Feliz Natal and Boas Festas! – Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Portugal! I’m sure all of you have been eating and drinking a ton of rich, fatty, sweet and alcoholic stuff for the past month or so, I’ve certainly have because the Portuguese are all about the food during the holidays! Now that (hopefully) the worst of the holiday overeating is over, many of us are probably thinking about gearing up for the post-Christmas, New Year’s resolution diet…..ugh.
So what is the best thing to eat in Portugal when you’re on a diet? SOUP! I’ve had a soup evolution, and I’ve learned that the Portuguese do it better!
I’ve always loved soup, I love to eat it and I love to make it (preferably both) and nothing makes me happier than taking the time to put together a really nice soup for when friends and family come over. But when I have those cold nights after a long day and perhaps a big, fatty late lunch (which is common here in Portugal on the weekends), and I’m too tired and not that hungry to do much cooking, spending hours in the kitchen prepping and simmering soup is not what I want to do, though I still want some something warm and nourishing at the end of the day. One of my favorite soups to have or make back home was tomato soup, I grew up watching my mother open up a can of Campbell’s tomato, adding some macaroni and serving it with grilled cheese sandwiches on nights when she didn’t feel like cooking. Well here in Portugal, it’s a bit hard to find any Campbell’s soup, and when you do, it’s super expensive. Besides, why should I spend a bunch of money on the processed stuff when I can make my own? But then when I look up tomato soup recipes online, all of them have a bunch of butter, cream, stock and long simmering times……both unhealthy and too much time to make when I’m tired and feeling fat!
So I decided to switch from Google.com to Google.pt to see if a Portuguese version of tomato would be better. As I mentioned in an earlier post this year, traditional Portuguese style soup is normally a purée of various vegetables, including pumpkin, carrot, potato, leek, onion, garlic and turnip, with cabbage or green beans or spinach mixed in after blending. For sopa de tomate – tomato soup, I found it normally follows this method as well, though there were several variations depending on the region. Tomato soup is most popular in the southern region of Alentejo, and has not only tomatoes, onions and garlic, but normally red and green bell peppers as well, and is not always entirely puréed. Even their version of gaspacho is not puréed, and both have those token big chunks of crusty Alentejo bread like you saw in my post about their Açorda Alentejana. However, I prefer my tomato soup to be a purée, and I easily found plenty of this version for a general Portuguese tomato soup.
I ended up choosing the one from Chef Tiger, a cute little grey-striped Portuguese kitty whose owner has apparently taught him to cook well The recipe has a really nice picture layout and boasted how simple it is: 4 ingredients- tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro (plus water, salt, olive oil and bay leaf) 4 quick steps- slice, sauté, simmer and purée, and 25 minutes to make a soup for two people (you can easily make more in that time) that costs about €2.00 for the whole recipe. It also includes poaching two eggs in the soup (like the Açorda) and serving it with some toast if you want (which I did). And not only was it a quicker and much healthier version of tomato soup, but perhaps even tastier! The tomato and fresh cilantro are great together, and then swirling that runny, soft-poached egg yolk around in your bowl is just heaven! With the protein from the egg and a small piece of wheat toast, you basically have a complete, satisfying (and healthy) meal right there, though a warm, grilled cheese and ham sandwich pairs nicely with it as well
I was so amazed by my discovery of this awesome Portuguese version of tomato soup, I decided to look up other simpler, healthier versions of other popular soups. And I found another winner, Portuguese “cream” of broccoli soup, but this recipe has no cream, instead it uses zucchini in the purée that gives it a deliciously creamy texture without the calories! This was the secret ingredient on one of the episodes of known Portuguese chef Henrique Sá Pessoa’s namesake cooking show, Ingrediente Secreto and I found the video recipe of it on You Tube and the chef does a great job showing you each step of this simple but surprising 3-ingredient soup, with a couple of poached eggs to garnish at the end of course And this soup also tasted better than any fatty broccoli soup I had ever had back in the US, I couldn’t believe it.
And so I want to share such wonderful discoveries with the rest of you, at a time of the year when we all need a little detox but don’t want to give up the flavor. And though these photo/video recipes I found are a great visual help, they’re still all in Portuguese so I have kindly translated them for you below, with a little bit of my own style added in to it. Please let me know if you decide to make these, and if you thought they were as fantastic as I did.
Happy New Year and Happy Dieting, The Portuguese Way!
Portuguese Tomato Soup: Recipe from Chef Tiger
Yield: 2 – 3 servings
– 4 to 6 fresh tomatoes (4 if large, 6 if small to medium), de-skinned and rough chopped (you can slice off the skin or I just blanch all of them in boiling water for easier removal)
– 1 large yellow onion, sliced
– 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thin (I use around 4 because I love garlic)
– 1 Bay leaf
– 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and destemmed
– coarse sea salt (preferably Portuguese)
– olive oil
– 2 eggs
*Parmesan cheese and toast for garnish
1. Sauté the onions and garlic with the Bay leaf in olive oil until soft and translucent, about 5 mins. (I add a small pinch of sea salt here to get them going)
2. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, mix in well for a minute or two then add enough water just to cover ingredients.
3. Add a generous pinch of sea salt (about a tablespoon or so), mix and bring to a bowl, then turn down and let simmer until you can smell all the flavors melded together (about 10-15mins).
4. Take off heat, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, remove Bay leaf and purée in pot with hand blender. Put back on heat to bring to just a slight simmer.
5. Gently add the eggs, one at a time on opposite sides of the pot (crack each into a small bowl then add them from there), let cook about 3-4 minutes or longer if you don’t like runny yolks. You mat need to turn them a bit to get them covered with the white but don’t worry if they come out messy, the flavor is what counts! Ladle each egg into a bowl, then fill up with more soup, garnish with toast and cheese. Enjoy!
Portuguese Broccoli Soup: Recipe from Ingrediente Secreto
Yield: 6 – 8 servings
– About 2lbs. of broccoli with stems (or one large bag of fresh broccoli heads), slice the stems thinly and break the florets into small pieces.
– 1 large zucchini, sliced thin
– 1 large onion, sliced thin
– sea salt (preferably Portuguese)
– water (for both the soup and a separate pot to poach the eggs)
– 2 eggs ( or more if you have more people)
*Parmesan cheese and toast for garnish
1. Sauté the sliced broccoli stems and onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, a pinch of salt and a little bit more olive oil, sauté another couple of minutes.
2. Add just enough water to cover, bring to a boil. Add the broccoli florets only when the water is boiling (very important so that they stay green in color), mix in well, add another generous pinch of salt and let boil until all veg are soft (about 10-15 mins)
3. Meanwhile, heat another saucepot of water until just simmering, (add a splash of vinegar if you want) swirl the water and gently add the eggs (cracked each into separate bowls) to cook one at a time, helping them turn the white to cover with a spoon if necessary. Cook about 3-4 minutes or longer if you don’t want runny. Remove with slotted spoon and gently lay on paper towel, sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper and reserve.
4. Remove soup from heat, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary then purée in pot with hand blender. Ladle soup into bowls, gently put poached eggs on top. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and toast if desired. Enjoy!