When I was in college, my friends and I started a tradition we called Friday Date Lunch. It’s nothing like what it sounds like. Every Friday, when our sorority house served weird plastic tasting burgers for lunch, we would each invite a date and all go out to lunch together. (Ok, fine, it’s exactly what it sounds like.) And we always went to Chili’s. Date Lunch didn’t start out as a Chili’s-exclusive affair, but every week we would have these long discussions about which amazing local Austin restaurant we should go to, and we usually settled on Chili’s. Womp, womp. Then we just called it a tradition and stuck with it.
I know what you’re thinking. You can’t decide if this sounds cute and Sadie Hawkins-y, or like the premise of an exceedingly pathetic reality TV show. Look. I have no business telling you what to think, but college girls at a Chili’s before noon are never cute. Anyway, I think the initial idea of Friday Date Lunch was probably closer to the pathetic TV show, but we always just ended up taking our friends. Not like sitcom “just friends.” Like, actual just friends. Like my sister was my date approximately 40% of the time.
Anyway, Friday Date Lunch was really fun. We would blow off class and head over to Chili’s, where we would drink bottomless diet cokes and get skillet queso with a side of ranch dressing (I mean, c’mon, #coafg). And then we would all have chicken enchilada soup for lunch. During the Friday Date Lunch years we made two critical observations about Chili’s:
- The food is in motion in every photo on the Chili’s menu. Margaritas threaten to splash right out of their glasses! Limes are eternally mid-squeeze, their juice frozen somewhere between the lime and a plate of tacos! Someone is always caught in the middle of sprinkling finishing spices onto the legendary baby back ribs (that, weirdly, no one ever actually orders), like they refused to take a break from their diligent sprinkling long enough to snap a decent picture.
- It is weird that the food at every Chili’s tastes exactly the same no matter where you are.
Now that I’m a food blogger I know exactly what was up with the Chili’s photos. Want to know the secret? There were two people there. The lady with the perfect fingernail* squeezing the lime? She wasn’t the same lady who was taking the picture. Also, they definitely used at least an iPhone 5-quality camera. Try to capture a margarita mid-splash on a 4 or below and it’s just a neon blue blur. Pro-level photography insights are free with the price of admission, folks.
Anyway, it was the second observation that inspired me to find this non-Chili’s version of chicken enchilada soup. Their soup is delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it’s unnatural and a little bit creepy that they can make the exact same flavors come out of different kitchens all over the country (world?) for literally years. It just seems really unlikely that whatever is in that soup is actual food.
So here is a delicious homemade take on chicken enchilada soup, just because today is Friday and I wish I could blow off
class work to hang out at a Chili’s with my friends. As a side note, this soup is particularly easy to keep around for Solo Friday Date Lunches — now there’s a pathetic reality TV show — because you can throw the ingredients into a slow cooker to cook together either while you’re at work or overnight.
- 2 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- Salt and pepper
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 2 serrano peppers, minced
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 T. tomato paste
- 1 T. minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 bunch cilantro stems (save the leaves for garnishing the soup)
- 8 c. chicken stock (I used store bought and this soup is dang good. Imagine what could happen if you use homemade stock...)
- Greek yogurt
- Dehydrated sriracha
- Cilantro leaves
- Shredded cheese
- Tortilla chips, crushed
- 1 bunch green onions
- White wine vinegar
- 1 t. sugar
- 1 t. kosher salt
- Slice the onions into thin rounds. Cover with white wine vinegar and stir in the salt and sugar. Let them sit for at least an hour, but ideally over night.
- Sprinkle big pinches of salt and pepper on chicken thighs to season them before they are cooked.
- Heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Saute onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, and chipotle peppers and stir. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and stir well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Pour the onion mix into the slow cooker. Add the cilantro stems, chicken, and remaining chicken stock. Nestle the chicken down so that it's completely covered by the stock. Cook on low in slow cooker for 4 hours.
- Once the chicken is done, fish it and the cilantro stems out of the slow cooker with a fork. Use the fork to separate the meat from the skin and bones (which you can discard). Shred the meat with the fork -- it will be fall-apart tender -- and put the chicken back into the broth, and stir.
- Serve the soup with sriracha yogurt (dehydrated sriracha stirred into greek yogurt), cilantro leaves, quick-pickled green onions, shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips. I like to stir the yogurt into the broth of my soup -- it makes the broth taste creamy (like the Chili's orig) without being too heavy.
*What? You think I should have said “fingernails”? We can’t use the plural there. We only ever see that one nail. We have no way of knowing what the other nine look like. They could be Voldemort nails for all we know.