Tortilla Soup – Texas Style

Google tortilla soup recipes, and it’s slim pickings, with only 1.9 million, give or take 60,000, to choose from. The problem obviously isn’t the quantity, it’s the quality. How do you know which one to try?

It depends on what kind of tortilla soup you’re looking for. I’ve tasted plenty of tortilla soups over the years, and I’ve made a few, too, so I know they come in all forms and fashions. Thick or thin, rich or lean, spicy or mild.

This version is not your typical tortilla soup, although after finding almost 2 million recipes, I’m not sure what typical tortilla soup is anymore. What I am sure of is this version has all the flavors I love in a tortilla soup — cumin, chile, and garlic, with a bit of tortilla crunch. It’s hearty, spicy, and loaded with plenty of chicken and vegetables — almost like a stew with tortilla soup flavors.

I want to point out it calls for ancho chile paste you make yourself.  It’s easy, and the recipe is below. You can, in a pinch, substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons of dry ancho chile powder in place of the tablespoon of ancho paste, although it doesn’t deliver quite the same, rich taste.

Once you have all your ingredients assembled and prepped, cooking the soup doesn’t take that long, maybe 20-25 minutes. So look at the ingredient list and see what you can prep ahead of time (the tortilla strips can be made while you’re prepping the ingredients for the soup, or even a day or two ahead of time).

Texas-Style Tortilla Soup

from my cookbook, Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook

[print recipe]

Serves 6

1 tablespoon butter
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups corn kernels (fresh preferably, or frozen)
1 cup seeded and chopped tomato
1 jalapeño, minced (remove seeds 1st for less heat)
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped mild green chiles
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile paste* (or 1-1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder)
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano**
2 teaspoons commercial chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
Juice of 1/2 a lime

2 cups fried thin tortilla strips***
3 large avocados, peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons sour cream


1. Melt butter in a stockpot over medium heat.  Stir in onions and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 2 to 3 more minutes.

2. Stir in corn, tomatoes, jalapeño, green chiles, and spices (cumin through black pepper), cooking another minute or so.

3. Stir in chicken stock.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Stir in chicken and cilantro.  Bring to a boil. Meanwhile whisk cornstarch and water together.  Whisk mixture (called a slurry) into boiling soup.  Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes (it will thicken slightly as soon as it comes to a boil).

5. Stir in lime juice. Taste and season with salt if needed.

6. Ladle into warm soup bowls.  Garnish with fried tortilla strips, avocado chunks, and a tablespoon of sour cream.

*Ancho Chile Paste

Anchos are the dried form of the poblano pepper. Fresh dried anchos will be soft and pliable. If they are hard and brittle, they are old, and will not be as flavorful. Look for them at a Latin or Mexican market with high turnover on the produce.It’s a good idea to wear disposable latex gloves to protect your hands from the heat of the chiles.

Makes ~ 1/3 cup

3 ancho chiles
1 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

Remove stems and seeds from ancho chiles. Toast chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about a minute or two, turning frequently to prevent over-toasting.  Place chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water mixed with the vinegar.  Rehydrate for 30 minutes.  Purée chiles in a blender with just enough of the soaking liquid to make a thick paste (think tomato paste consistency). Freeze any leftover sauce for another time.

** Mexican oregano is not the same herb as the more common Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano is more finely ground and a brighter olive green color.  Look for Mexican oregano on the Mexican food aisle of your grocery store.

*** Fried Tortilla Strips

12 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt or chile powder

Cut tortillas in half and then slice each half into thin (julienne) strips. Pour enough vegetable oil in a skillet to come to a 1/2-inch depth. Heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot (350 degrees). Fry tortilla strips, in a couple batches so you don’t overcrowd the skillet, until golden brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with seasoned salt or chile powder. You can make these a day or two in advance and keep in an airtight container at room temperature.

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