Portuguese soup at Caldo Verde

Downtown L.A. | March 28, 2024

The Magic of Portuguese Soup

“My Portuguese mother had her own way of making sopa de legumes, a creamy vegetable soup I still crave. She’d fill a pot with water and chuck in a halved onion (no dicing required), a whole potato (peeled, sure) and carrots (as many as she found kicking around in the crisper). Maybe she would add a tomato, cored and halved; certainly she would season with olive oil and good sea salt. She would leave the soup simmering low and slow as she headed upstairs to play bridge. Someone would let her know once the liquid had reduced and the vegetables had gone all soft and plump. Then she would puree the soup and let it simmer some more to concentrate the flavor. Reader, it was delicious. 

Still, I didn’t foresee how fashionable Portuguese cooking would one day become stateside. In New York, Cervo’s has been making waves with delicious Portuguese-inspired seafood for a few years now. George Mendes, the Portuguese-American chef who earned a Michelin star at New York’s Aldea (now closed), brought Portuguese fine dining to Boston last September with the opening of Amar. In Los Angeles, Suzanne Goin, a chef well known for her Francophile leanings, turned to Portuguese cooking at Caldo Verde in 2021, and just last year, Barra Santos, from chef Melissa L6pez and Portugal-born co-owner Mike Santos, debuted to rave reviews. It’s curious, to say the least, to know a country all your life and then witness its “discovery” by friends and scores of tourists. 

Portugal’s famous Caldo Verde starts with what is essentially a loose veloute of onion and potato. Shredded collard greens, soft and wilted, add texture, and just a few rounds of chouric;o perfume the pot with smoke and spice and contribute a little delicious fat. 

Canja, Portugal’s chicken soup, has soothed everyone raised in a Portuguese home. That includes chef Nuno Mendes, who recently opened Lisboeta, a high-end ode to the food of Lisbon in London’s Fitzrovia district. As I lunched with him last summer in Lisbon, Mendes explained that his family recipe includes cilantro, lemon and a dash of cinnamon. Other iterations, I learned, call for cumin.

No matter the flourishes, a bowl of canja must taste intensely of chicken. Little else other than onion and bay leaf flavors the broth. Long-grain rice lends substance and a little viscosity to the finished soup. Fresh mint is the classic garnish, but it isn’t always used, and I’d skip it if I were using cumin. In my own version, I go a little rogue and add English peas for a pop of color. Edgy, I know. 

Since there’s a Portuguese soup for every occasion, let’s consider one a little more refined. I remember at my mother’s dinner parties, with everyone dressed up and the table properly set, beautiful bowls of rust-colored, creamy shrimp soup, dotted with olive-oil-fried croutons. If you make this recipe, I recommend asking your fishmonger for extra shrimp shells to add even more depth to the stock. If time allows, make it a day in advance and let the boiled shells rest in the liquid overnight. The sweet flavor will deepen and intensify, trust me. 

But even without those extra steps, this elegant, deceptively simple soup wows.”


Read the full Wall Street Journal Article by Kitty Greenwald

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