A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 03, 2007
Tortilla Soup or Sopa de Tortilla (Aztec Soup or Sopa Azteca)

Tortilla Soup (Sopa de Tortilla) is often called Aztec Soup (Sopa Azteca) in Mexico. Tortilla soup is one of the most popular soups in Texas; El Mirador in San Antonio is famous for its Sopa Azteca served on Saturday afternoons.

Tortilla soup/Aztec soup has many variations, but is noted for the tortillas that are included in the soup. The soup often includes chicken stock, tomatoes, chilies, cumin, and sour cream, with a sprinkling of cheese added. The soup is sometimes a meal in itself.


Robbie’s Recipes
Tortilla Soup like Cracker Barrel’s®
Tex-Mex soup loaded with cilantro, tomatoes, and cumin served with chicken, tortilla strips, cheese, and avocado.

Submitted By: Gayle Freel
Serves: 10 - 12
Prep. Time: 2:00

1 bunch cilantro – stems trimmed, washed
4 cloves garlic - peeled
1 sm. onion - chopped
2 serrano peppers – tops removed
10 oz. can Ro*Tel® tomatoes and chilies
3 quarts (12 cups) chicken stock
8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 - 3 tsp. ground cumin
1 - 2 tsp. salt
2 Tbls. cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
approx. 20 sm. corn tortillas - cut into thin strips
vegetable oil OR peanut oil – for frying
2 cups shredded grilled OR poached chicken breast meat
1 - 1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 avocados - peeled, pitted, sliced

-In a blender or food processor, puree cilantro, garlic, onion, and peppers with Ro*Tel; pour into a large pot.
-Add chicken stock, tomato sauce, cumin, and salt to pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
-Stir cornstarch/water mixture into pot and continue heating over low heat, stirring occasionally.
-Deep-fry tortilla strips in small batches in 350 degree oil until crisp. Remove to a cooling rack to drain. Place a handful of fried tortillas into each serving bowl.
-Divide chicken into serving bowls, placing on top of tortilla strips.
-Pour soup into bowls, then sprinkle tops with cheese.
-Garnish with 2 - 3 avocado slices.

Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page
Carnitas Querétaro
6516 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-9906
(...)
Aztec Soup is Carnitas Queretaro’s version of tortilla soup, with crispy tortillas that have been made soft by floating in the soup. The white meat chicken and avocado were good, and I liked the Mexican style cheese even better. I thought the best feature, though, was the flavor of the broth. This was not quite the best version of tortilla soup I have ever eaten, but it was close. 

Mexico Connect
Aztec Soup
Serves 12
Ingredients:
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
2 cups of chopped onion
4 cups of chopped tomato (pera or roma)
4 tsp. margarine
1 cup of your favorite tomato sauce
8 cups of rich chicken stock
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. sugar
24 corn tortillas cut into 3/8 strips and fried in hot oil until crisp.
1/2 pint sour cream
6 ripe avocadoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup of white crumbly fresh mexican style cheese

Preparation:
Brown garlic, onion and tomato with margarine in a stock pot. Add tomato sauce, chicken stock, pepper, sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 1 hour. To assemble soup put a handful of tortilla strips in a large open soup bowl, top with 4 or 5 thin avacado wedges, chopped fresh onion and Mexican ranch style crumbly cheese. Ladle in hot soup and top with a spoonful of sour cream. 

Google Books
Mexico as I Saw It
by Mrs. Alec Tweedie
London: Hurst and Blackett, Limited
1901
Pg. 306:
“Sopa de Tortilla” (soup, made with the Indian corn tortilla, and flavoured). 

30 July 1910, Brownsville (TX) Daily Herald, pg. 5, col. 5:
RESTAURANT.
The Grand Hotel Libertad.
Matamoros, July 31, 1910.
(...)
Tortilla Soup

Mexican Cooking
Gebhardt Chili Powder Co.
San Antonio, Texas
1911
Pg. 32:
Sopa de Migas—Tortilla Soup…

Google Books
Castelar Crèche Cook Book
by the board of directors, Castelar Crèche Home for Homeless Babies
Los Angeles, CA: Times-Mirror Printing and Binding House
1922
Pg. 280:
TORTILLA SOUP
Cut the tortillas in equal sizes, put them in hot lard, but do not fry them. Place in a Pyrex dish a layer of tortillas, then cheese chopped finely, then chopped uncooked marrow out of a soup bone (which has been left 1 or 2 hours in water to be perfectly free of blood), some parsley very finely chopped, strips of green peeled chiles and a sauce made of tomatoes (take them out of can but without any water), salt, pepper and mashed onions and a bit of garlic. Put layers of all of these things and on top some cheese and marrow. Then fill the dish about 3/4 full of bouillon and let it boil to absorb the bouillon and remain dry.
--- Carlota L. Algara.

