If you just want the recipe, scroll down. Otherwise, take a journey with me to Lisbon as I recollect the first time I met this soup.
What’s a secret dinner?
Our city team leader, Gonçalo was an amateaur cook. He really was an artist and photographer. His quiet, disheveled demeanor is intriguing in an artist. I decided to sign up for his dinner. He had planned it perfectly.
He made us meet at sunset at a beautiful lookout point. We took pictures, met the other dinner guests and ooed and awed about the amazing view. Then, we followed him to his apartment. None of us knew what to expect. When we arrived, it looked like an old, forgotten warehouse. The lights weren’t even working. To add to that, Gonçalo told us to keep our voices down because the other tenants would get mad. There was no lobby, it was a broken warehouse the more we walked inside. The stairway was pitch black and we had to pull out our phones just to see, all while not talking. I started to become angry that this is something that I paid for. But, then, as we entered his apartment, it was romantic, artistic and intriguing just like him. The full length windows of this old textile room made the room feel even bigger than it was. The sunset was still in view and the wind was blowing all the oversized curtains to the left and you walked to the right. There were no divisions in the room and there was no overhead lighting. There was just dim lights and candles which made the whole room feel like the absolute perfect place for sex. To add to that, Etta James and Louis Armstrong were playing in the background. His sweet girlfriend was taking care of things in the oven and Gonçalo in his soft spoken but magnetic way was the showman offering glasses of wines and leading us to the meat and cheese appetizers. He also laughed his silent laugh when he saw our faces once we entered his place. He wanted to throw us off and think the place would be a dump, when instead it was magnificently decorated and styled in just the 2 weeks him and his girlfriend were living there. I suppose that’s the artist greatest triumph- to change your perspective in an instant. We laughed about it and Holly from Atlanta didn’t hesitate to tell Gonçalo how she felt on the whole walk in.
Once we sat down I was starving. I had eaten little that day because I knew the menu was going to be 3 to 5 courses. Once everyone arrived and had a few sips of the white wine that had a green tint to it (later I realized it was called vinho verde or green wine), he was ready to do the show. He would show us this special dish that held choriço and would be put on fire with alcohol. That just looked amazing in the dimly lit room. Gonçalo didn’t flinch when the fire and alcohol sparked up.
We sat down and our first course would be soup. I was so excited because for some reason when you travel, soup is not usually what you order on the menu. I missed it and looked forward to some warm broth. When it came out, with Gonçalo and his girlfriend serving us, it was homestyle to the tee. The bread chunks were popping out of the broth and the red tomato skins and egg white strands made the soup feel like you were in a home. It was a humble soup. Goncalo mentioned that it is really a cilantro soup but many foreign visitors he cooked for don’t like cilantro so he left it on the side. The soup was great, with a base of onions and garlic, stewed for some hours. The egg is poached in the soup at the last minute. I don’t know if this is really such a Portugueses soup so much as a homemade recipe. With little in the cupboard or fridge, I could see myself easily making this on a Tuesday night.
Açorda à Alentejana (Bread and Garlic Soup with Cilantro)
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped (optional)
- 3 ciabatta rolls, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
- 1 tomato roughly chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped small
- 4 cups chicken stock or water
- 4 eggs
1. Make the cilantro-olive oil by placing the cilantro, oil and serrano pepper in a food processor or blender. Pulse until chopped fine, then set aside.
2. Make the garlic croutons. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a pan (I use the same pot I cook the soup in), melt the butter with minced garlic. Cook just until garlic starts to turn golden brown on the edges. Then, remove from heat immediately and add olive oil. In a bowl or on the baking tray, toss the cut bread cubes with the garlic-butter. Lay bread on one layer of a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly brown. Then, set aside (and try not to eat them all- they are addicting)
3. To make the soup: Cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Then, add the tomato, and peppers and cook until softened. Add the chicken stock and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Set aside until ready to serve.
4. When guests are ready (or you are- let’s be honest) poach eggs in broth. Do this by putting the heat to a low simmer. Break an egg into a little cup or container and put to the side. Then, with a spoon swirl the soup to create a vortex like a volcano. With the vortex going, gently pour egg into soup as close to the broth as you can. The key is gently. Keep swirling it gently for 1-2 minutes or until egg white is cooked and coats yolk. Cook a couple minutes more for hard-boiled. Repeat this process for all the eggs.
5. When ready to serve, spoon a portion of soup into the bowl, then top with garlic croutons and drizzle of cilantro-olive oil sauce.