I LOVE tortilla soup! This soup has a warm, silky tomato and chile-based broth, and is customized with traditional add-ins like fried tortilla strips (a must-have!), cubes of panela cheese, Mexican cream, avocado, and fried strips of pasilla chiles. You can make this version vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
What is tortilla soup?
Tortilla soup (sopa de tortilla), also sometimes called Aztec soup (or sopa Azteca), is a common dish served in central Mexico. This soup is prepared with a chicken broth, tomato, and dried chile base. Fried corn tortilla strips are then added to the soup…hence the name.
There are many variations to this dish, including what chiles and herbs are used to condiment the base broth. The garnishes are also extensive and can include queso fresco or panela, fried strips of dried chiles, avocado, shredded chicken, Mexican cream, chopped cilantro, chopped onion, fresh lime juice, crumbled pork rinds, roasted chile poblano strips, among others. Typically, this dish is served with the garnishes separate, allowing each person to customize the soup to their liking.
How this soup came to be
Many of my recipes are based on food made by my mother-in-law or other Mexican home cooks. This recipe is a bit different. I took a cooking class one evening with my friend and chef Laiza Zafra. The menu included tortitas de huauzontle, pork shoulder with a plum sauce, baked plantains, and this tortilla soup.
After making the soup with her, I decided to repeat the process at home, but with a few variations. In the version that we made together, we used water instead of broth for the base. Although Laiza mentioned that broth or water could be used interchangeably, I strongly recommend using broth and not water. I think broth brings more depth of flavor to the final soup.
Laiza’s version included epazote in the broth. I didn’t have epazote on hand when I worked on this version, so it is not included in my recipe. You could certainly add it if you wanted, but I didn’t think the flavor of the soup suffered any for lack of epazote.
Lastly, I timed the process and provided indications on when to move on to the next step. I hope that by adding these times and indications, the recipe is more complete and easier for the first-timer to follow.
How to make tortilla soup
To make tortilla soup, start with the soup base first and work on your garnishes while the base finishes.
Make the soup base
Heat vegetable oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil starts simmering, add the garlic, guajillo chile, tortilla, and onion to the pot. Stir occasionally until the garlic just begins to start browning. Next, add the tomatoes and cloves to the pot and continue to stir occasionally. You will want to let the tomatoes soften in this step before adding in the broth.
Once the tomatoes are softened, about 8 minutes, add in the broth and simmer for about 15 minutes more, or until the tomatoes have started to break down. Once the tomatoes start to disintegrate, remove the cloves and place all of the ingredients into a blender. Allow the ingredients to cool slightly.
Blend the mixture until smooth and then strain through a mesh sieve. Remove any remaining solids, and place the mixture back into the pot and continue to simmer covered for an additional 30 minutes. This will allow the flavors to blend.
Work on the add-ins
While the soup is simmering, I like to work on frying my tortilla strips. Heat about a 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet until shimmering. Working in batches, fry the tortilla strips until golden and crunchy. This takes me about 2-3 minutes per batch. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan. I like to stir the strips a bit in the oil to ensure that they are cooking evenly. Once they are golden and crispy, remove them from the hot oil and place them on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil.
Once all of the tortilla strips are fried, work on frying the thin rounds of pasilla chile. Dried chiles will fry up quickly and you will want to avoid keeping these in the oil for too long as they tend to turn bitter if overcooked. It only takes about 30 seconds in the hot oil for the chiles to crisp up. Once they are crispy, place them on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil.
Putting everything together
Once the soup base has simmered for about 30 minutes, you are ready to put everything together! First, check the soup base and adjust for salt. Divide the soup evenly among 6 bowls. Place all of the garnishes and add ins in separate dishes in the center of the table. Then, let each person customize their soup exactly the way they like it! Enjoy!
Source: Laiza Zafra, Morelos Mexico
Tortilla Soup (Sopa de Tortilla)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil I use safflower
- 1 corn tortilla torn into large chunks
- 1 chile guajillo seeds, veins and stem removed
- ~1/4 large white onion, cut into large chunks about 4.5 ounces or 125g)
- 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
- 8 medium Roma tomatoes, cut into large chunks about 800g or 1 lb 12 ounces
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 liter chicken broth about 4 cups, see notes
Garnish and add-ins
- ~1/2 cup vegetable oil I use safflower
- 8 corn tortillas, about 6 inches in diameter, cut into thin strips your choice of white, yellow or blue
- 1 chile pasilla, cut into thin rounds stem and seeds removed
- 1 avocado, cut into cubes
- 4.5 ounces queso fresco or queso panela, cut into cubes about 125g
- ~4 tbsp Mexican cream
- Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat until shimmering, about 3 minutes
- Add garlic, onion, chile and tortilla to the pot and stir occasionally, about 2-3 minutes, until garlic just starts to brown
- Add in the tomatoes and cloves and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes soften, about 8 minutes
- Add chicken broth and salt and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering partially covered, about 15 minutes more or until tomatoes have started to disintegrate
- Remove the cloves and place all ingredients in a blender. Allow to cool slightly and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture back into the pot and discard any solids or pulp from the straining process.
- Simmer covered an additional 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
- Adjust salt and remove from heat.
Garnish and add-ins
- Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until shimmering, about 3 minutes
- Working in batches, fry the tortilla strips until golden, stirring occasionally, about 2-3 minutes per batch. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all tortilla strips are fried.
- Next, add the chile pasilla to the oil and fry, moving occasionally, about 30 seconds total. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
Putting it all together
- Evenly divide the soup between 6 bowls
- Allow each person to top with prepared garnishes as desired
- Vegetable broth can be substituted for chicken broth for a vegetarian version of this soup. You could also make this soup vegan by using plant-based cheese, and cream, or eliminating these garnishes