Make Tortilla Soup
Do you enjoy tortilla soup? It’s one of my all-time favorites! Tortilla soup is fresh and flavorful, earthy and a little spicy. Topped with a big handful of crispy tortilla strips, it’s a light but satisfying meal for lunch or dinner. As a bonus, it tastes even better the next day.
Tex-Mex tortilla soups most often include shredded chicken, but it’s not unusual to find vegetarian tortilla soups in Mexico. I can’t call this recipe fully authentic, though. It’s a delicious variation on classic tortilla soup (Sopa Azteca) that you can make at home any time you get the craving.
In Mexico, you’ll find tons of regional variations and personal preferences for tortilla soup. For this recipe, I added black beans for some heft, as well as a red bell pepper because I love the flavor and texture it provides. I tried to keep the remaining ingredients in line with what you might find in Mexico, but to be honest, I have more personal experience with the Tex-Mex variations I’ve sampled over the years.
This recipe is a fully reworked version of an old tortilla soup recipe on the blog. Perhaps you’ve made that one and enjoyed it, but I tried it again recently and just knew I could build in more flavor along the way.
This soup is closer to the spin on tortilla soup in my cookbook, Love Real Food, which features an irresistible sweet-and-spicy interplay between sweet potatoes and jalapeño. Give that one a try, too!
Chili Pepper Options
You have several options when making this soup, which vary a bit in terms of authenticity, ease and ingredient availability. I’ve written options one and three into the recipe below, so you’ll be able to follow the recipe either way. Here they are:
Option 1) Chili peppers + blender (most authentic)
First, we’ll toast the peppers in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor, then we’ll roughly chop them and remove the stem and seeds. Then, we’ll blend the toasted peppers into the canned tomatoes and proceed. This option is great because it’s the most authentic and lends a gorgeous, fiery red color and extra body to the soup.
Option 2) Chili peppers + no blender (my least favorite)
Another option is to toast the peppers, then throw them into the pot with the liquid ingredients to simmer. This is method used for my old recipe, but I don’t like it as much as the other options. The chili pepper imparts some flavor to the soup, but not as much flavor as either of the other options. If you choose this route, simply discard the chili peppers before serving.
Option 3) Chili powder + no blender (easiest option)
This is the simplest option and honestly, it yields delicious flavor. You’ll just need to use fresh chili powder with good flavor. I’ve successfully used Frontier Co-op’s chili powder. This would also be a great time to use a fun specialty chili powder, like chipotle or ancho chili powder. If desired, you can moderate the spice level by using less chili powder in the beginning and adding more, to taste.
Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
Warm up with a bowl of vegetarian tortilla soup, made with black beans instead of chicken. This soup recipe is so fresh and satisfying! Recipe yields 4 servings.
- 2 mild dried chili peppers* or 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder, to taste
- 1 can (15 ounces) diced or crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if possible
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow or red onion, chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt, more to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked black beans
- 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth
- 4 corn tortillas, cut into 2-inch long, ¼-inch-wide strips
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Garnish options: Thinly sliced and roughly chopped radish, diced ripe avocado, crumbled feta cheese or drizzle of sour cream
- If using dried chili peppers, toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat or directly over a gas flame with tongs, turning as needed. Toast until fragrant and turning darker all over—this can happen quickly, in just a minute or two. Set aside until the peppers are cool enough to handle, then roughly chop them, discarding the seeds and stem. Combine the canned tomatoes (along with their juices) and chopped peppers in the blender, and blend until smooth. Set aside.
- In a medium Dutch oven or soup pot, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and turning translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cumin (and chili powder, if using) and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomato-chili pepper blend (or just plain tomatoes, if going the chili powder route) and cook for a minute, while stirring, to bring out its best flavor.
- Add the beans and broth, and stir to combine. Raise the mixture to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit to make the crispy tortilla strips. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. On the baking sheet, toss the tortilla strips with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt until lightly and evenly coated. Bake until the strips are crisp and starting to turn golden, about 8 to 12 minutes, tossing halfway. Set aside.
- Stir most of the cilantro into the soup, reserving a bit for garnish. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Carefully taste the soup, and add more salt if the flavors don’t quite sing (I often add up to ¼ teaspoon salt). Add more lime juice if you’d like a little more zing.
- Divide the soup into bowls. Top with crispy tortilla strips, the reserved cilantro and any additional garnishes of your choice. Leftovers will keep well for up to 5 days; rewarm individual servings and top with garnishes when serving. Or freeze individual portions for several months and add toppings after reheating.