Chicken Tortilla Soup

(Claire is back today to tell us about the great "Is soup a meal?" debate and her chicken tortilla soup!)

4 years of making this soup and all I have to show for it is this lousy photo

4 years of making this soup and all I have to show for it is this lousy photo

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think soup is a meal and those who do not. Seinfeld devoted air time to this raging debate. Relationships have ended over it (true story). My husband and I have this debate at the start of every autumn, when I start adding butternut squash soup into the rotation and he wants to know what else we're having for dinner. 

I am firmly in the first camp.  My husband thinks soup is a side dish or an appetizer. But, a funny thing happens when I make this soup. There is no debate. It is so flavorful, so satisfying, so layered, that there is no need for argument, or really, any conversation at all, since we are too busy slurping it down. 

All you need to know is this soup is much easier than it looks. The list of ingredients seems long, but all comes together really quickly. The soup base is really the star here, so you do want to take the time to develop the flavors. Store bought chicken stock is fine, but if you made chicken stock from your leftover bones (from your lazy Sunday, perhaps?), this is the perfect place to use it! I've also used water in the past, and it's perfectly serviceable. Your garnishes are up to you, but whatever you choose, don't skip the tortilla strips! The flour tortillas crisp up really well, and turn into noodles after sitting in the soup for a while. I promise, a bowl of this will convince anyone that soup is certainly a meal!

Chicken Tortilla Soup


1 tbsp canola oil, plus more for tortilla strips

1 large white onion, sliced

1 jalapeno, roughly chopped, seeds removed (or not if you like things spicaayyyy)

3 dried chipotle chilies, halved and stems removed*

2 tomatoes

½ tbsp. dried oregano

½ tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

½ tbsp. cumin

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp paprika

1-2 cups shredded chicken**

2 cups frozen corn

1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro

3 tbsp fresh lime juice

4 cups chicken stocks

Suggested Garnish:

Crumbled queso fresco

Sour cream

Diced avocado

Fried tortilla strip***

  1. Heat 1 TBSP canola oil in bottom of large dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. If using split chicken breasts, place chicken skin side down and cook for 5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from pot and place on large plate. Set aside. If using shredded chicken, proceed to step 2.
  2. Add sliced onion and chopped jalapeno into pot. Saute until soft, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, fill a small saucepan with water 2/3 full and bring to a boil. Score the bottom of each tomato with an "x", and boil tomatoes in water for 1-2 minutes. Remove from pot, let cool, and peel skin away. Cut into quarters.
  4. Add tomatoes to onions and peppers, along with chipotle, oregano, and cumin. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add chicken stock to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. If using chicken breasts, remove skin from cooled chicken, and place chicken back into pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. If using shredded chicken, proceed to next step.
  6. Remove all but 2 chipotle halves from pot. Using an immersion blender, blend the broth and vegetables until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, simply transfer broth and vegetables to a blender and puree. (Do this in small batches to avoid a ceiling full of soup!)
  7. Pour the pureed soup back into the pot, and stir in paprika, chile powder, garlic powder, onion powder. Add salt to taste. Stir in frozen corn and shredded chicken. Bring back to a boil and simmer for at least 5 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld.
  8. If using chicken breast, shred the chicken off the bone and add the chicken to the pot. Bring back to a boil and simmer for at least 5 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld.
  9. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and lime juice.
  10. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with tortilla strips, cheese, avocado, and/or sour cream.

*These can be hard to find, but I've had good luck at Whole Foods. I happen to have a stash of crushed chipotle pepper that a lovely blogger sent me from Hatch, New Mexico, so I often use a tablespoon or so of that. If you can't find dried chipotles, feel free to substitute another dried chile, like an ancho. Be careful with canned chipotles, as they can impart a vinegary flavor you aren't really looking for here.

**if you don't have shredded chicken on hand, use two bone in, skin on split chicken breasts. I've included instructions for this above.

***Cut two flour tortillas into strips. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in bottom of a frying pan until shimmering.  Stir the strips around until they get golden and crispy, working in batches if needed to avoid crowding the pan. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.