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Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
The Portuguese soup of caldo verde (literally "green broth") is about as simple as it gets when it comes to vegetable soups, yet its simplicity is the key to its comforting success. At its most basic, starchy potatoes are simply simmered with onions and kale until the kale is tender and flavorful, the onions have melted into the broth, and the potatoes completely disintegrate, thickening the soup into a rich, thick stew. Some really good olive oil drizzled over the top, and you've got a great, filling lunch or dinner.
Some versions of the soup are flavored with smoky chouriço, a dry-cured sausage deeply flavored with smoked paprika. It imparts, more than anything, a rich, nutty smokiness to the soup. With this flavor combination in mind, I set out to add a bit of complexity to my vegan version.
I could have added a bit of smoked paprika, but my goal here isn't to replicate the original, it's to riff off it and come up with something equally tasty.
First off, a couple of chipotle chiles—smoked jalapeños that come canned in deep red adobo sauce—add plenty of smoke and just a touch of heat.
I've always thought that brassica in general and cauliflower in particular are best when slightly charred. They attain a nuttiness that borders on meaty while simultaneously becoming sweeter, all flavors that go very well with the neutral potatoes and kale.
If you want a chunky soup, there's no need to blend anything at all. Personally, I prefer the slightly smoother texture of a blended soup, so I blend the cauliflower/chipotle broth before adding the potatoes and kale and cooking it until everything dissolves. The integrated flavors go remarkably well together (and of course, don't forget the olive oil drizzle on top).
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.