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Horizontal overhead image of a gray ceramic bowl of vegetarian soup with a spoon, garnished with fried tortilla chips, chopped cilantro, sour cream, and avocado, on a gray surface with more garnishes scattered around and on a plate at the top left, with dried red chilies de arbol on a folded white cloth napkin to the right.

Spicy and Creamy Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

  • Author: Lori Jo Hendrix
  • Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Yield: 5 1/2 cups 1x


If smoky, aromatic Mexican flavors fire you up, this creamy, vegetarian-friendly tortilla soup will satisfy all your spicy wishes.


  • 1 small sweet onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into quarters
  • 2 small jalapeno peppers, halved with seeds and ribs removed
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 dried chile de árbol peppers, stems removed and seeded
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (seasoning blend)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 14-ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup (or agave)
  • 3 cups homemade or low-sodium vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1 lime (plus additional lime wedges for garnish)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 4 corn tortillas, cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into chunks
  • Small handful cilantro, rough chopped
  • Sliced or pickled jalapenos (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the onions, peppers, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  3. Roast until the garlic cloves are golden, about 8-10 minutes, and then remove them from the baking sheet. Toss the remaining veggies to make sure they get evenly browned on all sides and then return them to the oven. Cook until the peppers and onions are golden and lightly blistered, about 5 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the veggies to cool on the pan.
  4. Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Pour it over the árbol peppers in a medium-sized bowl. Steep until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree, or puree with a handheld immersion blender. Strain through a fine mesh sieve for a smooth texture.
  5. Slide the garlic cloves out of their skins. Rough chop all of the vegetables.
  6. In a medium-sized saucepot over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the chopped roasted onions, peppers, and garlic and season them with the oregano, chili powder, and cumin. Stir to combine.
  7. Deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Stir in the fire roasted tomatoes, maple syrup, vegetable stock, pepper puree, and lime juice.
  8. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.
  9. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed skillet like a cast iron pan or a Dutch oven, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil over medium heat. Fry the tortilla strips until golden brown, about 30-45 seconds. Remove and set them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Sprinkle generously with salt while they’re still hot.
  10. A little at a time, whisk the half-and-half into the soup until it’s thick and creamy. Season to taste with additional salt.
  11. Divide the soup among bowls and garnish with your choice of toppings: a dollop of sour cream, a pinch of fried tortilla strips, avocado, cilantro, and jalapenos. Serve with the additional lime wedges on the side.
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Category: Soup
  • Method: Stovetop, Roasting
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: tortilla soup, vegetarian tortilla soup, chili de arbol