Mike’s Mesquite-Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup

Mike's Mesquite-Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my original version of a Mexican classic, with a bit of southwest flair infused by New Mexican Hatch chili powder and mesquite wood smoke. As a shortcut, you can fry the chicken in a pan or just boil it before shredding, but why would you want to? Taking the extra time by preparing it on the grill adds an entirely new dimension to this satisfying dish. On a related note, blackening or charring the tomatoes, tomatillos and poblano pepper is essential for the depth of flavor needed — do not skip this step.

I absolutely love this recipe! I hope you do too.


For the Chicken Marinade~
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 large cloves garlic, crushed then minced
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
1/2 cup XV olive oil
1 tsp. ground coriander
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

For the Tortilla Soup~
4 tbs. XV olive oil
32 oz. chicken broth
1 tsp. dry chicken base
4 large cloves crush garlic, minced
2 tbs. pure mild New Mexican Hatch red chili powder
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1 tbs. chipotle en adobo sauce
1 tbs. ground cumin, preferably from toasted seed
4 medium tomatoes, charred (2 10-oz. cans Rotel® fired diced tomatoes may be used as a substitute)
2 large tomatillos, charred and cored
1 large poblano chili, charred and diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 charred six-inch corn tortillas (preferably home-made) cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 14.5 oz. can black beans
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Garnish With~
2 charred six-inch corn tortillas (preferably home-made) cut into 1/4″ strips
2 Haas avocados, cut in 1/2″ strips
Mike’s Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Thinly-sliced red onion or green scallion
Shredded Mexican Cotija cheese (Nuestro Queso is an excellent brand)

You’ll also need mesquite wood chips for the grill; about 3/4 cup



The night before, prepare the chicken marinade so the flavor has time to set up. Pound the chicken breasts flat by using a spiked meat mallet. This will ensure that they cook evenly on the grill and allow the wood smoke to penetrate the meat. Place them in a ziplock storage bag. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a bowl and pour in with the chicken. Seal tightly and double bag it using another plastic storage bag to prevent leaks. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

The next day, prepare an outdoor charcoal fire on a kettle grill. Use real lump charcoal, not briquettes. Prior to lighting the fire, soak a handful of mesquite chips in a bowl of water for about two hours. You only need a little as the flavor from the mesquite smoke is very intense. Place the soaked chips directly on the white-hot coals.

Grill the chicken over direct heat for about four minutes per side, ensuring that they have a nice crusty char on each side. Remove and let cool on a plate. You need not be concerned if they are a bit underdone. They will continue to cook in the pot in the next step.

While the chicken is cooling, heat a 5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until soft taking care not to scorch the garlic.  Dice the charred tomatoes and tomatillos and add to the pot. Increase the heat to medium, and stir occasionally for another 5 minutes.

Next, add the chicken broth, the New Mexican Hatch chili powder, chicken base, chipotle adobo sauce, Mexican oregano, salt and pepper. Increase the heat and bring to a slow boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the soup is simmering, cut up the charred tortillas and add them to the pot.

Carefully transfer this mixture to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return the ingredients to the pot.

Prepare the poblano pepper by charring it with a propane torch or stovetop gas burner. Dice and add to the pot. Using two forks, shred the chicken and add to the pot.

Drain the canned black beans and rinse in a colander with hot water. Simmer them in the soup for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with the garnish ingredients indicated. Leftovers freeze wonderfully.

Serves 4-6


Note: Use extreme caution if using a propane torch indoors.  I would highly recommend using a cast-iron pan on your stovetop as a makeshift heat-shield.

Tomatillos and Garden Jalapenos | Culinary Compost Recipes

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Flatiron Grilled Beef Roast

If you’ve never taken the time to slow roast beef on the grill over wood coals, you must try this recipe. The aromatic crust adds a great contrast to the perfectly roasted meat. Slow and low are key to success!


6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 tbs. mild paprika
3 tbs. packed brown sugar
2 tbs. pure chimayo chili powder
1 tbs. white pepper
1 tbs. celery salt
1 tbs. ground cumin, toasted from whole seed
1 tbs. dry Mexican oregano leaf
1 tbs. fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (I grow and make my own)
1 tsp. ground mustard

1 beef tri-tip or sirloin tip roast (2-3 pounds)


Combine all of the dry rub ingredients and mix well.

