Most of the tastes and foods I associate strongly with growing up are those of Jewish and/or British and South African dishes which reflect my background pretty accurately. There are also a smattering of regional New England dishes that snuck into my parents’ repertoire through neighborhood parties or dinners with friends. And then there are a few dishes that, while representative of the place I grew up, are ones which I’m not sure how my parents discovered.
The town I grew up in, along with the surrounding area, is heavily Portuguese. So much so that as a kid I could not understand why people said that Spanish was the most popular language in the US and was convinced that someone was failing to understand the distinction between Spanish and Portuguese. It was not until I moved to California that I really understood how uncommon Portuguese is in most other parts of the country.
We were not big soup eaters in my family, tending to favor stew dishes more, so the two soups I can remember my parents making on a regular basis (besides the requisite Chicken and Matzah Ball, which while delicious only surfaced on Jewish holidays) are ones that have approximately equal amounts of broth to chewable additions. One of these soups is Portuguese kale soup, although we only ever called it Kale soup, and it was only a few years ago that I realized it was a variation of the traditional soup for which most Portuguese families have a recipe.
This recipe makes a fairly large batch which is fine with me – all it needs is a loaf of bread and I am set for almost a week of lunches. It lasts in the fridge for about a week but the potatoes don’t freeze well so if you can’t see yourself eating it for several days straight, just divide the recipe into a smaller portion.
This is the soup I make when it’s cold and rainy and I miss home. It’s the soup that reminds me of sitting around my parents’ kitchen table at a time when my feet did not quite touch the ground. Even as a vegetarian, I made this soup: using vegetable broth and substituting a few teaspoons of paprika and a pinch of cayenne for the linguica that traditionally supplies those flavors. Since moving out to the West Coast I’ve discovered that I prefer Dinosaur Kale to the Curly variety but other than that, this soup has not changed much over the years. It doesn’t take very long or require many ingredients. It reheats beautifully although it does get more stew-like as the beans and potatoes breakdown after repeated cooling and heating. Kale is my favorite green vegetable for soups since it doesn’t break down completely like most leafy greens do and it retains some texture even after a long simmering.
I am pretty sure this is the only Portuguese dish that made it in my family’s repertoire, and now into mine. Still, I can’t imagine not making it every winter. Just goes to show that a little variety really makes all the difference.
Portuguese Kale Soup
1 large bunch of Kale – preferably Dinosaur Kale – veins removed, sliced into ½ inch * 3 inch ribbons
1 lb linguica sausage, cut into ¼ inch thick slices*
1 large onion, diced into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp plus 1 tbs kosher salt
1/2 lb potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can white beans or ½ cup dried beans, soaked for 6 hours or overnight
1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
Add 1 tsp olive oil to a large heavy bottomed pot and put it over medium heat to warm. Add the onion Linguica, and salt and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the meat is slightly browned and the onions are soft and just starting to caramelize on the edges.
Increase the heat to high and add the potato, canned tomatoes, beans**, and stock to the pot with the remaining 1 tbs of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and yield easily when pressed with a fork.
Add the kale to the pot and stir it in so that most of the kale is submerged in the soup. Cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the kale is softened. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week and reheat before serving.
*Linguica is what gives this dish its Portuguese flavor but you can substitute pretty much any smoked/precooked sausage here. If you want to imitate the flavor of Linguica but can’t find it, add 2 tsps of paprika and ¼ tsp of cayenne powder when you add the broth.
**If using dried and soaked beans, add them to the pot first with enough water to cover them by about 3 inches and ¼ tsp of baking soda. Cook them for about 45 minutes or until soft. Then continue with the recipe.