From south of the border comes this spicy and hearty soup ladled over crisp tortilla strips and grated cheddar. The soup is chunky with chicken and avocado, but it's the tortillas that give it a slight thickness and a special flavor.
6 tablespoons cooking oil
8 6- inch corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 quarts canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add half the tortilla strips and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining tortilla strips.
Reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the onion, garlic, and spices; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, cilantro leaves, if using, and one-third of the tortilla strips. Bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes; remove the bay leaves.
In a blender, puree the soup in batches; pour it back into the pot. Add the chicken, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook until just done, about 1 minute. Stir in the avocado.
To serve, put the remaining tortilla strips in bowls, top with the cheese, and pour in the soup. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, if using, and serve with the lime wedges.
Wine Recommendation: A Rioja Reserva, with its complex combination of spicy, earthy, and fruity flavors, will echo the taste of the soup beautifully.