soup is an easy, fun and super delicious recipe! Perfect for slow cookers; it’ll guarantee smiles all around the table when you serve it!
I know from the reader survey we took last January, that lots of you are slow cooker fans. To be honest, I was never super crazy about preparing meals in a slow cooker. To me, they were great for folks who worked and wanted to come home to a warm meal, but for the most part, I thought they gave somewhat lackluster results. What I didn’t realize was, like most things in life, there were a few tricks I needed to learn.
These days, I’m pulling out my slow cooker quite often. And loving it! See what an influence you are on me? A few simple tricks stashed up my sleeve have made all the difference. Though I’m not working outside the home these days, I love taking a bit of prep time in the morning and then enjoying the delicious aromas that fill my house throughout the day.
Speaking of aromas, one of my favorite slow cooker tricks has to do with aromatics. What are aromatics? Good question – aromatics are combinations of vegetables, herbs and spices that are heated in some type of fat. It might be butter, oil, bacon fat, even coconut milk. These aromatics, which are added before other ingredients, provide the foundation for other layers of flavor. The heated oil (or other fat), helps these aromatics release wonderful, fragrant aromas (hence the name) and impart fabulous flavor into soups, stews, sauces, and other dishes.
A classic aromatic combination, originating in France, is called mirepoix. It’s usually made up of onions, carrots and celery. Similar (but unique) aromatic flavor bases include soffritto (Italian), sofrito (Spanish), refogado (Portuguese), suppengrün (German) and włoszczyzna (Polish). In the U.S. there’s the cajun and creole “holy trinity” which consists of onions, celery, and bell peppers. In each of these examples, the aromatics are sautéed in some type of fat as a base for the rest of the recipe.
So why all this talk about aromatics? Well, it’s one of the problems of slow cooker recipes – and one of the reasons those recipes often don’t taste as good as their stovetop counterparts. If you take peek at most slow cooker recipes, you’ll note that they usually read something like this: “add all the ingredients to the pot, cover and cook for 4-6 hours on high, 6-8 hours on low”. That’s it. And that’s where the flavor problem comes in. No nice, slow sauté of the aromatics to enhance the flavor base. Think of the difference between the aroma of raw onions and garlic (quite sharp and pungent) vs. the enticing aroma as they’re cooking. Big difference, right? Although the aromatics in crock pot dishes are definitely cooked, it’s not the same as the sauté in oil (or other fat) process, which helps release the flavors.
You could eliminate this problem by first sautéing the aromatics on the stovetop and then transferring them to the slow cooker. Call me lazy, but (to me) this is a pain – it dirties another pot and spatters the cooktop. That sort of defeats the ease of slow cooking.
Is there a better solution? Well, I’m glad you asked! Actually, it wasn’t me, but rather the brilliant folks at Cook’s Ilustrated, who figured it out. Simply “cook” the aromatics in a bit of oil or fat in the microwave for a few minutes before adding them to the slow cooker. There’s no mess, no spatter, no dirty pot, simply a small bowl that’s easily cleaned in the dishwasher. I love it!
I’ve been experimenting, and this easy little technique definitely makes a big difference in flavor. Want to find out for yourself? Throw together a batch of this delicious Slow Cooker Black Bean and Chicken Sausage Tortilla Soup. It’s a simple prep, pull out your can opener, chop up an onion (I’ve got an easy “trick” for that too) and combine it in a bowl with garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, basil, cilantro* and a splash (dollop) of coconut oil. A short stint in the microwave transforms the raw ingredients into a fragrant (aromatic) base for the soup!
There’s one other trick that helps make this South-of-the-Border inspired soup super flavorful. Corn tortillas are thinly sliced, combined with chicken broth and, again, popped into the microwave for a few minutes. The heat helps them break down a bit before they’re added to the soup. The slow cooker finishes the process. In the end, no one will guess that it’s corn tortillas that add the unique taste, as they will have “melted” into the broth, giving it a little extra thickness as well.
