By SARA MOULTON
Sometimes it seems that just as we get ourselves fully into summer mode, we need to start thinking back to school.
During summer, dinner could be casual, but the start of the school year means a return to at least a slightly more formal sit-down dinners.
This chowder recipe makes liberal use of two of my favorite "cheating ingredients": store-bought rotisserie chicken and salsa.
I've never met a rotisserie chicken I didn't like. Heat one up and pretend you roasted it, or shred it and add it to recipes from chilies and sandwiches to salads and soups.
Salsa is another ingredient I keep handy at all times. An all-purpose condiment that's replaced ketchup in many households, there's a salsa these days for every taste. Use the salsa of your choice to set the spiciness of this soup.
Fresh corn is one of late summer's great stars, built into this recipe not only because it's absurdly good but also because the starch in the corn helps to thicken the broth.
Finally, at the end of the cooking process, I pureed some of the vegetables — the onions, as well as corn and the potatoes — to make the soup creamy without adding any cream.
I recommend garnishing this soup with homemade tortilla strips.
The real beauty of this soup is that it's a hearty and complete meal in a single bowl.
SOUTHWESTERN CORN AND CHICKEN CHOWDER
WITH TORTILLA CRISPS
Three 6-inch corn tortillas
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
½ pound red bliss or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups fresh corn kernels (or thawed frozen)
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups chopped or shredded rotisserie chicken
1 cup purchased salsa
1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro or basil, to garnish (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Arrange the corn tortillas on a baking sheet, then mist them with cooking spray.
In a small bowl, combine ½ teaspoon of the cumin, the chili powder and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the tortillas. Using a pizza cutter, cut the tortillas into thin strips. Bake them on the middle shelf of the oven until they are golden and crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a large saucepan over medium, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons cumin and cook, stirring, for another minute.
Add the potatoes, corn and chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Transfer 1 ½ cups of the mixture (mostly solids) to a blender and carefully blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan, add the chicken and salsa, and cook until just heated through. Add salt and lime juice, to taste, and water, if necessary, to achieve the desired consistency.
Divide between 4 serving bowls and garnish each portion with some of the tortilla strips and cilantro, if desired.
Nutritional information per serving: 400 calories (110 calories from fat, 28 percent of total calories), 12g fat (2g saturated, 0g trans fats), 85mg cholesterol, 39g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 10g sugar, 34g protein, 1,140mg sodium.