This authentic Mexican Tortilla Soup recipe, adapted from Rick Bayless, is the best chicken tortilla soup that I've ever had. Bright and acidic with smoky and spicy undertones. The trick? A flavor-packed soup base made from toasted dried ancho chiles and fire-roasted tomatoes. Top with chopped avocado, grated cheddar, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips, and a squeeze of lime juice and serve as a healthy main course.
1can (14½-ounces)fire-roasted tomatoesI strongly recommend and prefer Muir Glen brand
2tablespoonsextra virgin olive oil
1large yellow onionmedium dice
4large garlic clovesroughly chopped
2quarts (8 cups)low-sodium chicken broth
5 ouncesbaby kale (or 1 bunch collard greens or curly kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped into small pieces)
1½lbs boneless skinless chicken breastscut into ¾-inch cubes
kosher saltto taste
freshly ground black pepperto taste
juicefrom half a lime
fresh lime wedges
corn tortilla chipscrushed
freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
diced ripe avocado
fresh cilantro leaves
Using metal tongs, toast the chiles carefully over an open flame (using a gas burner–or alternatively, in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat) until they are pliable, slightly blistered, and very fragrant. Set aside on a cutting board to cool. Cut in half, and scrape out and discard the seeds and stems. Cut the chilis into small pieces and place in a high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix) along with the canned fire-roasted tomatoes and their juices. Set aside for later.
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and a large sprinkle of kosher salt. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring continuously, until fragrant. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the cooked onion and garlic mixture to the blender with the chilis and fire-roasted tomatoes. Puree the ingredients together, scraping down the blender if necessary, until the chilis have been fully integrated and the mixture is completely smooth and dark orange-red in color.
Return the empty soup pot to high heat. Once the pot is very hot, add the pureed tomato chili mixture all at once–it should sizzle immediately when it hits the pan. Continue to cook over high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the mixture thickens and concentrates substantially. It will splutter and bubble a bit. Once ready, the mixture should be slightly darker in color and resemble the thickness of a loose tomato paste.
Add the chicken broth to the pot and combine thoroughly using a spoon or whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow the broth to lightly simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the broth with salt and pepper. If the broth tastes at all flat, you most likely haven't added enough salt.
Over low heat, add the greens and stir until fully incorporated. Allow the greens to cook at a low simmer (baby kale will take just a minute or two; collards or curly kale may take 5 to 7 minutes total), until they are very tender. Add the chicken and stir to distribute. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes over very low heat, stirring once or twice, until the chicken has just cooked through (this will not take long, so watch the pot carefully to avoid overcooking it). Just before serving, add the juice of half a lime. Taste once again, seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve hot and garnish with toppings (or alternatively, place desired toppings in the empty soup bowls and ladle the soup directly over them).
TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
Make Dairy Free: Omit the grated cheese topping.
Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers. You can usually find them in the international aisle (alongside Mexican or Spanish ingredients) or occasionally in the refrigerated produce area near other dried chiles. They are large, nearly black in color, and very wrinkly – and sometimes mislabeled as ancho pasilla chiles.
Slightly thicker tortilla chips work better for this soup, as they will hold their shape better as they integrate into the hot soup. I don’t recommend super thin chips for this as they will dissolve fairly quickly, which is not ideal.
The chicken breasts can be substituted with shredded rotisserie chicken if you prefer (it’s just as good, if not better). If using this, stir in just before serving and allow the chicken to just heat through.