Tortilla Soup

February 3, 2009

White bowl of tortilla soup on a dark brown wooden table. Soup is garnished with tortilla strips and a slice of avocado

I love a variety of cuisines from around the world, and one of my favorites is definitely Latin cuisine. Whether it’s Mexican, Cuban, or some other Latin American fare, I enjoy many of the common flavors and textures of beans, rice, limes, cilantro, tomatoes and spicy chilies. As I try to think back to the first time I had tortilla soup, I can’t quite remember when and where I tried it, but all I know is that I loved it.

To help combat the winter weather (I still have chills from standing out on the National Mall for hours during Obama’s Inauguration ceremony) I looked through some of my cookbooks for inspiration on a good soup. Although, tortilla soup is usually made with chicken broth, I had no hesitation about trying Deborah Madison’s tortilla soup recipe in her cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I’ve tried several recipes from this cookbook, and I’ve enjoyed every one.

Image 1: Soup ingredients on a counter - organic corn tortillas, can of tomato sauce, herbs, limes, queso fresco, onions, jalapeños; Image 2: Sliced onions, four garlic cloves and two green jalapeños on a cookies sheet

Madison’s tortilla soup recipe starts with her red stock vegetable broth made from scratch. I’ve been trying to provide my readers with recipes that are fairly easy and quick to make, so I made several adaptations to Madison’s recipe to come up with a tortilla soup that takes a little less time to make but is still very flavorful.

Image 1: Roasted jalapeños and onions; Image 2: Roasted onions and jalapeños in an uncovered blender

My version of the soup calls for a quality store-bought, organic vegetable broth and canned tomato sauce. When tomatoes aren’t in season, canned tomatoes or tomato sauces are your best bet for peak flavor. Roasted onions, jalapeño peppers and garlic are also key ingredients to the soup’s base, and the avocado, cilantro and lime garnish along with tortilla strips are the ingredients that truly make the soup for me.

Image 1: Uncooked corn tortillas cut into strips on a cutting board with a half lime; Image 2: Fried tortilla strips on a paper towel in a white bowl

I tried the soup with a garnish of crumbled store-bought tortilla chips, but it didn’t give me the flavor or texture that I love in a good tortilla soup. So, I took a shot at making my own tortilla chips, and now there’s no turning back! From here on out I think I’ll stick to frying my own tortilla chips. They were so good! I made thin strips for the soup, but then I also made some regular triangular tortilla chips and I loved the flavor.

Image 1: Fried triangular tortilla chips on a paper towel in a white bowl; Image 2: Tortilla soup garnished with queso fresco, tortilla strips and avocado in a white bowl with a spoon in the soup

So give this recipe a try along with frying your own tortilla chips. The chips may take you a couple of tries to make sure you have the temperature of the oil just right (I burned one batch of chips because my oil was too hot), but don’t get discouraged. Keep your eye on the chips as they fry. Once the oil is hot, it only takes about a minute to a minute and a half to have crunchy chips to go with a tasty soup.

Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 6

4 Garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 Jalapeño peppers
1-1/2 Large onion, peeled, halved and sliced
3 tablespoons Canola oil
2 cups Canned tomato sauce (two 8-oz cans or one 15-oz can)
6 cups Vegetable broth (1-1/2 quarts)
2 sprigs Fresh thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 tablespoon Fresh oregano leaves, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 tablespoons Fresh cilantro, chopped plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 Lime
1 teaspoon Salt (salt to taste)

Quick squeeze of lime juice per bowl (about 1 or 2 teaspoons each)
Queso fresco (or shredded Mexican cheese)
Tortilla strips (recipe follows)
1 Ripe avocado, sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place jalapeños, sliced onions and garlic cloves on a baking sheet pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon canola oil. Roast in oven for 25 – 30 minutes turning the the jalapeños over once they begin to brown or blister on one side. Remove the garlic cloves from oven after 15 minutes (before the jalapeños and onions are roasted). Onions will be charred on the ends when done. Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes.

Cut off the stem-end of the jalapeños and cut in half length-wise. Scrape out the seeds and veins. Add the jalapeños, onions and peeled garlic cloves to a blender along with the tomato sauce and puree until smooth.

Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large sauce pan over medium heat. Add puree and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, thyme, oregano and salt. Stir and increase heat to medium-high. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Add chopped cilantro and lime juice, and simmer soup for another 5 minutes or so. Salt more to taste if necessary.

Serve soup in bowls garnished with 2 slices of avocado, a splash of lime juice, crumbled queso fresco or shredded cheese, a handful of crispy tortilla strips, and a pinch of finely chopped cilantro. 

Tortilla Strips/Chips

Corn Tortillas
1/2 to 1 cup Canola Oil

Cut corn tortillas into long thin strips, and then cut in half to give you strips about 2 inches long. If making chips, cut tortillas across two or three times (like pizza wedges) to make triangles.

Heat oil on medium-high in a large pot (oil should be about 2 inches deep). Drop a tiny piece of tortilla in the oil. If it begins to sizzle and fry quickly without immediately turning brown and burning, your oil is ready. If it barely sizzles at all, the oil is not hot enough.

Add strips or triangles to the hot oil. Do not over crowd the pot. Fry in batches if necessary. Oil will immediately bubble up as it begins to fry the tortillas. Move tortillas around gently with a wide slotted spoon or wire spider. After about a minute to a minute and a half, tortillas should be crispy and light golden brown. Remove tortillas from oil and drain over a couple sheets of paper towels. Immediately sprinkle salt over strips/chips. Serve.


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Filed Under Appetizers, International Flavors, Soups, Vegetarian/Conversions | 1 Comment Print This Post


One Response to “Tortilla Soup”

  1. Luna on January 11th, 2010 5:42 pm

    Greetings from NWLA! The weather here is COLD, and at times below freezing 17-20! I found myself looking through my recp box in search of some good soups, and well, i found nothing new to try :o).

    I came to your site and I think I wanna try this soup and attempt to make some of the chips. Thanks so much for sharing what you do!

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