Tortilla Soup

Rich and deeply flavorful, this soup is thick and stew-like, very filling for cold days.

Tortilla Soup
Photo: Photographer: Stacy Allen; Food Stylist : Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower
Active Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs
Servings:
6

One bite of this tortilla soup, and you'll think it has been simmering all day. But the secret is, it's ready in just about 1 hour.

Thanks to several high-impact ingredients, like fire-roasted tomatoes and a handful of roasted, toasty spices, flavor builds quickly. That gets this tortilla soup on the dinner table quickly, and it also prevents the chicken from drying out or turning tough.

Turn this into a DIY soup buffet by putting out a selection of toppings. Folks can mix and match to their personal favorites, like sour cream, pickled jalapeños, or fresh radish slices. One thing you can't skip: the homemade cornbread.

How to Make Tortilla Soup

To make tortilla soup, first heat some oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, and chili powder before adding it to the pot. Cover the pot, and cook until the underside of the chicken is browned. Then flip over the chicken and keep cooking it until the interior temperature of the thickest portion registers 165°F. Transfer the chicken to a plate, but do not clean the pot.

chicken cooking in dutch oven
Photographer: Stacy Allen; Food Stylist : Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower

Add oil to the pot. Let it warm slightly, then add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook until the veggies have softened.

Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and chili powder until blended and cook for about a minute more.

vegetables cooking in dutch oven
Photographer: Stacy Allen; Food Stylist : Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower

Add the stock, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, and corn. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and cook for about 15 more minutes until the veggies are tender.

tortilla soup simmering
Photographer: Stacy Allen; Food Stylist : Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower

While that's cooking, shred the chicken into pieces. Whisk together warm water and masa harina in a bowl. Now stir the masa mixture and the chicken into the soup, and cook until thickened. Take the soup off the heat, and stir in the cilantro and lime juice.

tortilla soup simmering
Photographer: Stacy Allen; Food Stylist : Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower

For serving, garnish the soup with cheese, tortilla strips, hot sauce, lime wedges, and more chopped cilantro — or any combination of toppings you choose. (Or let each person at the table choose their own according to preference.)

Tortilla Soup Ingredients

This recipe for chicken tortilla soup requires more than 20 ingredients, but many are affordable and easily accessible—and most are probably in your spice cabinet, pantry, or freezer right now.

You'll need olive oil, boneless and skinless chicken breasts, chicken stock, and masa harina (corn flour). Fresh ingredients include cilantro, lime, red onion, green bell pepper, jalapeño chile, and garlic cloves. This recipe calls for frozen corn.

From the canned goods section, get diced fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, black beans, and kidney beans. For the spices, gather kosher salt, black pepper, chili powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika.

Select any garnishes you wish, including options like Jack cheese, tortilla strips, and hot sauce.

If you like a creamy tortilla soup, try Martina McBride's recipe.

Is Tortilla Soup Really Mexican?

Tortilla soup is an authentically Mexican dish with roots in the area around Mexico City.

What is chicken tortilla soup made of?

Chicken tortilla soup is typically made with a tomato or chicken base. Traditional ingredients include beans, corn, and jalapeño chile.

How Do You Thicken Up Tortilla Soup?

Masa is a thickening agent; adding more in increments will thicken up your tortilla soup. You can also thicken tortilla soup by adding more ingredients such as beans, chicken, and veggies, which will give the dish a heartier presentation with a lower ratio of liquid. Loading up on the toppings can help bulk up the soup as well.

What Does Tortilla Soup Taste Like?

This tortilla soup has a saucy tomato base — pleasantly hearty and stew-like. Cooking the chicken first in a covered pot keeps it juicy and texture-rich. The red onions, bell pepper, garlic, add texture, color, and aromatics. The fresh cilantro and lime add an acidic zing, and the corn adds both color to the soup and a sweetness that balances the acidity of the diced tomatoes.

Editorial contributions by Alesandra Dubin.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

  • 2 (8-oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided

  • 1 tsp. black pepper, divided

  • ½ tsp. chili powder, divided

  • 1 medium-size (9 oz.) red onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1 medium-size (9 oz.) green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 1 medium (1 oz.) jalapeño chile, unseeded and finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)

  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)

  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste

  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika

  • 3 cups chicken stock

  • 2 (14 1/2-oz.) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes

  • 1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 (15-oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

  • ½ cup frozen corn

  • 3 Tbsp. warm water

  • 1 Tbsp. masa harina

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (from 1 lime), plus wedges for garnish

  • Garnishes: shredded Monterey Jack cheese, tortilla strips, and hot sauce

Directions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. Sprinkle chicken evenly on both sides with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of the chili powder. Add chicken to pot; cover, and cook until golden brown on underside, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip chicken, and continue cooking until a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of chicken registers 165°F, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Do not wipe pot clean.

  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pot over medium-high. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic; cook, stirring often, scraping brown bits on bottom of pot, until vegetables have slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon chili powder until well blended; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, and corn; stir until well combined. Bring to a boil over medium-high; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors develop and vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Whisk together warm water and masa harina in a small bowl.

  4. Stir chicken and masa mixture into soup in pot; cook over medium-low, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove soup from heat; stir in cilantro and lime juice.

  5. Divide soup evenly among 6 bowls; garnish with Monterey Jack cheese, tortilla strips, hot sauce, lime wedges, and additional chopped cilantro. Serve.

Updated by
Alesandra Dubin
a woman with blonde curly hair smiles at the camera

Alesandra Dubin is an LA-based lifestyle writer and editor. As a veteran digital journalist, she's covered travel, food, parenting, and more for over 15 years. Her work has appeared in Allrecipes, TripSavvy, Town & Country, Business Insider, Marriot Traveler, Today.com, and countless other online and print outlets. She is a writer for Southern Living.

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