Eating this chicken tortilla soup is like being enveloped in a warm hug. The first bite warms you up from the inside on a cool, fall evening. It is rich and hearty, comforting and indulgent, all without compromising its integrity as a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with vegetables, beans, and lean protein, this soup is in reality a one pot meal and one of my all-time favorites to prepare. And did I mention that it’s low-fat (as long as you don’t load up too much on the toppings!)?
I love spicy food and have pretty much desensitized my kids to it too, so I add freshly diced jalapenos (seeded, of course). You don’t have to do it if you don’t care for spicy. I won’t just judge. Okay, maybe a little. No, really I won’t. If you do add it though, a word to the wise: do not touch the seeds and the membranes! Use a spoon to scrape out them out.They will burn your hands (and any other skin the juice gets on) and you will want to plunge them into a bucket of ice until the end of time.
Funny story, the summer the Mr. and I got married, he moved back to Kansas City to wrap up loose ends before moving to up here. One day, he decided to cook for his extended family and asked me for an Indian chicken recipe. I gave him one that called for a few jalapenos grinded to a paste and rubbed all over the chicken, along with some yogurt. I forgot to tell him to use a spoon to incorporate the chicken into the marinade, and did it make for a memorable story when he called to ask me how to make his face stop feeling like it was set on fire! After I laughed (and figured out how to make the burning stop — hint, lots of his grandmother’s face cream), we renamed that particular dish “burning face chicken”. So when I tell you, do not touch the seeds and membrane, I mean do not not create your own burning face chicken moment.
The secret to the flavor in this soup is adding tortilla strips while it simmers so that the tortillas fall apart and dissolve into the liquid, acting as both a thickening agent as well as a flavor enhancer. It gives it a smoother consistency than using a cornmeal slurry and gives the liquid more body than plain broth alone.I have also found that I prefer pieces of chicken in the soup, rather than shredded chicken. I find that diced chicken adds another dimension of texture when paired with the soft, aromatic vegetables, rich broth, and plump, juicy corn. Shredded chicken often becomes pasty and distracts from the overall dish. If you’re a die-hard shredded chicken fan, then by all means, cook the chicken with the aromatics, pull it out, shred and add it back in, before adding the tortillas.
Adding to the richness of the tortillas, chicken broth will bring extra depth and flavor. If you have it on hand, homemade chicken broth is best. I like to make it every couple months and store it in one cup portions in the freezer. Boxed is fine too, and if you must, you can use chicken bouillon cubes, dissolved in water (2 cups water per cube). If you want to make it a vegetarian tortilla soup, simply omit the chicken and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.
Now to the fun part: toppings! Allow your imagination to run wild–through your fridge and pantry. You can add cool, creamy, avocado; tangy sour cream; crunchy tortilla chips; gooey, melty cheese; zesty onions; fresh juicy limes; diced sweet tomatoes; salty pepitas (roasted pumpkins seeds). The list is long and the toppings are endless. Remember though, if you’re trying to keep it light, don’t overdo the toppings or the calories will quickly add up!
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
- 1 lb chicken breast, cubed
- 2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
- 15 oz cooked black beans
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced (optional)*
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth**
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- for toppings (optional):
- ½ red onion, finely diced
- diced tomato
- shredded cheese of your choice
- sliced avocado
- sour cream
- tortilla chips
- In a large pot, heat oil on medium high. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the peppers and sprinkle in salt. Cook until vegetables become tender, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add chicken and cook until fully cooked, and juices run clear, about 5 minutes.
- Add cumin, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper and stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add in tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, stirring to incorporate.
- Add black beans and chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Add corn kernels. Cover pot and let simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add tortilla strips. They will start to soften into the liquid. Recover pot and continue simmering for 20-30 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Take off heat and serve immediately with toppings of choice.
**2 chicken bouillon cubes may be substituted, dissolved in 4 cups of hot water (adjust the salt accordingly)