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Recipe #43: Azorean Kale Soup (Vegetarian Version)

Posted Jan 30 2009 12:00am



The other day I got inspired after watching Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." This particular episode featured the regional cuisine of the Azores , a small chain (or archipelago) of islands off the coast of Portugal.

(As fate would have it, I was actually supposed to visit these islands on a business trip several years ago, but through some long convoluted story that'll have to wait for another time, didn't get the chance to go. So it was nice to live vicariously through Tony to see what I'd missed. :) It was a beautiful place & maybe some day I'll visit, but for now, there are other places to see that take precedence on my "must-see-urgently-or-else" checklist.)

Anyhow, let's get back to food. This soup is hearty & rich, while still being healthy & relatively low-fat. It's the perfect thing to serve on those those bone-chilling days of winter when all you & your family want to do is get toasty by the fire & warm up with a nice, satisfying bowl of soup! It will no doubt taste especially wonderful accompanied by a chunk of rustic wholewheat, multi-grain, or dark-flour bread like rye or pumpernickel. :)

Kale soup is something of a specialty in Portugal. However, the mainland typically prepares kale soup as a purée, instead of the traditional Azorean style, i.e., the much more rustic, "chunks-o'-veggies" type of preparation. The Azores also have a very distinct geography & culture of their own, (i.e., there were many visitors to the islands & over the years, many of these travellers from far-away lands became permanent settlers), & this is reflected in their food as well. The cultural influences of the Azores have created a virtual "potpourri" of diverse traditions on its various islands.

And not surprisingly, as island dwellers, the Azorean people also cook with a lot of seafood/shellfish. On that note, I bet this soup would also taste good as a fish chowder. Hmmm, maybe with some cod & lemon juice. Anyhow....

At first, I looked on the web for a decent vegetarian version of this soup, but couldn't find any versions that I liked. Most of the vegetarian versions I found seemed to stray from the traditional preparation, minus the "oink" ingredients of course. :)

It was very important to me to preserve the essence of this traditional soup, & at my first go, not try to get too creative until first finding a basic recipe that I knew worked well. After all, I was seeking an authentic first experience, or as much as could possibly be done using vegetarian ingredients, & without first having to hop a plane to the Azores to get it. ;-)

So, as usual, since I couldn't find anything out there that fit the bill, I created my own vegetarian version from scratch, paying close attention to the use of authentic Azorean-style ingredients as closely as I could. In other words, I tried to keep the soup as traditional as possible, with the notable exception of the usual "oink-fest" (of chourico/linguica, pork shoulder bone broth, etc.) that typically is so common & prodigious to this dish, as well as to most Spanish, Latin American, & Portuguese food in general. :)

Anyhow, this soup might've started out with very humble origins, but its many complex flavors give it a sophistication all its own. Anyhow, enough blabbing; here's the recipe. :)


Just made the above-pictured soup fresh for dinner tonight. Happily, it was a huge hit in our household.

Check out that rising steam, eh!? In this gigantic pot, it looks like this soup could serve an army of 500! ;-) Am going to refrigerate part of it & freeze the rest for later use.


Azorean Kale Soup (Vegetarian Version)

Ingredients:
1 red onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot (about 1/2 a cup), chopped
1 celery stalk (about 1/2 a cup), chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (i.e., approximate measurement; as usual, I just eyeballed it instead of using exact measurements. ;-) )
1/2 - 1 c. red wine (Note: I personally prefer to use closer to 2-3 cups of decent red table wine, & have even been known to use up to a half a bottle at times in soup recipes, but of course it's a matter of personal taste. If you are going to use more wine, please allow for additional cooking time, as using larger quantities considerably extends the amount of time it will take to reduce the alcohol in the soup! Also, I wouldn't recommend using Cabernets or Merlots. The former is too "woody" & the latter is often way too sharp & acidic. A nice mellow red, i.e., not too acidic or dry, will do the trick nicely.)
2 red potatoes, boiled & then peeled & cut into small chunks
1 c/ dried yellow split peas (i.e., yellow lentils)
8 c. water (or more)
kale, 16 oz (or 2 cups or more), roughly chopped (Note: Sometimes you can buy pre-washed & pre-chopped kale in 16 oz. bags in grocery stores.)
1 15.5 oz. can kidney beans
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 16 oz.)
3 large bay leaves
1-2 dried red chilis, crushed
salt & pepper, to taste

If using dried, about 1 Tbsp. of each of the following thyme leaves
oregano leaves
parsley leaves

(IMPORTANT NOTE: If you've got fresh spices, then all the better. A word of caution: Since fresh spices are typically much more potent/pungent, it's usually best to go easy at first when adding them into your soup. After all, you can always add more as you go along. Plus, should your soup need more ingredients, water, or spices, there's plenty of time to add more while the soup's cooking. :) Of course, it's always easier to add flavor than to take it away. :) Otherwise, you might have to make a whole lot more soup to even everything out! LOL.)

