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Margaret Button: Single serving Tortilla Soup perfect for party of one

If it’s one thing I’ve learned since losing my husband, it’s how hard it is to cook for just one person. For the year after his death, our son lived at home, so it wasn’t that bad. And then he moved to the eastern part of the state and I found myself in the position of cooking for one — me.

My fallback supper for one is usually pasta. During the first spring of the COVID-19 pandemic, I gained 10 pounds from eating too many carbs — mostly in the form of linguine with a creamy lemon sauce, which I made at least twice a week.

Many of my favorite foods — meatloaf, casseroles, pulled pork — can’t really be halved. So, I eat them for supper the first night and then again for every lunch and supper for the next few days. Or, I end up freezing them in portion-sized bags — and end up not using them because they get buried at the back of the freezer.

After the pandemic pasta pounds appeared, I turned to meat and veggie stir fries, buying small amounts of meat from the butcher shop at a local market. But, as I found out quickly that gets boring, no matter what sauce you create.

I’ve also gone the breakfast for dinner route — omelets, waffles, scrambled eggs — and the can of soup or bowl of cereal route. And I hate to admit it, the pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream route.

I recently got an e-newsletter from Food & Wine promoting 16 recipes for dining solo and decided to give one, Single Serving Tortilla Soup, a try. It was worth the effort! And, I didn’t have to eat it every night for a week!


Active Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves: 1 to 2


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

Chopped jalapeno, to taste

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Pinch of Mexican oregano

Pinch of paprika

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Pinch of Kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock

1 small or 1/2 large boneless skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon corn kernels, optional


Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, over moderately high heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chili powder, cumin, cocoa, oregano, paprika, cayenne, red pepper, salt and a few turns of black pepper; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the chicken breast and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and use two forks to pull it. Return it to the soup. Stir in the corn, if using.

Serve with tortilla chips, diced avocado, sour cream, fresh cilantro, shredded Monterey jack or crumbled queso fresco.

Make ahead: This soup can be made the day before. Garnish directly before serving.

Margaret Button can be reached at mbutton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6298. 

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