Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."
The Best Chicken Tortilla Soup From Scratch
The first time I tasted Lupe's Mexican tortilla soup, I almost burst into song. How could soup be so satisfying? Thick, warming, and more akin to a stew, it burst with flavor. Her secret? Aside from fresh ingredients and good-quality stock, the key is in the seasoning. High-quality chili powder—or dried chile peppers—put this tortilla soup in a league of its own. You'll find more information on choosing chiles and chili powder in the tips section and at the bottom of the page.
This decadent dish will scent your home with the fragrance of Mexican spices, satisfy your appetite with wholesome ingredients like black beans, sweet corn, and red peppers, and leave you and your guests clamoring for more. It can even be made with leftover turkey, offering a welcome reprieve from typical holiday fare.
Best of all, this soup only improves as it rests. It's the perfect make-ahead meal—it even freezes well, too. We often throw together a pot at the beginning of the week and enjoy it for three or four days in a row. Switch up the toppings and serve it with cornbread or warmed corn tortillas. Add some green chiles on the second day to give it a Southwestern twist.
If you are short on time, you can make this dish in less time by using store-bought chili powder and chicken stock. Either way, we guarantee this is the tastiest tortilla soup that will ever touch your lips!
Below, you'll find...
- My recipe for hearty chicken tortilla soup
- A list of recommended toppings
- Tips for substitutions and ways to make it even better
- Directions for making your own chicken stock
- A section of information about choosing and using chili powder or dried chilies
- Instructions for making this soup with leftover turkey
- Tips for making a vegetarian version of this soup
Chicken Tortilla Soup
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
- 3-4 chicken breasts, about two pounds total weight
- 2 tablespoons chili powder (see tips)
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
- 1/2 cup corn flour, masa harina, or diced corn tortillas (see tips)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups or one 14-ounce bag frozen corn kernels
- 2 cups or one 16-ounce can black beans, drained
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 3 cups carrots, green beans and/or zucchini, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups or 1 16-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream (optional)
- 10 cups (80 ounces) chicken broth or stock (see recipe below), homemade or store bought
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Drizzle one tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil into a large stock pot on medium heat. Rinse, dry, and salt the chicken breasts. Saute them until cooked through.
- Take pot off the heat. Remove chicken breasts from pot and set aside to cool. Add one more tablespoon of oil. Saute the red and green bell peppers and garlic, scraping up brown bits left from chicken. Add spices and saute 5 minutes longer.
- Pour one cup of chicken broth into a blender container. Add 1/2 cup corn flour or masa harina and blend thoroughly.
- Pour all broth, including broth and corn flour mixture, into the stock pot with vegetables. Stir with a spatula or spoon.
- Simmer over medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
- Chop or shred the chicken breasts. Add cream and chicken breasts to soup, and simmer on low for 10 more minutes. At this point, you can add the reserved chicken from the homemade stock, if desired.
Get the Right Ingredients for the Best Flavor
- Use homemade stock. This soup is most delicious when made with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You can find a recipe for this below. If you're in a hurry, purchase good quality chicken broth at your local grocery store.
- Try to avoid mixing frozen and canned items. In the United States, try two 14-ounce bags of frozen Southwest vegetable mix with black beans and corn instead of frozen corn and canned beans. Omit the red bell pepper, and use one green bell pepper only.
- The chiles make or break this dish. The key to really flavorful soup is high-quality chili powder or dried chiles. See the "Choose the Right Chiles" section.
- Track down the masa harina. You can find masa harina (a traditional Mexican corn-flour) on the ethnic aisle of your grocery store. If you don't want to use the masa harina or corn flour, dice six corn tortillas and add them to the soup with the veggies. The soup will thicken as the corn tortillas break down.
- Let it marinate. This soup is best if made several hours ahead of time, so flavors can marry.
- Avoid using stringy chicken. If serving the soup to guests, I don't add the stringy chicken left from making stock and reserve it for another use.
If You Have Dietary Restrictions...
- Go low-fat. For lower-fat soup, substitute milk or half-n-half for the cream.
- Ditch the milk. If lactose intolerance is an issue, omit the cream or milk.
