It was one of the top-selling soups at our Puerto Mio resort in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. It surprised me as well. Hot soup on a hot beach? But soups are a big thing in Mexico. Hot or cold, they are part of the dining experience–in restaurants and in homes.
And sopa de tortilla is one of the country’s favorite soups. Every restaurant, abuela (grandmother) and household knows how to make an iteration of sopa de tortilla. To make the soup at our restaurant La Cala even more distinctive, Chef Sabino added shrimp shells to deepen and enrich the flavor of a traditionally thin broth. Then he added shrimp to give it some oomph.
We served this sopa de tortilla con camarones (tortilla soup with shrimp) in an individual cazuela with a lid, which the waiter lifted once he placed the covered bowl in front of the guest. The smell was intoxicating and the bowls were always empty when the waiter returned. It was an enchanting soup that everyone loved and one that I miss. I have been wanting to make sopa de tortilla for, well, about 20 years. Though I have eaten hundreds of bowls of soup at our resort and other restaurants over the year, I had not made it. And, no, I don’t have Sabino’s recipe so I was on my own.
A Common Mexican Soup
A friend who lives in Mexico recently made sopa de tortilla for her and her husband and sent me a picture. She reminded me how easy it is and how much they love it. She said it’s a staple in their culinary repertoire.
Coincidentally, her timing couldn’t have been better. I had a cookbook from the library with a recipe for sopa de tortilla. It had sparked my interest because it was so simple and, with a nudge from my amiga, I was finally inspired to make it. The recipe I adapted hails from Mery Martinez’s cookbook, The Mexican Home Kitchen, which includes more than 85 authentic Mexican dishes.
Rainy Days and Soup
Though I wanted to make this soup and had the ingredients for a while, I hesitated because of the increasingly warm weather in Santa Fe. Surprisingly, it hailed and rained last Saturday which brought some cool weather and I happily took this as a sign to make sopa de tortilla.
With a handful of ingredients and store-bought broth, this soup comes together in less than 30 minutes but tastes like it’s cooked for days. The rich broth is thickened by dry roasting a few tomatoes, half an onion and two garlic pods on a comal or skillet. The broth’s deep red color comes not only from the roasted tomatoes but two–and only two–dried pasilla chiles that soften in warm water. Once tender, remove the stem, slice the chiles into rings and add them to the blender with the roasted tomatoes, onion, garlic and a cup of broth and puree until smooth. This becomes the base of the soup, along with more broth. Cook the soup for about 15 minutes to reduce slightly and thicken a touch.
And that’s it.
The Toppings Make It a Meal
All that’s left is to add the toppings–which can be few or many. If you want to make this super simple soup seem even more mystical, go for many toppings which is how it becomes a meal.
You’ll want diced white onion, finely chopped cilantro, a handful of crushed tortilla chips (I use Zack’s Mighty Organic Tortilla Chips, which is one of my new favorite packaged foods), small chunks of panela cheese, lots of cubed avocado and anything else that strikes you as a possible topping. The partnering of the crispy crushed tortilla chips, the slightly spicy broth and creamy avocado and you’re back in Mexico with every bite.
Serve this soup with a quesadilla and small salad and you’ll be anywhere but where you are. Sip a tequila or a cerveza (or both) and you may not need a vacation after all. Who are we kidding? We all need a post-Covid vacation. But, until then, this soup will satiate our longing for authentic Mexican food at home.
Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup)
This seriously simple soup calls for a few ingredients and store-bought broth. All you need is a comal or skillet, blender, soup pot and 30 minutes. I used to think this soup was complicated because the flavors are so rich and complicated. But it's surprisingly easy--especially when you don't fry your own tortilla chips, but use Zack's Mighty or other store-bought brand. The fun part is adding the toppings, so invite some friends over and start your Mexican-themed meal with this soup that will tantalize the tastebuds and prime everyone for a gathering they won't soon forget. Or be bold and make the soup the meal and have a ton of toppings for people to dress their soup however they want.
- 4 Roma tomatoes
- 1/2 white onion cut the half onion in half again or thirds, depending on its size
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 dried pasilla chiles
- 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 4 epazote leaves
- Kosher or sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- white onions diced
- cilantro chopped
- Panela cheese cubed
- crispy tortilla chips I use Zack's Mighty Organic
- avocado cubed
Preheat a comal or large skillet over medium-high heat, then place the tomatoes, onion and garlic. Turn the vegetables every 2 minutes, so they roast evenly. Once roasted, peel the tomatoes and garlic.
While the vegetables are dry roasting, place the two pasilla peppers in warm water and let them reconstitute for about 10 minutes. Once they are softened, remove the stem and chop them into rings.
Place the roasted vegetables in a blender, add the chopped and softened pasilla peppers and one cup of broth and blend until smooth.
In a soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable, olive oil or grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Pour the tomato puree from the blender into the pot and cook for 3 minutes. Once the sauce begins to boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. The sauce will reduce and the color will darken.
Add the remaining broth to the soup pot, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the beat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Add the epazote leaves and season with salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer 3 more minutes.
Ladle the soup in bowls and top with the crushed tortilla chips and a good squeeze of lime in each.
Place the toppings in serving dishes for everyone to add to their own bowls
Refrigerate any leftover soup for up to 5 days or freeze.