At Aldea on West 17th Street, Chef George Mendes’s menus are renowned for ethereal treatments of ingredients like sea urchin and foie gras. But if you’ve read his essay in our travel issue, you already know he named the upscale restaurant the word for “village” in Portuguese and draws lifelong inspiration from the rustic cooking of his family’s homeland.
His parents grew up near fig and olive forests and although they immigrated to Connecticut, he grew up in a tight-knit Portuguese-American community feasting on grilled sardines, roast sucking pig, home-cured chourico and huge stockpots of the iconic collard green soup called caldo verde.
My Portgual, his gorgeous new cookbook, includes intricate, upscale recipes like you’d find at Aldea — think quince with foie gras or sea urchin toasts with sisho and lime. But it’s also alive with the simple dishes he grew up on.
Straddling both approaches, here are two recipe that you’ll want to make right now.
Portuguese collard-chouriço soup
Chouriço (Portuguese chorizo) draws its distinctive smoke flavor from pimentón
extra-virgin olive oil as needed
1 (5-inch) piece cured chouriço
½ small white onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt as needed
4 large Yukon gold potatoes (1 pound 10 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound collard greens
Heat a large saucepot over medium-low heat. Coat the bottom with oil, then add the chouriço, onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and enough water to cover them by an inch.
Raise the heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
Transfer the chouriço to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut into ⅛-inch- thick slices. Meanwhile, simmer the potatoes, replenishing water as needed to keep it an inch above the potatoes, until they’re very, very soft, about 45 minutes longer.
While the potatoes cook, prepare the collards. In Portugal, this is called the “caldo verde cut.” Strip the leaves off the tough stems and ribs, then stack a few leaves and roll them very tightly into a cylinder. Cut the cylinder crosswise into very, very thin strips, then cut those strips into 1-inch lengths. Repeat with the remaining collards.
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and salt it generously. Add the collards and cook, stirring vigorously, until bright green and crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Shock in the ice water and drain well.
Using a blender, puree the potatoes with their cooking liquid until very smooth. While pureeing, drizzle in 2 tablespoons oil. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan. Stir in more water to create a soupy consistency. Bring to a simmer, then fold in the onion mixture, collards, and chouriço. Season with salt. Divide among serving bowls and drizzle with oil.
Coconut-saffron cauliflower and broccoli (pictured above)
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
2½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons saffron threads
Kosher salt as needed
1 pound cauliflower florets
1 pound broccoli florets
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
1 small white onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh bay leaves
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 (13.5-ounce) cans coconut milk
1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
Crushed red chile flakes for serving
Fresh lime juice for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves for serving
In a small skillet, heat the coriander, cumin and saffron over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until toasted and fragrant. Cool completely, then grind in a spice grinder until coarsely ground.
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the ice water. When cool, drain well. Repeat the blanching and shocking with the broccoli.
Heat an 8-quart saucepot over medium heat. Add oil to very generously coat the bottom, then add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Season with salt and sweat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tamarind paste and toasted spices and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the coconut milk and 1 cup water. Season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 35 minutes.
Stir in the cauliflower, broccoli, and jalapeño. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower and broccoli are just tender, about 5 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves. Season with salt, chile flakes, and lime juice. Top with cilantro and serve hot.
Reprinted with permission from My Portugal by George Mendes; ABRAMS; Fall 2014