1 July 1934, San Antonio (TX) Express, pg. 1D, col. 2:
Among the many dishes for which tortillas are used I may mention principally the well known enchiladas, tacos, quesa dillas, chilaquilles, eggs country style or huevos rancheros, tortilla soup, and others…

Google Books
Mexican Journey:
An Intimate Guide to Mexico
by Edith Mackie and Sheldon Dick
New York, NY: Dodge Publishing Company
1935
Pg. 16:
Cut in strips and dried, tortillas are made into sopa de tortilla; cut up and not dried, but fried with chile, they become chilaquiles.

Your Mexican Kitchen:
A Compilation of Mexican Recipes Practicable in the United States
by Natalie V. Scott
New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
1935
Pg. 41:
TORTILLA SOUP
Sopa de Tortilla
8 tortillas broken in 1/2 inch pieces
2 tbsps. of lard
1 tbsp. of butter
1 large onion, minced
2 tomatoes
American wormseed
6 cups of stock
1 hot pepper

Brown the onion in butter, and add the tomatoes, cut and mashed, and let them cook together well, with a small hot pepper, also mashed.
Add the stock and the American wormseed.
Meanwhile, drop the pieces of tortillas into sizzling hot lard, and add them to the soup when ready to serve.

8 November 1948, New York (NY) Herald-Tribune, pg. 18, col. 6:
WORLDLY WISE SOUPS—Today in their fifth-floor food shop Abraham & Straus, Brooklyn, will introduce the well known Twin Gabel soups made from recipes collected around the world by Zachary Gable (sic), former Brooklyn restaurant owner. He and Abe Gruber put out a lione of eight soups that represent a potpourri of the nations. There is Aztec bean soup made with black beans in a way discovered in a Mexican hut.
("Aztec bean soup” is probably not the same as “Aztec soup”—ed.)

19 June 1964, New York (NY) Times, “Dining at the Fair: Mexican Focolare and African Tree Houses Offer Bright Settings” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 14:
One of the best-known of Mexican soups is made with crumbled tortillas in a rich broth and at the Focolare the tortilla soup ($1.20) is good but not exceptional. The broth seems a trifle mild when compared with those of some restaurants in Mexico and it seems to lack the characteristic flavor of chile.

7 November 1965, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section D, pg. 7:
There is also a gorgeous restaurant called Senor Pico which dispenses tamales, rellenos, Aztec soup, and hot crab sandwiches.
(San Francisco, CA—ed.)

30 November 1966, Oakland (CA) Tribune, Pg. 24A, col. 3 ad:
First course: a peppy Mexican style soup. Campbell’s Sopa de Tortilla (vegetable-beef bouillon with toasted tortillas).

14 September 1969, Tri-City Herald (Pasco, WA), pg. 24, cols. 1-4:
A Tortilla Sopa (soup) can be made quickly with frozen tortillas and shelf-handy cans of chicken broth. This recipe is actually more a casserole than a soup, and makes an excellent accompaniment to broiled or roasted meat.
(...)
TORTILLA SOPA
1 package (9 ounces) frozen tortillas in cooking pouch
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 can (13 3/4 fluid ounces) chicken broth
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 bay leaf
3 cups grated cheddar cheese

1. Heat tortillas in cooking pouch according to directions. Remove from the package and cut into thin strips. Heat oil in skillet and saute tortilla strips until light brown.
2. Remove tortillas from oil and drain well. Saute onion in oil; add tomato sauce, chicken broth, parsley flakes, chili powder, bay leaf and tortilla strips. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3. Serve immediately. Top individual servings with cheese.
Makes 6-8 servings.

13 August 1970, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “TT’s World Tour With Frozen Foods,” section EE, pg. 2:
Tom Thumb offers a three-course dinner complete with a sopa de tortilla, a zesty soup, and pudin de manzana, a tasty apple-vanilla pudding.

23 November 1972, Deer Park (TX) Progress, “Comida Mejicana” by El Comilon, pg. 8A, cols. 5-6:
Sopa de Tortilla, tortilla soup.

As in all national dishes, there are many variations of the original which consisted of chicken or meat broth with crisp tortilla pieces floating in it. The “Cocinero” (chef) at the Montejo does one of the best I have found and here is the way I have watched him do it in his kitchen:

Cut 6 or 8 stale tortillas in narrow strips, less than 1/2 inch wide, and fry them in hot oil until lightly brown. Drain and keep warm.

