Chicken Tortilla Soup

Story and images by Karyl Henry,

When I moved from Maryland to Oklahoma in 2007, I experienced a lot of culture shock in my first few months…much smaller town, slower drivers, southern accents, and the seasons of the year. In Maryland, it’s unusual to not be wearing hoodies and boots by early October. In Oklahoma, I’m often still wearing short sleeved shirts in early November. I love those mornings with just a slight chill in the air, when I can enjoy a cup of coffee and read the paper on my patio on a Sunday morning, and in the warm afternoons enjoy an outdoor happy hour with friends.

For many people, especially families with kids, summer means long lazy days. That all changes once kids are back in school. Homework, sports, lessons, and everything else that goes along with it means that there’s less time for relaxation. That also means you need dinner on the table quickly after a long day.

I rarely order Chicken Tortilla Soup at Mexican restaurants, but I tried one at El Mexicano in Perkins, and immediately fell in love. I’ve had it as an appetizer, and as my meal. So when I was recently looking for an easy Fall meal for a busy lifestyle, I knew that Chicken Tortilla Soup would be a perfect solution.

This Chicken Tortilla Soup is so delicious. Bold flavors, beautiful colors, hearty, and filling all in one. Not only that, it’s so easy to make. Some soups do better on the stovetop, while many others will work either on the stovetop or in the crock pot. I cook my Chicken Tortilla Soup on the stovetop but, with just a few changes, it will cook beautifully in the crock pot. On the stove, Chicken Tortilla Soup will be on the table within 30 minutes.


  • Chicken: I use rotisserie chicken, and use the dark meat pieces. I also add in the bones for extra flavor (in a piece of cheesecloth), and pull them out before serving. If cooking in a crock pot, use frozen chicken.
  • Spices: I add both jalapeno and cayenne pepper into the soup, and sweat the jalapeno early with the onions. If you don’t like a lot of spice, you can eliminate one or both, or just reduce the amount you use.
  • Broth: most of the Chicken Tortilla Soup recipes call for store-bought chicken broth. I use homemade vegetable broth, because it has so much more flavor than store-bought. Whenever I make the leap to make homemade chicken broth, I’ll use that.
  • Garlic: many recipes call for raw garlic, but I use a combination of raw and roasted. Roasted garlic has such an amazing flavor, and adds another layer of depth to any dish.
  • Tomatoes: I use fire-roasted, petite diced tomatoes. You can probably use any canned tomato, but if you use whole tomatoes you will need to cut them. So, since you’re buying the can, you might as well save yourself as many steps as possible.
  • Corn: I use frozen corn, but if you have fresh that would be perfect.


I made my own tortilla strips for this Chicken Tortilla Soup! I had no idea they are so incredibly simple to make. Or how easy they are to burn. I put a batch into the oven, and about 10 minutes later pulled out completely burnt strips. I checked the second batch after about 7 minutes and they were better, but still not great. The third batch I cooked for about 6 minutes, and got it almost perfect. So it’s a good thing I bought a large bag of tortillas.

I love avocado, and add it into as many dishes as I can. So of course they are a perfect accompaniment to the Chicken Tortilla Soup. They add a wonderful creamy texture, and help to tone down the spice.

I always add cheese to my Chicken Tortilla Soup. I don’t usually have Mexican shredded cheese on hand, but a sharp Cheddar does the trick.

Sour cream is completely optional. With the jalapeno and cayenne–and I think I double-poured my cayenne–I needed the sour cream.

Chicken Tortilla Soup is definitely on my regular meal plan, especially in the Fall and Winter. My stovetop version is on the table within 30 minutes, you can make it as spicy or as mild as you want, and you can add your choice of toppings. You definitely can’t beat that on a weekday or a weekend.

Chicken Tortilla Soup from


Tortilla Strips

  • 8 small corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt


  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, diced very small. The seeds have all the heat, so you can keep or remove, for your preference
  • 2 raw garlic cloves minced
  • 2 roasted garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 cups homemade vegetable broth (or low-sodium chicken broth)
  • one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and juice (I used petite diced, fire-roasted)
  • one 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken, bones reserved
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn (you may also use fresh uncooked corn)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional and to taste
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (if you like!)


  • diced avocado
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream


Tortilla Strips 

  1. Preheat oven to 375F, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Loosely scatter the tortilla strips, evenly drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt, toss with hands to coat evenly.
  3. Bake until crisp and lightly golden brown; set aside. Strips will burn easily, so check them after about 6 minutes. Depending on how many strips you make, it will take 6-12 minutes to get golden brown.


  1. To a large stockpot or Dutch Oven, add 2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil and heat over medium-high heat to warm.
  2. Add the onion, jalapeno, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. 
  4. OPTIONAL: Place chicken bones in a piece of cheesecloth, and tie closed with string. The bones will add more flavor to the soup.
  5. Add the chicken, bones, broth, tomatoes and juice, black beans, corn, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt, pepper, smoked paprika, optional cayenne pepper.
  6. Bring to a boil. Allow mixture to boil gently for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. Add the cilantro and boil 1 minute.
  8. Taste soup. You will probably not need to add any salt, but if so, add sparingly. Soup can get very salty very quickly. Once it’s in there, you can’t take it out.
  9. Remove cheesecloth with chicken bones.
  10. Add a little more fresh lime juice, and fresh cilantro (optional).
  11. Ladle soup into bowls, top with tortilla strips, avocado, cheese and sour cream.
  12. Soup will keep airtight in the fridge for 5 to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.