Simple Sopa Azteca, or Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
Simple Sopa Azteca (Chicken Tortilla Soup)

My patient Rachel is taking a bite out of the flu.

Triumphant in her weight loss program, she survived a house full of teenage zombies and trekkies at Halloween, who formed one big Petri dish of flu virus. She survived a house full of in-laws at Thanksgiving. And she survived a house full of holiday-cheered coworkers while they glugged spiked eggnog, making the fact that they had all held on to their jobs even merrier.

Now, with most of the flu season past, she wanted to know: Are there really foods she could load up on to help her avoid the flu and not make her gain weight?

She already knew that H1N1 (swine flu) was not spread by food, including pork. And she knew she couldn't get flu from drinking tap water.

What she didn't know is that my Chicken Tortilla Soup really does have healing properties and is low in calories. Inspired by the Sopa Azteca I made for so many years at Chef Rick Bayless' Topolobampo in Chicago, my Chicken Tortilla Soup amps up the flu fighters and the flavor in your kitchen. Here's how.

All chicken soup actually (avert your eyes) reduces and thins out mucus and facilitates coughing it up. Why? Researchers believe it has to do with the amino acid cysteine, which released from the chicken as it cooks. Cysteine is similar to the prescription drug acetylcysteine, prescribed for bronchitis.

As a bonus, the salt in the soup helps swollen, inflamed cells to shrink, helping you breathe. Hot unsalted water doesn't have the same effect.

Red onion plays a big role because it is rich in the flavonoid quercetin, which increases stamina. In a study of cyclists, quercetin reduced the stress of their intense exercise and helped them fend off the flu. Red onions have even more quercetin than white or yellow onions and a sweeter flavor.

And while we're at it, organic tomatoes have more quercetin than conventional ones. Look for an organic tomato salsa to max out your antioxidants. Quercetin supplements, however, don't let you absorb the quercetin as well as you do with food.

Third, my Chicken Tortilla Soup has chili pepper: guajillo for depth or jalapeno for kick -- your choice.

Chilies don't just taste great and help clear your sinuses. They're rich in vitamin C, which has been tested in people with influenza A, which causes the seasonal flu. In one study, people with the flu who took vitamin C got much less bacterial pneumonia on top of the flu than people who didn't take Vitamin C. Plus, the vitamin itself has antiviral properties -- and the flu virus can be nasty.

So, the best and easiest flu prevention is washing your hands often, for 15-20 seconds, with soap and water, or with an alcohol-based hand cleanser until your hands are dry.

But the next best is my Chicken Tortilla Soup. Here's a place that food can pick up the medical slack, with flavor. Especially if you're like Rachel -- losing weight and keeping it off.

Simple Sopa Azteca (Chicken Tortilla Soup) Recipe

2 teaspoons extra light extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped red onion

3 cups low sodium chicken broth, preferably organic

1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup guajillo or jalapeno salsa, such as Frontera brand

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded skinless rotisserie chicken breast

1 cup shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix

1/2 ripe avocado, diced

1/4 cup shredded Chihuahua cheese

1 cup broken low fat unsalted tortilla chips

1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Lime wedges (optional)


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; saute 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes and salsa; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 10 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring once.

Arrange chicken, cabbage and avocado in bottom of four shallow soup bowls. Ladle broth over chicken mixture; top with cheese, chips and, if desired, cilantro and lime wedges.

Substitutions: Leftover cooked chicken breast may replace the rotisserie chicken breast and Monterey jack cheese may replace Chihuahua. For a lower sodium soup, use a lower sodium salsa, such as Trader Joe's Fire Roasted Salsa, or Crazy Charlie's Gourmet Salsa.

Nutritional Analysis

Total fat (g): 10; Fat calories (kc): 91; Cholesterol (mg): 59; Trans fatty acids (g): 0; Saturated fat (g): 2.9; Polyunsaturated fat (g): 1.4; Monounsaturated fat (g): 2.9; Fiber (g): 3.6; Carbohydrates (g): 20; Sugar (g): 8.0; Protein (g): 25; Sodium (mg): 656; Calcium (mg) 98.

John La Puma, M.D. is a board-certified internist, professionally trained chef and co-host of Lifetime TV's "Health Corner", airing every Sunday morning.

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Flu Fighting Chicken Tortilla Soup - John La Puma, M.D.

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