Directions:
1. Thoroughly wash & then soak yellow split peas (i.e., lentils) over night. To speed up process, you can soak them in a boiling water. I like to boil water in a kettle & then just pour the boiling water over top. If you put them in a sauce pot with a lid, it helps soften the lentils even faster.
2. Put chopped onion, garlic, celery, & carrots into a large (& very deep) pot. (And I mean large!) Use the largest pot you can find, preferably one with two handles (i.e., like the one in the picture). (These type of two-handled pots are also commonly known as "dutch ovens.") Drizzle with olive oil & cook on medium-heat until translucent (about 10+ minutes or so). Stir frequently to avoid ingredients sticking to the bottom of the pot &/or burning.
3. Add all spices next & stir a few times to mix in well.
4. Add red wine & stir to deglaze bottom of sauce pot. Bring to a boil & then reduce by half. After wine is reduced, feel free to add a bit more water if necessary. It's important to keep enough liquid in the pot to avoid burning.
5. Meanwhile, boil (unpeeled) potatoes in salted water in a separate sauce pot for about 15 minutes, or until skin is soft & potato flesh is semi-soft. Drain, peel, chop into 1 inch pieces, & then put aside. (If potatoes are too hot to handle, it helps to run them under cold tap water, or give them an ice bath. This also makes the potatoes easier to peel.)
6. Add soaked lentils & remaining water to soup. Cook for another 20 minutes or so.
7. Add kale, kidney beans, & (cooked, peeled, & diced) potatoes to soup. Cook approximately another 10 minutes or so.
8. Add chopped tomatoes & cook another 10-15 minutes.

Yield: Unknown. Yep, I'm being serious. :) Didn't take the time to measure this, as I was too preoccupied with getting dinner ready to pay any mind to this sort of stuff. Might update this after we've finished the soup. Will let you know. Let's just say, it could easily feed a family of 10 for dinner. :) That being said, probably best to dole out however many portions you need & freeze the rest for future meals. You know, on those days you don't feel like cooking. When you'd rather just defrost & reheat. ;-)

Serving Suggestions: Shred asiago or parmesan cheese & sprinkle on top of hot soup. And if you'd like to have a chunk of bread to go with your soup, I recommend loaves of rustic wholewheat, multi-grain, or dark-flour bread like rye or pumpernickel. Even sourdough might work. However, please note, this is not the type of soup that takes kindly to wimpy slices of bread. :) That kind of stuff will just disintegrate into the soup like "bird-bites" thrown into a pond at a duck feeding. And heaven forbid you use that pre-sliced & over-processed commercial stuff. Yes, I am talking about those thinly sliced packages of whole wheat & white bread & the like. And don't even get me started on the sugar & nutritional content issues I have with many of these types of breads & their ilk. Hell, bake your own bread if you must, but absolutely NO white bread please, or I might have to reach out from cyberspace & smack some sense into you myself. :) Not that I feel strongly about it or anything. LOL.

You see, using this sort of flimsy bread would totally ruin the total eating experience & really, the whole point of enjoying this soup. I really don't care if I sound like the "soup nazi." There's very clearly a right & a very wrong way to serve this soup. This soup is meant to be "rustic peasant food," but we are talking old-style Portuguese connotations here. And so, it needs a rustic bread to accompany it. End of statement.

Alternative Preparation Ideas: If you add cod & lemon juice, you could have a nice fish chowder; haven't tried it yet, but knowing what I do about soup bases, it'd probably be rather tasty. Or, you could try adding clams or mussels. This soup would probably also make a great minestrone. All it needs is pasta. :) Or, alternatively, you could use white potatoes instead of red, & drop the carrots, which'd take some of the natural sweetness out of the soup. (Don't get me wrong; it's not like you're drinking liquid candy, OK? The soup still has an overall savory taste to it.) And there's yet another way of making this soup.

Chef's Notes: Please note, that unlike many of the recipes listed here in this blog, this is not a quick-prep type of soup. So make sure you give yourself enough time to make this soup, especially if you plan to serve it for lunch or dinner in the same day & still get other stuff done. :) It takes atleast 15 minutes of prep time & at a bare minimum, at least another 30-45 minutes of cooking time. This is the kind of soup you probably want to make on the weekends, when you'll have plenty of time to cook in a more leisurely fashion, or at least have enough time to cook it & refrigerate it for serving later that week. Of course, you can always freeze it, if you'd like to have it several weeks or months later. (Best to date frozen soups & put in a freezer-burn-proof container.)

And lastly, as Gordon Ramsey likes to say, any competent chef worth his or her salt MUST taste their food. This is especially important when making soup. So get in there & start sipping at various stages to make sure your soup has been flavored properly & has the right consistency. If not, there are several tricks you can use to correct both of these factors. I'm not going to go into those tips in detail here at the moment, but if you need additional cooking tips regarding this recipe, you are welcome to leave your comments & questions at the end of this post & I'll do my best to provide additional advice/guidance. Thanks & enjoy!

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