This soup recipe makes a generous batch, so it’s perfect for feeding a crowd. It can be easily halved, although you might be sorry. Leftovers make wonderful lunches and quick meals on the run.
And this is the fun part – the soup can be eaten on it’s own, but there are lots of possibilities for toppings. I used julienned radishes, avocado slices, cilantro leaves and oven-fried tortilla strips (recipe below). Other ideas are sour cream, Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, green onions, crushed tortilla chips, black olives, diced fresh tomatoes, diced bell peppers… whatever strikes your fancy!
Tired of the same-old-same-old? Pull out the slow cooker and add a little pizzazz and spice to your menu this week with this delicious Slow Cooker Black Bean and Chicken Sausage Tortilla Soup!
- Note: a word on cilantro. Like many other foods, cilantro takes on a totally different flavor profile when it’s cooked. I know there are some who have a strong dislike for the taste of cilantro, however don’t skip it! Think of the difference between raw onions and golden, sautéed onions. You might not care to have a big pile of raw onions on your burger or pizza but when sautéed, there’s a huge difference. Same with cilantro. I promise that even cilantro haters will love this soup. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the comments from readers of our Chicken Tortilla Soup.
P. S. If you started following The Café in the past year and didn’t get to fill out our reader survey we’d love to have your input. If you filled it out in the past but have something you’d like to share with us regarding recipes, ingredients, etc. you’d like us to include in the future, feel free to update your preferences. We’re hugely influenced by your input! You can find the survey here.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 large onion (chopped), diced small
- 4 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 tablespooon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 6 6-inch corn tortillas
- 12-14 ounces precooked chicken sausage** sliced in half lengthwise, then cut into ⅓-½-inch slices
- 3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed well
- 2 14 ½-ounce can petite diced canned tomatoes
- 1 14 ½-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup diced, roasted red peppers
- 4 cups chicken broth or chicken stock or vegetable broth, divided
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 14-ounce bags tiny frozen corn, thawed
- For the oven-fried tortilla strips:
- 6 6-inch corn tortillas
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted (you could also use sunflower or canola oil)
- Combine coconut oil, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, basil and brown sugar in a medium size microwave-safe bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the microwave . Cook on high power for 1 minute. Remove and stir well. Return to microwave and cook for another 3 minutes on high power. Careful remove plastic wrap (contents of the bowl will be very hot) and transfer aromatic mixture to the slow cooker.
- Rinse bowl. Stack corn tortillas, then cut in in half. Cut each half into thin slices widthwise. Place tortilla slices in the bowl with 2 cups of the chicken broth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and cook on high power for 5 minutes. Carefully remove plastic wrap (broth will be very hot) and add contents of bowl to slow cooker.
- Add chicken sausage black beans, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, roasted red peppers, remaining broth, cilantro, salt and pepper to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Add corn, stir well and serve. Top with any of the following: oven-fried tortilla chips, sour cream, Greek yogurt, sliced radishes, sliced avocados, cheese, black olives, jalapeños, queso blanco, cilantro leaves,
- For the crispy oven-fried tortilla chips, preheat oven to 400˚F and line a sheet pan with foil for easy clean up. Stack corn tortillas and cut in half. Cut into thin strips. I like to cut the lengthwise for longer strips but you can also cut them widthwise. Place on prepared sheet pan and drizzle with the melted coconut oil. Toss carefully but well with your hands until all the strips are coated with oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss once more. Bake for 3 minutes then remove from oven and toss with a tongs or spatula to redistribute. Bake another 4-6 minutes or until tortilla strips are a pale golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
** I really like the chicken sausage from Trader Jo's. It's lean (only 100 calories per sausage with 11g of protein!) and the flavor is delicious. For this recipe I used their Spicy Jalapeño (it's not really super spicy) but any pre-cooked chicken sausage with good flavor will do.