Cut 6 small, equally-spaced slits on each side of the roast with a sharp paring knife. The slits should be only 1/8-1/4″ across. Insert the raw garlic into the slits, ensuring that the garlic closes the cut so juices don’t escape.

Apply the dry rub ingredients thoroughly over the roast. Seal the roast in an airtight plastic bag and marinade overnight in your fridge.

When ready to grill, soak 2 cups of hickory or mesquite wood chips in water for at least 1 hour. Prepare a rectangular drip tray of aluminum foil the size of the roast. Light a medium-sized pile of charcoal on the grill and wait until it turns white-hot. Divide the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect heating. Place the aluminum foil drip tray in the center on the coal rack.

Place the roast on the grilling grate in the center (aligned with the drip tray) and cover, cooking for 1 to 1.5 hours, turning only once halfway through the cooking process.
Stoke coals as needed to maintain a consistent, medium-low fire. Soaked wood chips may be added to the coals in batches – but take care not to lift the cover too often.

The roast is done when the internal temperature at the thickest part reads:
145-150° for medium rare
160° for medium

Remove from grill, let stand in a covered warming tray for 10 minutes before slicing.

Mike’s Mesquite-Grilled Steak Fajitas

Mike's Mesquite-Grilled Steak Fajitas | Culinary Compost Recipes

No other dish comes close to the excitement and flair of a hot skillet of fajitas served for hungry guests. The aroma, sizzle and spice create a memorable experience that is perfect for just about any occasion – indoors or out. Fajitas are an Americanized version of Mexican flank steak (faja meaning “belt”.) Texans would probably like to lay claim to the fajita, but history gives credit to Mexican ranch workers living in West Texas along the Rio Grande on the Texas-Mexico border in the late 1930s or early 1940s. When a steer was butchered, the workers were given the least desirable parts to eat for partial payment of their wages. Because of this, the workers learned to make good use of a tough cut of beef known as skirt steak.

The fajita is truly Tex-Mex cuisine (a blending of Texas cowboy and Mexican panchero foods). The Mexican term for grilled skirt steak is arracheras, and its American counterpart is fajitas. Today, the term fajita has completely lost its original meaning and has come to describe just about anything that is cooked and served rolled up in a soft flour tortilla. The only true fajitas, however, are made from skirt steak — and with that bit of history, enjoy the recipe. I’ve tweaked and niggled it for over ten years.



2 pounds skirt, flank or sirloin steak
1 huge spanish or red onion, cut in thin wedges
3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cut in strips
1 large green bell pepper or poblano, cut in strips (if using poblanos, you must remove the tough, outer skin)
1/4 cup washed fresh cilantro leaves (more for garnish, if desired)
Juice of one fresh lime
1 large ripe tomato
Kosher salt, to taste

Mike’s fajita rub
1 tsp. liquid smoke
Juice of 3 fresh limes (a very effective natural tenderizer)
4 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 cup XV olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Wood charcoal (please, gas grills just don’t do this recipe justice.)
Mesquite wood chips
12×12″ aluminum foil square



Aggressively pierce the flank steak with a needle tenderizer on both sides, sprinkle generously with rub (working it in with your fingers) and place in large ziplock bag. Mix the marinade ingredients well in a bowl and add to the bag. DO NOT SLICE UP THE STEAK AT THIS POINT. YOU WILL DO THIS AFTER YOU GRILL IT. Coat well, remove the air and place the sealed bag in the fridge for at least four hours, but preferably overnight. Rotate occasionally.

Prepare your mesquite chips for the grill by either soaking them in water for a couple hours OR by placing them dry in a wrapped aluminum foil packet with several holes punched in the side. Either method works well. If you cannot find mesquite chips you can also use hickory.

When ready to grill, cut up your vegetables and set aside so you don’t have to rush everything at once.

Prepare the grill with real wood charcoal; when they turn white, throw on the mesquite chips. Sprinkle a little more fajita rub on each side of the steak. Grill until it is medium-rare, 7-10 minutes. YOU WILL FINISH COOKING THE STEAK IN THE PAN, so don’t worry if it’s a tad pink or even red. This is a good thing.

Remove the steak from the grill and set aside on a cutting board for FIVE MINUTES. This step is critical, as the juices of the steak will draw back into the meat. If you cut it immediately, it would dry out and be tough.

