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.
Cook the Chopped Tortillas With the Onions
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.
Thickening With Maseca
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, but if you want it even thicker you can add in a little masa harina (I like Maseca) or thicken with frozen French fries, which are a surprisingly great way to thicken soup. I do not usually add cream to this soup, but I noticed a similar recipe called Martina McBride’s Tortilla Soup which calls for milk and a little cream. If you’ve tried it, let me know!
Your Favorite Tortilla Soup
If you have another 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. I’ve reduced it from a full tablespoon to a teaspoon.
- Carrots — I usually have carrots, so I add them for sweetness. At point I used carrot baby food for sweetness and body. Now I rarely have carrot baby food around.
- 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 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 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 roughtly chopped 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
- 1/2 cup sliced carrots
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin Feel free to use more
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mild chili powder blend such as Gebhardt or Bolner’s Fiesta — Some brands are spicier than others
- 1-2 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 carrots, 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 20-30 minutes.
- Uncover and simmer, stirring often, for about 10-15 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.
Hi Anna! I am a huge fan of Tortilla Soup so, when I saw your version, I had to give it a try… I love it. It is unlike other more-brothy versions I’ve tried but I find your version to be very earthy and yummy and a really nice change of pace. I only made a few small changes. I used a can of fire roasted tomatoes in place of the diced tomatoes and I used left over grilled chicken breasts. Good stuff. I love your soup recipes… The Turkey Poblano Soup also here on your blog is AMAZING!
Hello from chilly New Zealand! I have NEVER heard of tortilla soup; Mexican restaurants around here tend to stick to tacos, quesadillas and variations thereof so I’m not going to have a chance to taste this before trying it as you suggested, but it sounds like a perfect winter warmer for dinner tomorrow night! Thanks for the recipe :0)
They’re corn tortillas. The 6 inch round type which you would use to make enchiladas, flautas or fried taco shells.
When you say “corn tortillas” are you speaking of corn chips, or the tortillas – as in soft shell tacos?
This looks great – I’m glad you took the time to nail the recipe down! 🙂
AK, I’m going to hold you to it! Will look for it on your blog ;).
Sue, thanks. I have to mix things up a little sometimes.
Mary, I’m so glad you liked the brownies. As for tortilla soup, now that you’ve heard of it you’ll probably see it all over the place. Or at least references to it. Isn’t that the way things go? I recommend ordering it at a restaurant before trying it at home.
I made your Mexican brownies for Memorial Day, and actually thought: “wow, I hope she doesn’t think I’m really weird, because that is totally not a normal recipe to make for Memorial Day.” However, we seem to be on the same wavelength! You know, I’ve never had tortilla soup or even heard of it (I feel so East Coast). The brownies were very well-received. I did make some minor alterations based upon what I had on hand, but the different textures and flavors were fabulous. I loved the crunchy sugar coating, the fudge brownie, and the chocolate chips (which were cold when I incorporated them, so they didn’t melt much during the baking). Plus the blend of chili-cinnamon-chocolate. Actually, tortilla soup and Mexican brownies sound like a great combo! 🙂
I love the occasional healthy and savory post. Thanks! I’ll definitely be trying this.
Looks yummy! Can’t wait to try it!