Heat about a half gallon of chicken stock (or meat stock or canned consomme) with a finely chopped onion, carrot wheels, zucchini pieces and bite size celery sticks. Simmer until the vegetables are done but crisp. A few minutes before it is done, add half a cup of tomato puree.

Place the tortilla strips in the bottoms of the serving bowls, pour the soup over them and garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro (coriander). If you cannot find the fresh cilantro use fresh parsley and a touch of grated lemon rind...do not use dry coriander because the flavor is quite different. Serve grated cheese to add at the table.

16 February 1975, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Tortilla Soup, Si! Dulce Tamale, No!” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 35:
Truth is, not many cafes along the Tex-Mex border serve tortilla soup. Most of them go in for the stew called menudo, the basic ingredient of which is tripe.

The way Gisela makes it, tortilla soup requires a rather simple recipe. The soup pot is more than a third filled with fried tortilla chips. And these are simmered in chicken broth with spices such as garlic, to suit your taste, and with some bermuda onion rings. When served, the soup is topped with tiny chips of sharp cheddar cheese. And if you like it peppery, you can add another topping of chili pasilla, or little dried black chili peppers which have been shredded.

29 August 1976, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX), “Terry’s Table Topics” by Terry Hayes, pg. D3, col. 1:
Many have been the recipes sent in for tortilla soup. Really, the dish is so simple, it really is nothing more than well-seasoned chicken broth, some pieces of diced chicken...and corn tortillas first torn into strips, then placed in bowls, with the soup poured over it.
(...)
Some cooks add green pepper, chilies, red or green, or jalapeno peppers to the soup stock.

The method is simple: take chicken wings of backs and a carrot, stalk of celery, sprinkling of salt, pepper, an onion and a bunch of parsley. Put into a pot and simmer until meat falls off the bones. Dice meat, replace in the broth and add vegetables, if you are going to use them. Simmer again.

Thicken with cornstarch, if you desire.

Proceed as above to pour over tortilla strips.

There are two variations which might become important features in your menus: a casserole called Tortilla Soup and a bisque soup heavy with cream and tomatoes which is poured over heated tortilla strips in the classic manner.

6 January 1979, Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) Free Press, “Tortilla soup satisfying” (Los Angeles Times), leisure, pg. 3?, cols. 5-6:
SOPA DE TORTILLA
4 corn tortillas
Oil
4 cups homemade chicken stock
4 cups homemade beef stock
1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, cut in 1 1/2 inch lengths and julienned
1 zucchini or creekneck squash, sliced or diced
1 small potato, peeled and diced (optional)
1 tomato, peeled, chopped and drained (optional)
Salt, pepper
Queso fresco, cut in small cubes
Canned chipotle chiles
Cilantro sprigs
Cut each tortilla in 8 wedges and fry in oil until crisp. Drain and set aside. Combine chicken and beef stocks and heat to boiling. Add onion, carrots, zucchini, potato and tomato and simmer until tender-crisp. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide tortilla chips among six large soup plates. Add about 6 cubes queso fresco to each plate. Ladle soup over tortilla chips and cheese and place 1 chipotle chile and several sprigs of cilantro in center of each plate. Makes 6 servings.

16 January 1980, Doylestown (PA) Daily Intelligencer, pg. 8, cols. 1-2:
TORTILLA SOUP
(This soup is found all over Mexico. Preceding an entree of garlic-grilled red snapper, it is delicious.)
6 stale tortillas (or exposed to air overnight)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth or stock
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup sweet cream (whipping cream)
Salt and hot pepper sauce

In soup pot saute onion in 2 tablespoons oil. Add garlic and saute 2 or 3 minutes, then add stock and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, fry tortilla strips in remaining oil until crisp. Add to soup and simmer until tortilla strips are slightly softened, then stir in cream carefully so it doesn’t curdle. Season to taste. Serves 4 to 6.

11 December 1983, New York (NY) Times, “A Taste of Mexico in Perth Amboy” by Anne Semmes, pg. NJ45:
A fortifying and delicious soup, sopa Azteca, a tomato-based broth simmered with strips of tortillas, onions and spices and garnished with an enormous chile, would be adequate for a light winter’s supper. 
(Carvajal in Perth Amboy, NJ—ed.)

13 August 1986, New York (NY) Times, “The Place Where Real Texans Eat Soup” (El Mirador, San Antonio) by Peter Applebome, pg. C3:
The soup is sopa Azteca, and El Mirador is a modest stucco restaurant at the edge of downtown. It has been run by Mary and Julian Trevino and their family since 1967.
(...)
Sopa Azteca, the most popular offering, is a spicy tomato broth filled with chicken, spinach, avocado, peppers, potatoes, cheese, tortilla strips and other assorted spices and vegetables.