Restoke the charcoal, if necessary. Bring a large, well-seasoned cast-iron pan up to HIGH heat. There really is no substitute for cast-iron with this recipe. The intense heat will warp or burn the non-stick coating off all other pans. I also don’t like using the smaller fajita-style pans like restaurants use, as they are ridiculously small for a family-sized portion prepared in one easy batch. I prefer to place the pan directly on the outdoor charcoal grilling grate.

Add about two tbs. of olive oil to the pan and sear the onion and peppers until slightly blackened. Stir once and add the garlic.

Using a very sharp chef knife, quickly slice up the meat in 1/4″ strips at a bias, ensuring the cuts are perpendicular to the grain of the meat. Add to the pan and stir once. Top with chopped tomato and lightly salt. Add the cilantro leaves and drizzle with lime juice. Remove from heat immediately and serve on tortilla shells with guacamole and your choice of salsa.

Serves 4-6


Don’t fret if you didn’t get it right the first time. This recipe is a lot of work and requires split-second timing during the cooking process. Practice makes perfect and you will ascend to grilling guru status in no time!

Mesquite-Grilled Steak Fajitas | Culinary Compost Recipes

Mike's Famous Guacamole | Culinary Compost Recipes


Preparing Roasted Poblano Peppers | Culinary Compost Recipes

Preparing the roasted poblano peppers.

Toasting Flour Tortillas over a Cast-Iron Comal | Culinary Compost

Toasting flour tortillas over a cast-iron comal.

Roasting poblano peppers with a propane torch | Culinary Compost

Roasting poblano peppers with a propane torch. The tough outer skin is unpalatable and should be removed before baking.


Fire Canyon Grilled Steak Chili

This recipe is not for the faint-of-heart. The rub on the steak is killer and adds a completely new dimension when thrown on the grill with the onions and jalapenos blackened over mesquite wood chips. An Indian Summer favorite.


3 lbs. sirloin steak
XV olive oil
2 huge spanish or yellow onions, quartered
6 jalapeno peppers, stemmed
1 bulb garlic (each clove peeled and minced)
3 cups beef stock
1 cup strong black coffee
1 32 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbs. dried mexican oregano leaf
1 tbs. ground cayenne pepper
2 tbs. toasted cumin (ground in mortar from seed)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Liquid Smoke, hickory or mesquite flavor
1/3 cup pure mild Chimayo chili powder
2 cups dried pinto beans (soaked overnight and rinsed)
2 tbs. masa harina (cornmeal) used as thickener.

Mike’s Fire Canyon rub

Mesquite wood chips for the grill


Wash and soak the dried pinto beans overnight in a covered bowl filled with water on your kitchen counter.

Soak the mesquite chips in water for at least 1 hour before grill time. If you’re in a hurry, you can also smoke them dried when ready to grill in a tinfoil packet punched with a few holes. Preheat your charcoal grill with enough coals to cook 3-4 steaks at the same time. My Weber® 22″ kettle grill is awesome for this purpose.

While the grill is preheating, brush the steaks lightly with olive oil and liberally sprinkle the rub on each side of the steak, being careful not to touch your eyes, or breath in the dust particles. Using a pair of food service gloves or a sheet of plastic wrap over your fingers, work the rub into the meat. Place aside on a plate.

On a separate cutting board, quarter the onions and brush with olive oil. Stem the jalapenos (leave them whole) and place in a serving bowl with the onions and mix until coated with the oil. Take care not to let the onions fall apart.

When ready to grill, throw the whole mesquite chips or enclosed tinfoil packet on the coals.

Place the onions and jalapenos on the grill using a pair of long tongs. Let the surfaces blacken. Rotate once and remove to a covered bowl. Place the steak on the grill and sear each side quickly to seal in the juices. You do not need to cook the steak all the way through. Just blacken the outsides a bit and leave the interior medium-rare.

Transfer the steak to a clean cutting board and let sit for five minutes. Heat a 5 qt. dutch oven with the beef stock, black coffee and canned whole tomatoes to a low simmer. Mash the tomatoes against the bottom of the pot with a large spoon or potato masher.

Slice the steak into 1/2″ chunks and add to the pot. Drain the beans in a colander and add to the pot.

Chop the blackened onion and jalapenos to the coarseness desired and add to pot. Add the dry spices, minced garlic, liquid smoke and simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours, until beans are tender, stirring occasionally.

Masa may be used as a thickener during the last 15 minutes.

Serve with skillet cornbread and butter.

Serves 4-6.