I’ve been making some version of this Mexican Soup for almost 15 years now. It’s easy, inexpensive, healthy, and satisfying – and the perfect thing to make from leftovers, too!
I call this “Mexican Soup,” but it’s rather inauthentic. It’s loosely based on tortilla soup, which I first made with my friend Kate all the way back in 2003 or 2004. I hadn’t done that much cooking, and it seemed complicated! (We mistakenly bought parsley instead of cilantro – so now I always pluck a leaf to taste the herb before I buy it!)
The earliest I can recall tossing this soup together is in 2006 or 2007, when I was in grad school. There were several great reasons to make this soup, and they’re still valid today.
- First, it’s versatile, so it uses up leftovers. Toss whatever you’d like in this soup. Bell pepper you have no other use for? Add it. A partial can of tomatoes? Yes! Carrots that are on their way out? Perfect! Squash? Sure! Leftover rice? It’s perfect to serve this soup over.
- Second, it’s light and healthy. Grad school had its stressors, which I coped with then (as I do now) with brownies. I tried to compensate with light lunches, and this soup fit the bill. I don’t emphasize the low-calorie aspect of this now, but it’s not heavy, and it is nutritious.
- Third, it can be made strictly with pantry staples. I toss in fresh things when possible (onion, carrots, peppers, cilantro), but you can make it with almost all canned goods and spices.
- Fourth, it’s vegetarian/vegan. I don’t make it strictly for that reason, but it’s a nice bonus.
This soup hits the sweet spot of healthy, comforting, and easy. And it makes for a tasty lunch the next day.
Ingredients for Mexican Soup
Making the soup is very simple. Heat oil, toss in onion and garlic and saute briefly; add remaining ingredients; cover and cook. A huge reason of why I love this (and most) soup is that it’s hands-off.
I’ve said that you can toss in whatever you’d like, but here’s the major components. I’d say you can skip one of them if necessary.
Onions and garlic
I always have a bag of onions and a jar of garlic in my fridge. I’ve also used frozen chopped onions (or onion/pepper blends) in this soup. The mushy texture of frozen onions cooks down in the soup so it works fine. If you’re short on either, be sure you add salsa to the soup.
Oregano and cumin are what I tend to see in Mexican food, so that’s what I’ve added here. Add to taste. You can try chili powder in place of the cumin, or in addition to it, but honestly, my concern is that you’d make this soup taste more like chili instead.
Using just oregano and cumin, instead of chili powder or peppers, means there’s nothing spicy here unless you add salsa. It’s just a flavorful soup.
Tomatoes or salsa
I toss in a can of crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes, or I add some salsa. I’ve used tomatoes with green chiles before as well. The amount you add is variable; the soup is just as good with a can of tomatoes as it is with a third cup of salsa. Honestly, I mainly add salsa to this because we often have a third of a jar leftover in the fridge; it’s a great way to use it up without having to buy more tortilla chips (which leads to yet more salsa purchases).
Beans add protein and fiber, and make the soup more filling. I use black beans because that’s what I prefer with Mexican food. I use leftover or freshly cooked beans if possible, but cans are fine too.
If I don’t have black beans, I use (in order of personal preference) chickpeas, white beans, or red beans. Pinto beans would be fine too; I just don’t like them. Whatever you use, drain and rinse the beans if they are canned.
Corn or Hominy
Hominy isn’t a commonplace pantry ingredient, but I love it in this soup and so I started keeping a can in my pantry. It’s corn that’s been treated with lime (the mineral, as was traditional in Mexico). When I add hominy, the soup reminds me of posole and seems more “authentic.” It really makes the soup. Drain and lightly rinse the canned hominy before you add it to the soup.
Before I started buying canned hominy for it, I would toss in some frozen corn to bulk up the soup. Corn is fine in the soup and makes it taste brighter.
Rice or quinoa
Adding a grain makes the soup more filling. Rice works fine, but I prefer quinoa. Quinoa has more protein and fiber. Brown rice works better than white because it won’t get mushy. Quinoa really soaks up the liquid.
If you have leftover rice/grain in the fridge, simply add it to the soup a few minutes before you want to serve it and reduce the water by 1 cup.
Honestly, I toss in whatever I have in the fridge that seems like it would go well in it. I tossed in leftover spaghetti squash once; green salsa; and carrots, celery, and bell peppers that needed to be cooked. A few small diced potatoes or zucchini would go nicely into it, too.
This soup doesn’t need meat, but you can add some if you’re feeding pickier eaters. I have added leftover chicken or pork carnitas to this before.
What to Serve with This Mexican-Inspired Soup
This is a soup made primarily from leftovers or when I don’t have something else in mind to make – I don’t often plan for it. And when I make this soup, I add enough to it that it’s a filling and balanced meal on its own.
That said, tortilla chips would be a natural accompaniment. If your house is like mine, you may already have some sitting on top of your fridge, waiting for you to buy another jar of salsa.
If desired, you can top it with shredded cheese. Cilantro and thinly sliced radishes would be nice fresh garnishes.
I hope you enjoy this healthy, satisfying soup as much as we do here. If you try it, tell me how you’ve customized it!
Like this recipe or have questions? Rate it or leave a comment below!
In the past:
One Year Ago: Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Two Years Ago: Roast Beef Hash
Three Years Ago: Belgian Brownie Cakelets
Four Years Ago: Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie
Five Years Ago: Boston Creme Pie French Toast
Six Years Ago: Overnight Citrus-Ginger Ring
Seven Years Ago: Irish Soda Scones
Eight Years Ago: Giant Oreo Cookie
A healthy Mexican-inspired soup that’s delicious and easy to make! A perfect meal made from pantry staples, and a great way to use up leftovers!
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (14 grams)
- 1/2 cup onion (chopped) (1/2 a medium onion)
- 1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 14 ounces diced or crushed tomatoes (1 can) (substitute salsa if desired)
- 1/3 cup salsa (optional; recommended if not using tomatoes)
- 14 ounces black beans, chickpeas, white beans, or red beans (1 can, rinsed and drained)
- 29 ounces cooked hominy (1 large or 2 regular can(s), rinsed and drained) (can add 2 cups corn instead)
- 1/2 cup quinoa or brown rice (uncooked) (rinse quinoa before adding)
- 2 teaspoons vegetable or chicken bouillon (can use 2 cups broth instead) (use vegetable if making this vegan)
- 4 cups water (if using broth instead of bouillon, add 2 cups water instead)
- 2 teaspoons lime juice or lemon juice (optional; recommended if not using salsa)
- cheese, cilantro, or tortilla chips (for serving; optional)
In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant. Add garlic and saute for another minute.
Add cumin and oregano, and stir to combine. Add tomatoes with their liquid, salsa (if using), beans, hominy, quinoa or rice, bouillon, and water. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for another 30 minutes (or however long your package of quinoa/rice says to), stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.
Taste soup. Add lime juice to make the soup taste brighter, if desired, and add salt and adjust other seasonings to taste. Serve with cheese, cilantro, or tortilla chips if desired.
This is a versatile soup. Add whatever you would like.
There’s nothing spicy in this soup except for optional salsa. Add peppers as you would like.
The final cooking time will depend on how long your rice or quinoa package says it needs to cook. Quinoa needs to be rinsed before cooking to reduce bitterness.
If using cooked rice/quinoa: reduce the water by 1 cup, simmer the soup for 10 minutes after combining all ingredients, then add the cooked grain and warm through.
Add lime juice to taste, if not using salsa. Lime juice and salt will make the soup taste brighter.