simple chicken tortilla soup

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Many Sundays, I share on my Instagram feed a little rundown of what we ate for dinner the week before. I call these Real Life Menus, as there’s nothing aspirational about them. There’s takeout; there’s burnout; there have been quick bean quesadillas almost once a week recently simply because they’re low-effort and they work. There’s there’s jetlag, flops, and frozen pelmeni, and there are some ambitious meals I bring to the table while telling my family how grateful they should be for me (they laugh, which is deserved).


These round-ups have also led me realize that there are a lot of recipes I make fairly often for dinner and never mention here, such as this soup. My gut feeling was that there are many very authentic recipes out there for sopa azteca or sopa de tortilla and this is absolutely not even close, or trying to be. What’s a girl to do? Well, not clutter the internet with another pale imitation of a great dish, I suppose. But comments on these menus are causing me to rethink this a bit. Maybe this is the one that will work for you at the near-to-last minute on a Tuesday night, as it always does for us, providing a meal that feels balanced, delicious, but also highly doable. Maybe this, too, is a worthwhile space to take up.

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The base of this is a light tomato broth flavored with onions, garlic, and chile. We cook some chicken in this, then shred it, and warm corn and black beans in it too. The finish of lime juice is not optional; it lifts everything. At the table, I put out a mess of toppings, including fried corn tortilla strips but yes, bagged chips, a bit crumbled, also work. I also love it with crumbled cotija, avocado, fresh cilantro, and hot sauce, since I have to keep the soup relatively mild for family harmony. I hope it becomes a part of your repertoire, too.

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Let’s talk about heat! There are so many ways to impart both chile heat and flavor here, and this recipe works with any of them: 1 minced jalapeño or serrano, or more to taste. Ground chile powder (not the spice blend for chili, the dish), chipotle powder, or even smoked hot paprika or cayenne will give it a kick. You could used a minced chipotle from a can, or just a spoonful of the puree around it. You could add some dried chiles, first toasting them in a dry pan, soaking them in hot water until soft, and blending them. Each will change the flavor of the soup slightly, and deepen it.If you only have bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, start with 1.3 pounds and cook it 5 minutes longer.

SOUP
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped (see Note about other heat options)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground chile powder (see Note about other heat options)
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see Note)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Juice of half a lime
FINISHES, CHOOSE YOUR OWN
  • Cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 1 medium avocado, sliced
  • Sour cream or Mexican crema
  • Second half of lime, cut into wedges
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Corn tortillas, cut into thin ribbons, to fry (instructions below)
  • Hot sauce
Make the soup: Heat a large or 4-quart soup pot over medium-high. Once hot, add olive oil. Once oil is hot add onion, garlic, and jalapeño and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add cumin and chile cook one minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until one shade darker, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth and stir to combine. Add chicken thighs and bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, simmering for 15 minutes, until chicken is very tender and cooked through. Remove chicken with tongs and transfer to a cutting board. Add beans and corn (optional; still frozen is fine to soup), gently simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. While it simmers, use two forks to shred chicken into bite-sized pieces. Season soup well with salt and black pepper. Return shredded chicken to soup and warm through, 1 minute. If the soup is too thick for your liking at this point, add all or part of remaining 1 cup broth and bring back to a simmer. Check seasoning again and adjust to taste.Remove from heat and squeeze lime juice of half a lime over. Serve with any finishings of your choice; shown here with avocado, cilantro, cotija, tortilla strips, and hot sauce.

Want to make fried corn tortilla strips? In a large nonstick frying pan, heat a generous 1/4-inch of a neutral/high heat-safe oil over medium-high until a drop of water flicked in sizzles dramatically. Add a handful of corn tortilla strips and cook, stirring a bit, until they begin to brown at the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop out with tongs or a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Season immediately with salt. Repeat with remaining strips. I promise, there will be no leftovers, but if there are, they keep in a bag at room temperature for a few days.

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