Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup) Recipe
I know we ate Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup) on our first trip to Mexico City many years ago although I can’t remember exactly where, and I can’t recall whether the recipe is even in Diana Kennedy’s tome on Mexican cuisine, The Art of Mexican Cooking, which I used for many years. What I do know is that I’ve been making this soup for longer than I can remember.
Sopa de Tortilla is very simple to make, although it’s also easy to make a bad version of it. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of horrid versions of it: too weak, too many tomatoes, under-seasoned. And that was just on this trip to Mexico. So why is it so hard to find — in Mexico — someone who can follow a good Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup) recipe?
Firstly, it’s important to get the stock right. Most stock-based soups were invented to extend the yield from meats that are used in a kitchen. But the quality of the stock made is as important as the quality of meat purchased.
Even if you only make stock as a home cook a few times in your life, at least try it. Only then can you judge other stocks and compare them to the store-bought varieties — most of which I find way too salty — the saltiness there to disguise the lack of depth of flavour in the actual stock.
How important is stock to cooking? I’ve never been in a Michelin-star kitchen during prep and not seen an apprentice chef dutifully clarifying stocks. It’s that important.
After the stock, the next ingredient of importance to this soup are the chiles. You have to use the right chiles and you have to treat them well.
If you can’t get the chiles listed in the recipe, honestly, don’t bother making the soup. It has an incredible bearing on the flavour.
Lastly, let people garnish their own soups at the table. Some people don’t like certain garnishes, some people like more fried tortilla strips than others. Whatever you do, don’t deliver Sopa de Tortilla with soggy tortilla chips. Ever.
When I attended Marilau’s excellent cooking class in San Miguel, I told her that I wanted to learn her version of tortilla soup. Thankfully, mine was quite similar to hers.
I’ve combined a few tips from Marilau’s version with my old recipe that I’ve been using for years. I’ve used Marilau’s amount of chilis in the recipe below, but I actually prefer a spicier soup and use two Ancho chiles in mine.
But try this Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup) recipe first — you can add toasted and sliced chilis to the bowl as well if it’s not hot enough for you.
- 1 Chile Ancho or 2 Chiles Guajillos
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil or lard
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomato
- 8 white corn tortillas, one day old
- 4 cups hearty chicken stock (I’ll look the other way if you want to use store-bought stock)
- Quality freshly-ground salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla strips
- ½ large avocado or one whole small (diced just before serving)
- 3 tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro
- Sour cream
- Mexican Manchego cheese (cow’s cheese)
- 1 lime wedge per serving
- In a pan over medium heat, toast the chile(s) a little, turning constantly, until you can detect a whiff of strong chile.
- In a pan of water just off the boil, place the chile(s) in the water; you can cut the corner of the chile(s) to help them stay under the water. Soak for 15–20 minutes.
- Carefully de-vein and de-seed the chile(s) and chop roughly.
- Place the chile(s), onion, garlic, tomatoes and one cup of stock in a blender.
- Puree the ingredients and strain through a sieve.
- Add the rest of the chicken stock and season to taste.
- Cut two of the tortillas into thin strips and the rest into small squares. Heat the oil on a pan and over high heat fry the tortilla strips until they’re coloured and crispy. Do the same with the squares and place them on paper towels to soak up any oil.
- When you’re ready to serve, prepare the garnishes.
- Serve the soup in the bowls and add some tortilla strips to add a little texture and sprinkle with a little coriander/cilantro to make it pretty. If you’re feeling creative you can also finish with a little flourish of sour cream.
- Serve with plenty of cold beer or a spicy, icy Michelada.