18 May 1988, New York (NY) Times, “Chicago” by Dennis Ray Wheaton, pg. C3:
The Chon y Chano menu is impressive. For example, sopa Azteca, a central Mexican variation on a chicken and tortilla soup common across Mexico, is a chicken-tomato broth laced with fried tortilla strips, cheese, chili and lime. It is served with a large dried rd chili pod, roasted until it puffs and crumbled into the soup for added flavor, texture and heat.

5 November 1989, New York (NY) Times, “What’s Doing in San Antonio” by Lisa Belkin, pg. XX10:
Among the restaurants are El Mirador (722 South St. Mary’s Street; 512-225-9444), famous for Saturday soup, so named because it is served only from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. on Saturday, where there is always a crowd. The most popular version, sopa Azteca, is loaded with chicken, white cheese, potatoes, avocado, spinach and strips of tortilla chips, among other things and will fill you up for $3.25 for a bowl. 

Google Books
Cooking Texas Style: Tenth Anniversary Edition
by Candy Wagner and Sandra Marquez
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
1993
Pg. 41:
Tortilla Soup
When you find a food you really like, you find as many ways to use it as possible. So it is with Texans and tortillas. Tortilla Soup is a meal in itself when prepared as directed below. For a lighter soup, perhaps to serve as a first course to a Mexican dinner, simply omit the cooked chicken.

Google Books
The Book of Regional American Cooking
by Janeth Johnson Nix
HPBooks
1993
Pg. 28:
AZTEC SOUP
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
2 corn tortillas, cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeno chile
1 (about 1-lb.) can tomatoes, undrained
4 cups regular-strength chicken broth
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (...)

Google Books
A Cook’s Tour of Mexico
by Nancy Zaslavsky
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
1997
Pg. 64:
Sopa Azteca Tortilla Soup with Avocado, Chile, Cheese and Chicken
TORTILLA SOUP, ALSO KNOWN AS SOPA AZTECA, IS THE CLASSIC CHICKEN COUP found on almost every restaurant and fonda menu in Mexico. Reyna insists on starting with good Chicken Broth (page 19). Crisp, freshly fried tortilla strips, plus slices of toasted mild guajillo chile (or other dried chile depending on the region of Mexico) are imperative to this dish. Tortilla strips add flavor, but mostly they add texture. When added to the broth they keep their crunch for a few minutes, then become chewy and take on a meatlike consistency. If you’re a slow eater, the strips dissolve and soften, making the broth thicker. Dried, toasted chiles are always the flavor big-hitters in tortilla soup. Add more or less depending upon your taste, but adding at least one is essential. Guajillo chile is the most commonly used chile forthis soup throughout the country, but also-mild ancho chile generally prevails in Michoacan’s tortilla soups…

Google Books
The Food of Texas:
Authentic Recipes from the Lone Star State
by Caroline Stuart
Tuttle Publishing
2000
Pg. 48:
TORTILLA SOUP
Dan Fearing, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
Tortilla soup is a Southwestern classic, and probably the most popular soup in Texas. It’s basically chicken soup that has been glorified with tomatoes, interesting Mexican spices, herbs, and chile peppers. Fried tortilla strips garnish the soup along with avocado cubes and shredded cheese. It’s hearty enough to serve as a meal. If you’re not going to serve it right away, make the soup ahead of time and add the garnishes at the last minute.

Internet Movie Database
Plot summary for
Tortilla Soup (2001)
Retired Mexican-American chef Martin Naranjo shares an L.A. home with his three gorgeous, but single, adult daughters. Though he long ago lost his ability to taste, Martin still lives to cook incredibly lavish dinners for his loved ones and to serve them in a family-style ritual at traditional sit-down meals. Although the women humor their father’s old-fashioned ways, each of them is searching for fulfillment outside the family circle. College student Maribel is growing increasingly frustrated with the singles scene and wants a steady man; gorgeous career woman Carmen is fed up with her boyfriend and his wandering eye; meanwhile, eldest daughter Letitia, who has suppressed her own romantic longings, senses something missing in her life. Things take a turn for the romantic when Dad, a widower, meets a vivacious divorcee on the lookout for a mate and each of his daughters, in turn, finds someone. But they’ll all discover that the recipe for happiness may call for some unexpected ingredients. Written by Sujit R. Varma

The Tex-Mex Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
New York, NY: Broadway Books
2004
Pg. 137:
TORTILLA SOUP
The quick and easy Tex-Mex version of this Mexican classic is made with Rotel tomatoes and crispy tortilla chips. Made with abundant garlic, it’s not only delicious, it’s the cure for the common cold.

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