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Chili-Spiced Chicken Soup

Recipe Type

Makes 6 servings20 minutes hands on time70 minutes total time

This savory soup keeps out high-carb ingredients, but still packs a punch with plenty of smoky broth and shredded chicken, along with delicious extras like avocado and sour cream.

If this soothing soup had strips of corn tortillas in it, I would probably call it tortilla soup; if it had hominy, I might call it chicken pozole. In this version, I’m keeping out starchier, high-carb ingredients and packing the soup with plenty of smoky broth and shredded chicken instead, along with cooling and creamy garnishes such as diced avocado and sour cream.

This is the kind of meal where it’s actually nice to let people garnish their own bowls: Put out little bowls of avocado, sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges (feel free to add more extras, such as chopped onions, shredded cheese, and toasted pumpkin seeds), and everyone can dress the dish as desired.

One more 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.

Recipe Details: Chili-Spiced Chicken Soup

From Catherine Newman

Active time: 20 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

Total carbohydrates: 8 grams per serving

Recipe Notes

A note on chili powder: If you buy a spice that’s labeled as chili powder, this will likely be a blend of seasonings, including cumin, oregano, and garlic, which is actually perfect for this soup. On the other hand, if you happen to have pure chili powder (the kind that’s just ground dried chiles, such as ancho chili powder or New Mexican chili powder), feel free to use that instead. You can add a bit of cumin and oregano in that case. Or not.

To make the spicy, smoky chipotle purée: Look for canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, either at a Mexican grocery store or in the international or Latin foods aisle of a conventional supermarket. Open the can, purée its contents in a blender, and store the purée 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 into it. I find this incredibly handy to have around for not just this soup, but also for those times when you want to stir a bit of smoky heat into something like chili, mayonnaise, or salsa. If you fear heat, it’s fine to leave out the chipotle purée, too.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle purée
  • 1 medium or 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal stirred into 1/2 cup cold water
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Sour cream, diced avocado, lime wedges, and cilantro leaves, for serving


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and garlic with the salt until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the chili powder and chipotle purée 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, then bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Stir in the cornmeal slurry – this will add a lovely body to the soup – and turn the heat down to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Taste the soup at this point and add salt, lime juice, and chipotle purée to taste until you've got a vibrant flavor that packs as much heat as you like. Pop in the chicken breasts and keep the soup at a low simmer, covered, until the meat is cooked through, around 10 minutes for smaller pieces and 15 minutes for larger pieces.
  5. Transfer the cooked chicken from the soup to a cutting board. Once cool, 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 if needed. Serve in bowls alongside sour cream, avocado, lime, and cilantro.

Photo credit: Catherine Newman