Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile and Masa Harina

Many years ago, I fell in love with Tortilla Soup over dinner al fresco on a lovely courtyard in Sinaloa, Mexico.

We were on a trip to the Barrancas del Cobre and had an overnight at a quaint hotel in Los Mochis. The soup was divine – a simple chicken broth with melting queso fresco, fried tortillas, and herbs. When we got back home I had to recreate it, and still do to this day.

Fast forward more than a couple of decades in these pandemic times, and I find myself watching more Facebook videos than before, one in particular caught my attention. A true master of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless making a Tortilla Soup.

Now the Chef has probably made a zillion versions of tortilla soup but this one resonated with me – with its addition of mild, smoky, raisiny pasilla chiles.

As a polar opposite to my Los Mochis version with its brothy style, here I also added a quarter cup of masa harina to the soup as a thickening agent. The masa added heft and a super corn flavor. The result was an extraordinary amalgamation of complex chile and earthy corn. Rich and satisfying, it is a meal in itself.

Since pasillas are not particularly spicy…and for another layer of flavor and texture, I made an oil with the hotter chile de arbol, and sprinkled some of these toasted chile crumbles over the soup.

Tortilla Soup Recipe

Tortilla Soup with Masa Harina


  • olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 large or two medium dried pasilla chiles, seeded and deveined
  • 1/2 c. crushed fire roasted tomato (left over from my chickpea stew)
  • 1 1/2 qt. very flavorful vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
  • 1/4 c. masa harina
  • fine sea salt


Sauté onion and garlic in 1 T. olive oil until golden brown. Meanwhile toast the pasillas in a dry pan until soft and fragrant, turning occasionally and pressing down with a metal spatula.

Puree onion mixture with pasillas and tomato in a food processor.

Heat 2 T. olive oil in a soup pot and add the blended onion mixture.  Cook to reduce, darken, and thicken. Stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix masa harina with 1/2 c. of water, let hydrate 10 minutes.

Add stock to the onion mixture and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add hydrated masa harina and whisk to incorporate. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile


  • tortilla strips
  • chile de arbol
  • avocado, sliced
  • fresh squeezed lime juice
  • crema mexicana
  • cotija cheese, crumbled
  • micro cilantro

Cut fresh corn tortillas into strips. Fry in avocado oil until golden. Drain on paper towels and immediately season with fine sea salt.

Break open chiles de arboles and shake out the seeds. In a small sauté pan, cook chiles in olive oil over medium high heat until the chiles start to turn dark. Remove from heat but let the chiles sit in the oil to continue to flavor the oil. When the oil/chile mixture comes to room temperature, remove the chiles with a slotted spoon to paper towels. Reserve the oil for the soup garnish. Drain the chiles then chop into small pieces.

To Serve

Ladle soup into warm shallow bowls. Place a mound of tortilla strips in the middle. Top tortilla strips with avocado. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the avocado and soup.

Drizzle crema around the perimeter. Drizzle with drops of chile de arbol oil. Sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese, chopped chile de arbol, and micro cilantro.

Quarantine Cuisine Links

How to Bake Artisan Bread

Chickpea Stew with Lots of Veggies

Stuffed Cabbage with Mexican Crema and Walnuts

Today in the Mojave Desert

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus

Opuntia basilaris, the beavertail cactus or beavertail pricklypear, is a cactus species found in the southwest United States and northwest Mexico. Brilliant magenta flowers bloom March through June.

5 thoughts on “Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile”

  1. The color of that soup is magnificent. It reminds me of the color of mole sauce! Amazing photos, as always!

    1. Thank you FA! The pasilla (also called chile negro) is almost black in color, so when it is blended and cooked with the onion, garlic, and tomato – it becomes that rich dark hue. A perfect canvas for all the garnishes I think.

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