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The Real Tortilla Soup: Sopa Azteca

by Daniela Lee on April 09, 2024


Sopa Azteca, also known as tortilla soup, is a traditional Mexican treasure that has become a staple in the hearts and kitchens of people worldwide. 

Although its exact origins are unknown, most experts agree that the soup originated in central Mexico, where pasilla chiles—which are available in the United States under the name chile negro—are the preferred chile for flavoring soups. Some regions of Mexico prefer the spicier chile de arbol or the smokier, slightly sweeter chile ancho. 

This delectable soup is made from a light broth scented with pasilla chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and epazote, topped with fried tortilla strips. The best part? All the garnishes that come with it! We are talking about shredded chicken, avocado, fried pasilla chile strips, chicharrones, panela cheese, Mexican crema, cilantro, and lime. All in all, sopa Azteca is more than a meal but a cultural experience.

It's a flavorful and comforting dish that brings Mexico's rich heritage to your table, perfect for any occasion! 

 Check out this great recipe to follow if you'd like to try making sopa Azteca at home. Here's the link for more info!



For the tortillas:

  • 8 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
  • 1 - 1 ½ cups avocado or canola oil for frying
  • Sea salt

For the chicken:

  • 2 bone-in leg quarters, skin, and most of the fat removed
  • ¼ large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (or 1 tablespoon kosher salt)
  • 2-3 bay leaves, depending on size
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 6 cups water

For the tomato chile base:

  • 4 dried pasilla chiles (chile negro), divided
  • 4 large Roma tomatoes 
  • ½-inch thick slice of onion
  • 2 small or 1 large clove of garlic, skins still on
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole Mexican oregano
  • Water, as needed


  • 4 or 5 limes, cut length-wise into wedges
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Store-bought chicharrones
  • ¼ pound panela cheese or queso fresco, coarsely crumbled by hand
  • ½ cup Mexican crema (or sour cream to which the juice of 1/2 lime has been incorporated)
  • Whole Mexican oregano
  • Fried tortilla strips
  • Fried chile ribbons 


Fry the chips:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Arrange 8 tortillas on a large baking sheet (slight overlapping is fine).
  3. Bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the tortillas from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the oil to a 2-quart saucepan and heat to shimmering.
  6. While oil heats, cut the tortillas in half, then slice each half into ¼-inch strips.
  7. When the oil is shimmering, add a couple of handfuls of the prepared tortillas, using a slotted spoon to keep them moving and prevent them from sticking to each other.
  8. Fry until just getting color, remove them to a paper-towel-lined plate, and hit them with a sprinkle of salt.
  9. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, then set aside.

 Cook the chicken: 

  1. Place all the ingredients for the chicken into a stock pot. 
  2. Bring to a hard boil, lower the heat to medium-low or sustain a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes. 
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool for 15 minutes before shredding it.
  4. Place the chicken in a bowl and ladle ½ cup of broth to moisten it while you continue the prep. 
  5. Strain the broth, discarding the spent onion, garlic, and seeds; set the broth aside. 

Prep the chiles:  

  1. Return the pot with the oil you used to make the chips on the stove and heat it until it shimmers. 
  2. Cut the stems off the chiles. Slit them length-wise to open and remove the seeds. 
  3. Transfer three of the chiles to another small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow it to steep for 15 minutes. 
  4. Take up the fourth chile and cut it (short-side) into thin ribbons. 
  5. Place these ribbons into a metal strainer. Once the oil is hot, lower the strainer into the hot oil for 10 seconds. 
  6. Remove the chiles and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil. Set aside. These will be part of the garnish choices.

Char the vegetables: 

  1. Heat a griddle or large skillet (cast iron is ideal). Once heated, add the tomatoes, onion slices, and garlic. 
  2. Cook until blackened, flipping occasionally. Since onions burn easily, remove them and place them in a blender jar beforehand.
  3.  The garlic is next; peel it and add it to the blender. 
  4. When the tomatoes are ripe, add them to the blender. It may take up to 15 minutes for the tomatoes to brown on most sides.

Making the sauce: 

  1. Combine the rehydrated chiles with the remaining veggies in a blender. Blend in ½ cup of the liquid used to soak the chilies until smooth. (This might take a few cycles to blend before your desired consistency)
  2. In a 6-quart soup pot, add 2 tablespoons of the tortilla-frying oil and heat until shimmering.
  3. In the meantime, transfer the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer over a big bowl, pressing it with a spatula. 
  4. Pour 1/2 a cup of chicken broth into the blender jar, whirl to "clean" the jar, and then pour the liquid through a strainer into the previously strained sauce. Throw away the pulp.
  5. Carefully pour the sauce into the soup pot's now-hot oil, being careful as it may spit up.
  6. Stir, then reduce heat to medium-low and let the sauce reduce by half, around 15 minutes. 

 Finishing the soup:

  1. After the sauce has reduced and simmered, add the strained chicken broth and whisk to mix.
  2. Add salt to taste.
  3. Let the soup simmer for 15 minutes, scraping off any foam that could form on top.


  1. Place your prepared garnishes on the dining table in small bowls or ramekins.
  2. Pour part of the shredded chicken and broth into each bowl. Add some zest with a lime, and finally, throw in all the garnishing you want! 
  3. Enjoy!


Have you tried Sopa Azteca? If so, what do you think? Let me know in the comments!




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