Tortilla soup is an authentic Mexican dish that relies heavily on species for its flavor profile. That said, most iterations are quite simple and most of the spices and seasonings easy to find (with the possible exception of epazote). Here is a look at some of the best spices for tortilla soup.
Chipotle in adobo sauce
A staple of Mexican cuisine, you should be able to find canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in most Latin grocers and the Mexican section of most major grocery stores in the United States.
The flavor is complex and encompasses tartness from the vinegary adobo sauce as well as smokiness and heat from the pepper itself. The combination is often blended in a food processor or blender, resulting in a smooth and moderately hot sauce that will add both spice and color to your tortilla soup.
Garlic is one of those spices that is considered essential for savory dishes, including most soups. It is undoubtedly an important ingredient for tortilla soup. Not only does it enhance the soup’s meatiness with its strong umami notes, but it also complements all the other flavors as well with its earthy pungency.
To get the most from the garlic in your dish, add it at the start of cooking and again closer to the end. This gives you the layered flavors from garlic cooked to different degrees.
Onions are generally considered one of the best seasonings for braised savory dishes like soups and stews and are essential to the flavor profile of tortilla soup. You can use various types of onions to get the right flavor, but the easiest to find will be yellow onions. They bring an astringent and herbaceous note that is quite different from its cousin garlic but with just as rich and savory a flavor profile.
Like garlic, you will get the best results by adding it at the start and end of the cooking process.
One of the quintessential Latin American culinary herbs, cilantro is the key finishing herb for tortilla soup. Not only will its grassiness and citrus notes brighten the soup’s flavor profile, but its bright green color will also make it more visually attractive. Sprinkle chopped cilantro over the soup just before serving it or at the table.
Sour cream adds richness and fat to tortilla soup and may turn it from a light and refreshing to a more hearty meal. For people who cannot tolerate heat, sour cream may help to tone down the spicy bite of the chipotle and make it more manageable. Sour cream will add mild acidity as well. Add a dollop to the bowl or at the table.
While black pepper isn’t always associated with Mexican food, it is important to remember that it is a staple spice south of the border as well. While it can’t compete with the spicy notes of chipotle, it can contribute a mild bitterness that will enhance the savory notes of the soup. Freshly ground black pepper is especially flavorful and will provide a little lemony complexity.
While it is nowhere near as popular as cilantro outside of Mexico, epazote is just as important to creating authentic flavors in certain Mexcian dishes like tortilla soup. It contributes a strong minty licorice note to the soup along with subtle citrus notes. Add it near the end of cooking time.