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Chili-Spiced Chicken Soup

Updated: 8/14/21 1:00 amPublished: 2/10/20
By Catherine Newman

Makes: 6 servings

Total carbohydrates: 8 grams per serving

Hands-on time:  20 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

If this fantastic, spicy soup had tortillas in it, I would probably call it Tortilla Soup; if it had hominy, I might call it Chicken Posole. Instead we are keeping out the high-carb ingredients, but packing the soup with plenty of smoky broth and shredded chicken, along with delicious extras like avocado and sour cream. This is the kind of meal where it’s actually nice to let folks garnish their own bowls: put out little bowls of the avocado, sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges (feel free to add more extras, such as chopped onions, shredded cheese, and toasted pepitas), and everyone can help themselves.

One last note: it is perfectly okay to use already-cooked chicken, such as grilled leftovers or meat shredded from a rotisserie chicken. Just stir it in after the soup has finished cooking.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)

2 teaspoons chili powder*

½ teaspoon chipotle puree** (optional)

1 medium or 2 small zucchini, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

5 cups chicken broth (or 4 cups broth plus 1 cup water + more salt)

1 tablespoon cornmeal stirred into ½ cup cold water

Lime juice to taste

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (roughly 2 large or 3 small)

Toppings: sour cream, diced avocado, lime wedges, cilantro leaves

* If you buy commercial "chili powder," such as McCormick's, it will likely be a blend of seasonings, including cumin, oregano, and garlic—which is actually perfect for this soup. But if you happen to have pure chili powder (the kind that’s just ground dried chiles, such as ancho or New Mexican) feel free to use that instead. You can add a bit of cumin and oregano in that case, or not.

** To make spicy, smoky chipotle puree, I buy a small tin of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (if there's a Mexican section of your supermarket, you'll be able to find it there), puree it in the blender, and store it in a clean glass jar in the fridge, where it keeps almost forever as long as you don't stick a dirty spoon (or finger) in it. I find this incredibly handy to have around for those times you want to stir a bit of smoky heat into something like chili, mayonnaise, or salsa.


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and garlic with the salt until they’re getting nice and soft and translucent, around 10 minutes.

  2. Add the chili powder and chipotle puree and sauté just until fragrant—a few seconds—then add the zucchini and stir briefly to coat with the spices.

  3. Add the tomatoes and broth (or broth, water, and salt), and bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Stir in the cornmeal slurry (this will add lovely body to the soup), turn the heat down to low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Taste the soup at this point and add salt, lime juice, and chipotle puree (if you’re using it) to taste until you've got a good, fully vibrant flavor that’s just as spicy as you like. Pop in the chicken breasts and keep the soup at a super-low simmer, covered, until the meat is cooked through (around 10 minutes for smaller ones and 15 minutes for larger).

  5. Use tongs to transfer the cooked chicken from the soup to a cutting board, cool them a bit, and use two forks to pull apart the chicken into shreds.

  6. Add the chicken back to the soup and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste the soup, adjust the seasonings one last time, and serve with the garnishes.

About Catherine

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]

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About the authors

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop... Read the full bio »