There are a lot of different versions of it but they all share some basics. Now that I have two small grandchildren here eating it, I’ve toned down the heat by using fresh pasilla chiles, grilled, de-seeded and de-veined, added carrot slices and added more cilantro for a greener, fresher tasting soup. Jasmine and Aiden love carrots with tortilla soup so carrots they get. The main ingredients of an authentic sopa de tortilla are still there, they just get a little company and the heat gets turned down.
1 quart of chicken broth
about one pound of chicken boiled and shredded
2 fresh chiles pasilla (when I’m not cooking it for my grandkids, I add two dried chile Californias and one jalapeno to the mix to make it spicy)
salt to taste
fresh cilantro. about a handful
epazote, about three or four leaves chopped*
four cloves of garlic
oil to fry the tortillas in (I use olive oil)
key limes or regular limes
I usually boil the chicken ahead of time, adding fresh thyme (tomillo in Spanish), a little fresh oregano, garlic, a quartered onion and a little bit of salt to the water as it boils. It makes for a nice, flavorful broth. Once the chicken is tender and falling off the bone, I remove it and set it to cool. I strain the broth and set it aside for later.
Grill the tomatoes, chile pasillas, the onion and the garlic on a comal or heavy cast iron skillet till they are all roasted nicely and the skin is blistering off. Peel the chiles and the tomatoes and put into the blender. Add the onion, garlic, cilantro and puree till you have a nice, smooth and thick sauce.
Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with olive oil and let it get hot. When the oil is hot, add in the puree and fry it. Lower the heat and let simmer. The sauce will reduce and start looking dark, dangerous and delicious. The smell alone is incredible. I know frying seems a little crazy after the grilling and all but trust me, the sauce needs to fry to get the flavor you want. Something happens, the flavors all break down and meld together into something incredibly rich, smoky and delectable. The soup isn’t the healthiest thing, but it’s darned good and you don’t have to have it all the time.
Slice the carrots into thin rounds and start the strained broth cooking. Add the carrots and the shredded chicken to the heating broth. When the sauce has reduced and is done, (about 15-20 minutes) remove it from the heat and pour it into the chicken broth. Stir and let simmer on low heat for about an hour.
While the soup is simmering, take a knife to the tortillas and cut them into thin, long strips. Fry them in olive oil till they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels or brown paper and set them aside.
Chop semi-firm avocados into cubes. Set aside.
Crumble queso cotija and slice small chunks of queso fresco. If you live in an area where you can’t find these cheeses, you may want to try Monterey jack. The queso cotija is a dry, hard cheese with a sharp flavor while the queso fresco is a mild, milky soft cheese. They compliment each other beautifully and some people like them both in the soup while others like one or the other. I always prepare both so my dinner guests and family can take their pick.
Chop fresh cilantro and put it into a bowl. You can also chop fresh jalapeno chiles into very tiny little cubes or slices if someone wants a bit more spice.
Slice key limes in half and put into a bowl.
We line up little bowls with all the different toppings down the middle of the table and everyone just chooses what they want.
Ladle the hot soup into a bowl and add first the crema Mexicana, then other toppings per your preference. Top with the fried tortilla strips at the very end and squeeze with a bit of lime.
*if you can’t find epazote, a mixture or oregano, cilantro and parsley will work. It won’t have that exact earthy flavor of the epazote, but it will be close.