Comfort Food: Kale Soup with Portuguese Meatballs

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I really hate to brag, but I just had an exciting long weekend recovering from a terrible case of strep throat. Between naps and sweating out fevers, I spent my free time fervently wishing my fairy godmother would surprise me with a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Unfortunately she never showed, and since the show must go on, I managed to pull myself together Sunday night and scrounge up the ingredients to create this tasty update to one of my favorite comfort dishes!

Portuguese Kale Soup, or Caldo Verde, as it is known in Portugal, is a traditional soup dish made with fresh kale, potatoes, onions and broth. I fondly remember childhood vacations in Southeastern Massachusetts eating kale soup made by my Cape Verdean grandmother and aunts, and occasionally my mom back at home. The version they made also included kidney beans and linguiça, a Portuguese sausage similar to Spanish chorizo. I'm embarassed to admit that well into my late teens I believed linguiça was only known to Massachusetts, as it was the only place I ever got to eat the garlicky, paprika-seasoned bright red sausage. It was added to my favorite Cape Verdean dish, jagacida (rice and beans), served on Portuguese rolls with peppers and melted cheese, ordered as a pizza topping, made into dips, and even scrambled with eggs. Of course as an adult I know that while not always easy to find in some areas, it is possible to buy linguiça in local grocery stores across the county or order online. My local Publix store carries it here in Florida, right alongside the chorizo. Some stores even offer turkey linguiça. (But the way I feel about that is the same way I feel about turkey bacon: don't ever tease me with such foolishness.)

That said, I prefer not to include pork in my diet anymore but I was craving the flavor of linguiça and traditional kale soup just isn't the same to me without meat. I had ground chicken and turkey breast on hand, so I figured why not make meatballs for the soup, similar to Italian Wedding Soup. I found a few recipes for homemade linguiça and decided I would season the meat in the same manner, add breadcrumbs and an egg, and roll them up. After a few tweaks to my batch, I was pleased with the end result - light, lean meatballs with the slightly spicy flavor of linguiça! They are a perfect compliment to the kale soup and didn't add all of the grease that linguiça often does. Hope it warms your belly as much as it did mine!

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped and stems removed (I used a blend of green & purple)
4 small white potatoes, diced
1 c. diced onions
1 c. diced carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. diced tomatoes (or 1 can diced)
1 can beans (Kidney, small red, or cannellini work well. If using dried beans, adjust cooking time.)
4 c. chicken broth
4 c. beef broth
2 large bay leaves
Paprika, to taste
Salt & pepper, to taste
Italian dried seasoning or fresh herbs, to taste (optional)

1 1/2 lb ground turkey or chicken breast
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp paprika or smoked paprika
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes1 Tbsp liquid smoke (optional)
1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs
1 large egg
Olive oil

Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 1 hr
Equipment Needed: Large stock pot

Note: I recommend making the meatballs ahead of time and letting the mixture sit in the fridge for an hour or two before cooking. Along the same lines, the soup tastes much more flavorful the longer you allow it to simmer (even better the next day or two!) Best thing to do is to make this around lunch time even if you plan to serve it for dinner.

To make the meatballs, in a large mixing bowl combine the ground meat, vinegar, wine and all seasonings.

Mix well to evenly incorporate the paprika throughout. If you have the time, take a tablespoon or so of the mix and cook it in a small pan with a few drops of olive oil. That is really your only opportunity to taste and adjust the seasonings. If you've had linguiça you'll probably be pickier about the blend of seasonings, like I was.

Add the egg and breadcrumbs, mix well. The meatball mixture should be moist but able to hold a shape. You may need to add more breadcrumbs if it's too wet. If you will be letting the mix sit for an hour or two, you can always make that adjustment when you're ready to roll into meatballs later.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 - 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop. When ready, roll into 1 inch small meatballs. Preheat your stock pot over medium-high heat.

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to bottom of the pot (that's about 2 times around the pan if you're like me and don't measure.) When hot, add meatballs and gently roll around the pot to brown. You'll want to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pot.

You do not need to worry about these being cooked all the way through because they will simmer in the soup. The idea is just to get them brown on the outside and flavor the pot a bit to start your soup. Once the meatballs are cooked, cover and set aside.

To start the soup, add the onions to the pan and allow to cook until translucent.

Add garlic, carrots and potatoes. Season with paprika, salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes soften and carrots are tender.

Add chicken and beef stock, tomatoes, bay leaves. Slowly add kale, allowing a handful at a time to wilt to make room in the pot for the next until all kale is added.

Optionally, add some dried or fresh herbs (parsley, oregano). Adjust seasoning to taste. Be careful about adding too much salt as the chicken and beef stock does have salt, and the kale will absorb all seasonings the longer it simmers. Finally, add the meatballs and allow soup to simmer for at least 30 minutes over low heat before serving.

Serve kale soup with crusty bread and a glass of red wine. Bom apetite!

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