Ode to Sopa à Alentejana

(Photo: Can I have some soup with my garlic, please? Credit: Glória Fácil.)

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on nowness, indeed, I did go shopping for dinner, after all. If there’s anything I regret about my move to Chicago, it’s that unlike my NYC hometown, we don’t have any Portuguese restaurants in the Windy City.

No, oh no, all those Brazilian steakhouses in town just don’t count. And, dammit, I was in the mood for Sopa à Alentejana, or Portugal’s incredible Alentejan garlic-cilantro soup.

So off I went on a 30-minute that turned into 90-minute supermarket sweep of River North (I told you we ADDers can’t estimate time). And then I went home and created the meal that I just finished my second day–and the other half of my bottle of Vinho Verde–enjoying.

Regular readers will remember my love for another quirky soup, the equally garlicky Korean kimchi chigae. Either one of these soups is heaven on a chilly day. But Sopa à Alentejana and I have a history.

On the first day of my first trip to Lisbon in fall 2000, my Luso buddy Jose (and please pronounce that “J”, he is not a Spaniard) and I found ourselves hungry for lunch on the Rua da Sé in the Alfama. We ended up in a teeny tasca with half a dozen tables and a marked lack of non-locals. Jose suggested Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, the garlicky clam dish that would become our afternoon staple across the city of seven hills.

But what to start with? Jose ordered Sopa à Alentejana. I asked him whether he thought I’d like it. He shook his head and told me tourists never go near the stuff, but I’ve never met a clove of garlic I didn’t like.

So we ordered a whole tureen, along with the clams and a bottle of Vinho Verde (Portugal’s answer to Prosecco). And Jose and the waiter both stared in shock and admiration as I barely came up for air. It was like sex in soup form, and oh my, the Vinho Verde just made me want to pull a privacy curtain around the table.

Did I mention the poached egg and day-old bread floating in the pungently green broth?

Unfortunately, Vinho Verde is as seductive as Sopa à Alentejana. I never saw the second bottle coming. I felt its effects, though, when we met Zay’s parents for dinner at a terrace restaurant in their west-suburban town of Parede. We had Sapateiro, or Portuguese hard-shell crab. With mallets. Lots of mallets. All going at once. Hammer. Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.

I put my hungover head down and went to my happy place.

Yesterday, that happy place was my apartment, which I turned into my personal Portuguese restaurant for one. I paired the soup with another Portuguese favorite, Bacalhau à Brás, or codfish with scrambled eggs and fried potatoes. I was out on a limb there, usually I stick with making yummy Pastéis de Bacalhau (fried salt-codfish balls), but I was in an adventurous mood.

If I had had time to make Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts), I’d never have left the house this morning.

I know most of you probably aren’t intrigued by garlic soup or salt cod. Good, more for me. Those who are, however, can find a fine Bacalhau à Brás recipe at the wonderful Leite’s Culinaria.

Unless you can read Portuguese, though, the above Sopa à Alentejana link won’t do you much good. Just mash up (or process) a bunch of cilantro, a few cloves of garlic, half a cup or so of extra virgin olive oil, and a teaspoon of salt. Put a tablesoon of the paste in a bowl, pour in hot water or chicken broth (I prefer the broth), and drop in a poached egg and some hard bread.

But if you pair it with Vinho Verde, don’t complain to me if you’re not heard from until morning.

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