Consider These Additions and Variations
- Not spicy, but flavorful. For a mild version, choose ancho or New Mexico chili powder, which is low on the Scoville scale.
- Just a hint of heat. For a medium-spicy version, add 1 tablespoon of chipotle chili powder.
- Make it like they do in the Southwest. Add one 4-ounce can of diced fire-roasted hatch green chiles (drained) or omit the diced tomatoes and substitute for two 10-ounce cans Rotel mild diced tomato & green chiles, drained.
- Go for pozole. Substitute canned hominy (which is essentially dried corn) for the sweet corn for a flavor more akin to Mexican pozole.
- Bring on the accoutrements! Serve with Mexican guacamole appetizer and Tex-Mex margaritas for a special treat.
Offer some of these garnishes for your hungry guests.
- grated cheddar cheese
- grated Monterrey jack cheese
- cilantro (coriander) leaves
- minced green onion
- diced red onion
- diced tomato
- crunchy tortilla chips or strips of homemade corn tortilla
- a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt
- chopped or sliced avocado
- minced fresh or canned jalapenos
- fresh salsa or pico de gallo
- homemade Mexican salsa
- lime slices
- roasted red peppers, diced
How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock
- One 3-4 pound chicken fryer, cut up (set aside breasts)
- 12 cups cold water
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 medium onion, peeled
- Wash chicken and remove skin, if desired.
- Place ingredients in a large stock pot. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until chicken falls off the bone.
- Strain broth and reserve the chicken. You should have about 10 cups of stock. If not, add enough water to equal 10 cups.
How to Choose and Use Chili Powder or Dried Chiles
For the most flavorful tortilla soup you've ever tasted, it's important to purchase good-quality chili powder or dried chiles so that you can make your own powder.
- Powder: If you prefer chili powder, try 1/2 tablespoon chipotle chili powder, 1/2 tablespoon New Mexico chili powder, and 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder for a mildly spicy tortilla soup. Increase the amount of chipotle chili powder for a spicier soup.
- Whole Chiles: If you'd like to use whole dried chiles instead of chili powder, we highly recommend pasilla, ancho, and mulato chiles. Considered the "holy trinity" of Mexican chiles, they produce unforgettable, low-spice tortilla soup. Chipotle chiles add spice and complex smoky flavor to the soup.
And if you'd still like more info, check out the Scoville chart in Sweet & Smoky Mexican Mole. The Scoville chart measures how spicy chiles are, and this can help make sure that you don't end up with a soup that's too spicy!
How to Prepare Dried Chiles
You'll need to dry toast and rehydrate the dried chiles that you bought so that you can bring out the maximum flavor. Do this in a skillet, watching them carefully so they don't burn.
An easier method is to toast the chiles in a 350 F oven for several minutes until they puff up. Then you need to:
- Soak chiles in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
- Throw away the soaking water.
- Remove the stem and seeds.
- Toss the chiles into the blender container you used in step three of the recipe, along with masa harina and one cup of broth.
- Blend well and proceed with the recipe.
How to Make Tortilla Soup From Leftover Turkey
If you've just roasted a turkey, don't throw away that carcass! Turkey bones make great stock for tortilla soup.
- Remove any meat or skin from the turkey carcass. Reserve the meat for your soup.
- Break up the turkey carcass so that it fits in the stock pot.
- See the above section "How to Make Chicken Stock." Substitute the chicken for turkey and follow instructions to make broth. Reduce salt to 1 teaspoon if the turkey has been brined. Simmer gently so the broth doesn't turn cloudy.
- Use turkey broth in place of chicken broth in the recipe.
- If you don't have turkey broth, buy chicken broth from your local grocery store.
- Chop leftover turkey (2-3 cups) and add to soup in place of chicken breast meat.
How to Make This a Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
- Purchase good vegetable broth or make your own stock.
- Follow the regular recipe, replacing chicken stock with vegetable stock.
- Try 1 tablespoon of chipotle chili powder and 2 tablespoons of ancho for depth of flavor.
- Substitute 2 cups of kidney beans for the chopped chicken meat.
© 2012 Vespa Woolf