A few weeks in Portugal and Spain wasn’t enough, for all kinds of reasons. Here’s one: I wanted to keep eating their soups. Sometimes chilled and refreshing. Sometimes warm and comforting. Sometimes thick and sometimes brothy. With deeply satisfying flavors, always.
In the end, my favorites were gazpacho and caldo verde. I knew these classic soups already, but the trip gave me a chance to experience their amazing variety.
A friend from Andalucia told me that her mother always serves a pitcher of gazpacho, red or white, for sipping at any point during the mid-day meal. During my trip, I also encountered salmorejo, thickened with enough bread to support an upright spoon. This gazpacho variation originated in Cordaba, site of the Great Mosque and an old Jewish quarter.
I prefer a runnier gazpacho like the recipe given below, but have garnished it with the hard-cooked egg wedge and pork traditional to salmorejo.
When yellow tomatoes are available, I make gazpacho that shows off their gorgeous hue. Sometimes that morphs into an Italian-inflected soup with yellow tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash.
At Cordoba’s Casa Pepe de la Judería, we also sampled ajo caldo blanco, a wonderful white gazpacho made with almonds and garnished with pear compote and pine nuts.
My other featured soup, caldo verde (“warm and green”), arrived time and time again with thin shreds of spring’s young turnip greens. I loved it every time. So simple and so nourishing.
The Madrid restaurant Ocafu’ served caldo gallego, a more robust version from Galicia, simmered with a ham bone and beans–but with the same potato-thickened broth and greens as caldo verde.
My preference during the summer months is a vegetarian version, with whatever dark greens are in season. Once the weather turns cold, a meat-and-beans caldo gallego will appeal.
At Casa do Alentejo, in Lisbon, our friend Barry ate what is definitely the breadiest bread soup I’ve ever seen.
He was not a fan, but it reminded me of Italy’s aqua cotta, showing the methods used by frugal cooks to extract nutrition and flavor from a few vegetables and seasonings.
A simple fideo and chickpea soup in Barcelona also reminded me of Italian soups.
Our lovely posada beside the Roman temple in Evora concluded one dinner with a traditional tomato soup that had nothing to do with gazpacho. It was hot and chunky with tomatoes, vegetables, pork and the eggs beloved by Iberian soup makers.
I haven’t even touched on fish soups, but I’ll stop here–in the hope you’ll be inspired to make caldo verde or gazpacho, soups for any season.
This recipe is loosely adapted from one in Janet Mendel's excellent My Kitchen in Spain. I've chosen to give conservative quantities for salt, vinegar and cumin. Taste carefully once the gazpacho is made and add more seasonings to your taste.
- 4 ounces country-style bread crusts removed (about 4 slices)
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes about 4
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- 1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber
- ½ cup chopped sweet onion such as Vidalia
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar or to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)
- 6 to 8 hard-cooked egg wedges for garnish (optional)
- 6 to 8 thin strips Serrano ham or prosciutto optional
Tear bread in pieces and place in a bowl; cover with water and soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile, set a strainer over blender container. Halve tomatoes and, using fingers, scoop pulp into strainer, pressing to push liquid through while leaving seeds behind.
Pick up bread, squeezing water from each handful, and add to blender, along with garlic. Blend until smooth (add a little water if mixture is too dry to blend).
Add cucumber, onion, salt and cumin. Blend until smooth. With motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream. Add more water as needed for the desired consistency, which could be runny or fairly thick.
Taste, adding more seasonings (salt, vinegar and, if using, hot pepper sauce) as needed; blend briefly to incorporate additions.
Garnish each serving with an egg wedge and artfully draped ham strip.
This recipe is adapted from The Food of Spain and Portugal, by Elizabeth Ortiz. To make a heartier version of the soup, called caldo gallego, cook ingredients with a smoked ham hock; discard at the end. Stir in 1 to 2 cups white beans or garbanzo beans.
- 1 medium bunch kale, dandelion or young turnip greens
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and sliced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt or as needed
- Freshly ground black pepper as needed
- 4 to 8 ounces fresh, cooked chorizo* or smoked chorizo* or other garlic-flavored sausage, sliced thinly *
Trim tough stems from kale and slice crosswise in thin pieces. Stack leaves, about 6 at a time, roll up and slice thinly.
Place onion in a large, heavy saucepan and drizzle with oil. Saute over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is soft and translucent, but not browned. Add potatoes and sliced kale stems. Cook several minutes longer.
Cover ingredients with water, and add 2 teaspoons salt and several grindings of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes.
Fit a food mill with the medium sieve and force the potato mixture through into a bowl; alternatively, use a food processor or blender to puree.
Return the pureed mixture to the saucepan and reheat gently, adding more water if too thick. Add kale leaves and cook just until wilted. Stir in cooked chorizo just before serving.
* Mexican-style chorizo is usually fresh. Cook it thoroughly in a little olive oil and cool before slicing. The cured chorizo used in Spain or Portugal (chourico) does not need additional cooking.