Our family loves tortilla soup, so I make it about once a week with a lot of improvisation based on what’s around. Since I taste as I go and change things up, rarely is one batch of tortilla soup the same as the last. I finally took some notes and wrote down measurements for our favorite tortilla soup.
First you should know that this soup is a little different. Usually fried corn tortillas are piled on top of tortilla soup, but in this recipe they thicken it. You’ll need about 4 corn tortillas to start, though the number will vary because they come in all shapes and sizes. I generally use 3 oz (84 grams) total. If you want fried tortillas on top, you will need more.
To start, you cook the tortilla pieces along with the onions before proceeding with the rest of the soup recipe. As it cooks the soup gets thicker and thicker. You will also find that leftover soup (if you have any) gets thicker and that you’ll have to dilute it with more broth.
So this is a thick soup, but it is lighter in the sense that it doesn’t have any cream or cheese. The tortillas thicken the soup, and chicken adds satisfying protein, though you could just as easily make this vegetarian by leaving it out and using vegetable broth. If you try it, let me know! And if you have a favorite tortilla soup recipe, I’d be interested in hearing that as well. This one doesn’t have too much heat to it because I typically don’t like mouth numbing food (sinus clearing, yes…mouth numbing, no). So if you want to add that kind of heat, be sure to add your favorite HOT pepper or use a spicy chili powder or use Rotel tomatoes.
Tortilla Soup Ingredients
- Corn Tortillas — They are pretty easy to find in Texas, but if you live farther north of the border it may be trickier. Luckily, almost any brand should work. If you can’t find any, you can make your own.
- Chili Powder — Chili powder is not the same as ground chile pepper. Chili powder used in tortilla soup is a blend of ground chili, cumin, oregano and other spices. There are different brands with different flavors. As a Texan I grew up with a brand of chili powder called Gebhardt. Gebhardt is the quintessential Texas chili powder and different from other brands in some ways. Its flavor is a little more complex, it’s not as hot (so you can add more cayenne (if you need to), and it’s not salty.
- Tomatoes — I prefer plain canned diced tomatoes, but if I’m making this for my husband (which is usually the case) I use Ro-Tel tomatoes, which are very spicy.
- Broth — I use whatever brand is on sale or if I have some homemade I’ll use that. The salt level of the broth will determine how much salt (if any) you’ll need to add to the recipe. It’s generally a good idea to start with reduced sodium so that you can control the salt. Both chicken and vegetable broth work well.
- Cumin –This is a favorite spice so I use a lot. Feel free to use less.
- Carrot Baby Food — You can throw in a half cup of carrots, but if you have some carrot baby food it adds sweetness and a little more body.
- Honey — the sweetness of the honey brings out the other flavors. I often use even more than is listed in the recipe. Brown sugar also works.
- Tortilla Strips — In addition to the tortillas that are in the soup, you may want to pile fried tortilla strips on the soup before serving. If you have an air fryer you can toss some tortilla strips in a little olive oil and air fry at 350 for about 3-6 minutes or until crispy. Alternatively, you can bake the oil-tossed strips in the oven for about 8 minutes.
- Chicken — I sometimes leave the chicken out of the soup and pour the soup over a pile of chicken that I’ve put in a bowl. Any kind of chicken works, even canned.
- Avocado & Cheddar Cheese — Pile on top if you have them. I usually leave them off.
- Cilantro — None listed! My husband thinks it is vile therefore I don’t use it, but in my opinion it makes everything better. So definitely garnish with cilantro if you have some.
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 3/4 cup cut up corn tortillas** 84 grams
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes drained, OR A can of undrained Rotel for spiciness
- 3 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth plus more if desired
- 2 tablespoons carrot baby food optional, or add 1/2 cup sliced carrots
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin You can use less
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mild chili powder blend such as Gebhardt or Bolner’s Fiesta -- Some brands are spicier than others
- 1 teaspoon honey I sometimes use more
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne optional -- I never use
- 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken breast Use more or less depending on your tastes
- Black pepper and salt to taste if necessary
- Garnish: avocados shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, fried tortilla strips
- In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat the oil over medium for about 40 seconds. Add the onions and tortillas and sauté for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes, scraping bottom of pot with a spoon.
- Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of broth. Stir well, then gradually stir in remaining 2 cups of broth.
- Continue heating over medium or just below a boil, then add the carrot baby food, cumin, chili powder, honey and the bay leaf. Increase heat slightly and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer, stirring often, for about 20-30 minutes or until soup is thick. Add salt and black pepper to taste. About 5 minutes before serving, add the chicken. Alternatively, you can put a big stack of chicken in a bowl, top it with avocados and cheese, then pour the soup around it. Remove the by leaf before serving. Makes about 5 cups.
If you're serving this for dinner, you'll get enough to feed 2 hungry adults and 1 kid. For lunch or as a side, you could probably serve 4 or 5. If soup is too thick after the last long simmer, thin it with a little extra broth.