Zesty Mexican flavors make this thick and hearty chicken enchilada soup the perfect winter meal!
If you’re like me, you have a mysterious instinct for certain culinary ingredients. Crazy-talented professional chefs have an instinct for all ingredients, but for us merely mortal home cooks, sometimes the focus is narrower.
I don’t know where my enjoyment of Mexican flavors comes from — they were not part of my childhood meals, at all — but when I discovered the wide assortment of peppers and chiles and spices common to Mexican cuisine as an adult, it just clicked.
Gardening was definitely key in that discovery, as I grew (and still grow) a tasty selection of sweet and hot peppers, herbs, tomatoes, and beans that found their way into meals that could best be described as Mexican-inspired, long before I had any concrete knowledge of what goes into a good Mexican recipe.
Enchiladas are a particular favorite: a simple dish of chicken and red chile sauce wrapped in tortillas, and topped with lots of cheese and whatever other fixin’s suit the day — black beans, corn, green onions, sour cream, cilantro, a squeeze of lime — all baked until hot and melty. Making a cozy soup is just a logical step when you’re in the heart of winter, with snow falling and brutal winds raging.
Recipe Insights for Chicken Enchilada Soup
- Lighten it up: Greek yogurt stands in quite nicely for the cheesy roux or loads of cream cheese that you often find in chicken enchilada soup recipes. Since I planned this soup ahead, I had time to make a quick batch of yogurt cheese the night before: instead of stirring in the liquid whey that pools on top of the yogurt, drain it off. Scoop the yogurt into a fine mesh sieve placed over a bowl, and let sit in the fridge for several hours, which will remove even more whey. This creates a very rich, even spreadable, yogurt cheese (called labneh), with a taste and texture very similar to cream cheese, only with the goodness of yogurt.
- Just what is red enchilada sauce? Depending on what source you care to embrace, enchilada sauce is ground red chiles with or without the addition of tomato sauce or paste. Either way, it’s cooked with garlic, herbs, stock, and sometimes thickened with a roux. Mild, smoky guajillos or New Mexico chiles are most often touted as the authentic chile choice — they’re my preference as well. If you want to go the from-scratch route, here’s a nice recipe from Serious Eats (adapted from Mexican culinary expert, Rick Bayless) that calls for toasting the dried chiles first, to bring out their flavors. (Side note: have you ever made homemade chili powder? Every year, in prep for soup season, I toast a batch of chiles and spices and grind them up fresh. Incredible.)
- As with most soups, chicken enchilada soup benefits greatly from an overnight rest in the fridge. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the flavor doubles, and it thickens up to what I consider the perfect consistency: not quite so thick as chili, but is slow to fall from a tilted spoon. If you have people in your life who claim not to be soup fans, you can fix their incorrect thinking by serving them a soup that’s been resting for 24 hours.
- Another benefit of the overnight rest: it’s a make-ahead meal. One of my favorite ways to spend a wintry Saturday afternoon is making soup. I put on some classical music (or maybe let a Downton Abbey rerun play in the background) and enjoy the quiet, unhurried routine of chopping vegetables, grinding whole herbs and spices, sizzling the aromatics, and generally taking in all the cooking aromas that fill the kitchen. The cooled pot goes into the fridge, and Sunday dinner — plus leftovers for the week’s lunch — is in the bag.
Sometimes we food bloggers get overly excited about producing unique dishes just for the sake of being original (e.g., turning everything into a salad, which I’ve been guilty of on more than one occasion), but as a soup connoisseur, I have to say — whoever thought of it, making soup out of enchiladas — it’s a really great idea.
And as further proof that everything tastes better as soup 🙂 here are a few other favorite-dishes-made-into-soup worth checking out:
Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup (Chef in Training)
Buffalo Chicken Soup (How Sweet It Is)
BLT Soup (SoupAddict)
Taco Soup (Cooking Classy)
Lasagna Soup (A Farmgirl’s Dabbles)
Cheeseburger Beer Soup (SoupAddict)
Loaded Baked Potato Soup (Damn Delicious)
Swedish Meatball Noodle Soup (Carlsbad Cravings)
Chicken Enchilada Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 red onion diced
- 1 small red bell pepper diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 4 ounce can green chilis mild or hot, your choice
- 10 ounce package frozen corn mostly thawed
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 15 ounce can black beans rinsed and drained
- 10 ounce can red enchilada sauce
- 15 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken broth recommend homemade or low sodium
- 3 cups cooked chicken pulled or chopped
- 4 or 6 ounce tub plain Greek yogurt drained
- 1/2 cup cotija cheese grated
- sour cream
- green onions chopped
- tortilla strips
- kosher salt
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat until shimmering. Saute the onions, red bell peppers, and garlic until the onions are soft. Stir in the green chilis and corn.
- Scootch the vegetables to one side of the pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon to the cleared side. When warmed, sprinkle the paprika and chili powder over the oil, and stir it in place to create a fragrant paste. Mix in with the vegetables, along with a big pinch of salt.
- Add the beans, enchilada sauce, tomatoes, and broth, and increase heat to medium high. Bring the soup to a low boil, stir in the chicken, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer for at least 15 minutes (longer is better, if you have the time).
- Reduce heat to low and let the soup rest for 10 minutes. Spoon in the yogurt, and stir until melted and thoroughly mixed in.
- Ladle into bowls, and top with your favorite garnishes.