Today has been one of those rare perfect days.
I’m writing this from a picnic table in front of an old stone farmhouse in the Portuguese countryside. There’s a flawless blue sky overhead and a lazy breeze rocking the eucalyptus trees nearby. This morning, Beau and I walked to the beach where we watched the comings and goings of a flock of seagulls and listened to the waves roar in.
Later, we hopped in our rented station wagon and bobbed over country roads flanked by groves of cork oak trees. Our destination: a little restaurant housed in an old schoolhouse where we ordered a pile of fried fish and a bottle of crisp vinho verde to wash them down. Back at our guesthouse, I spent the afternoon lazing by the pool reading magazines and floating in and out of a delicious sleep.
It’s days like today that keep me yearning to travel. To discover more serene beaches and locals-only restaurants nestled along country roads.
But of course, travel is not always as idyllic as this sun-kissed day in the Portuguese countryside. I’ve been on the road for over three weeks now and it’s had its inevitable ups and downs. In Paris, I led a culinary tour with my friend Rachael that was fantastic. And exhilarating. And a lot of work. Navigating a group of ten through Paris traffic is not exactly a walk in the park. And pinning down tour logistics with the maddeningly noncommittal French has it’s own set of unique challenges.
As soon as the tour ended, Beau and I headed to Porto and Lisbon to explore, see friends and do research for my next Portugal tour. Until today, this trip has been a whirlwind of seeing and doing and eating and trekking through different cities. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel pretty frazzled. There’s something about being away from the rituals of home, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, eating strange foods, navigating foreign languages, that leaves me a little unmoored. A few days after we arrived in Portugal, I started waking up in the middle of the night feeling disoriented and anxious and longing to book the next flight home.
Luckily, I know what to do when I feel the travel blues coming on. I make this soup.
It is decidedly un-fancy. A few humble vegetables cooked together in a bit of water to make a savory broth with some chicken and/or sausage thrown in for good measure. It’s restorative powers lie in this simplicity. After days (or weeks) of rich fare and exotic ingredients, it’s exactly what I want to eat.
I first made this soup a couple years ago while staying at an Airbnb rental in Paris. I’d just finished leading a culinary tour and couldn’t imagine eating one more eclair or croissant or charcuterie plate. I stopped in at the corner market beneath my apartment and threw this together with what I found there. A bowl of this simple, homey soup cured my malaise. Now it’s my go-to remedy when I’m traveling and feeling out of sorts.
Of course, you don’t need to be in a foreign country or fed up with French food to enjoy this soup. It will right your ship on a grey fall day or chill winter night. For me, this home-away-from-home soup (as I like to think of it) is a touchstone of sorts. A small ritual that anchors me when everything around me feels foreign. A brothy comfort that restores body and soul as only a warm bowl of homemade soup can.
Home Away From Home Soup with Cabbage, Kuri Squash, Linguiça and Chicken
- 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil + additional for drizzling
- 1 medium leek, white and pale green part only, halved lengthwise then sliced into half moons
- Sea salt
- ½ medium head savoy or green cabbage, cored and cut into 1-inch ribbons
- 1 medium kuri or kabocha squash, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces (no need to peel)
- 2-3 small turnips, tops and tails removed and cut into ½-inch thick wedges
- 6 medium tomatoes or 1 28-oz can peeled tomatoes (drained), roughly chopped
- 6 oz linguiça or Portuguese-style cured chorizo, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
- 1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced into half moons
- 2 cups leftover roasted chicken
*Note: Pretty much everything in this soup is optional or adaptable. If you don’t have a leek, use a small onion. If you don’t like cabbage, use kale or another green you prefer. Sub potatoes for turnips if you want. Leave out the chicken and sausage (and maybe add a small handful of green lentils) for a vegan version. The version here is the one I first made and the one I always come back to. But feel free to experiment and make this soup your own.
- This was the first time I added sausage to the soup. In the past I've always made it with chicken. But since we're in Portugal, I threw in some sliced linguiça we had in the fridge. I think the smokiness of the sausage adds delicious depth of flavor the soup.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and a sprinkle of salt and cook for a few minutes until the leek is starting to get soft. Add the cabbage, squash, turnips, tomatoes and sausage along with 4 cups of water. Salt to taste. Bring to the boil over high heat then reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are almost tender. Add the red pepper and zucchini and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Add another cup or two of water if you like your soup on the brothy side like I do. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Continue to cook the soup until the vegetables are as tender as you like them. Sometimes I like them tender-crisp (this yields a prettier soup) and sometimes I like them super-soft (which is not as bright in color, but more comforting somehow).
Serve soup hot with a nice drizzle of olive oil over the top.
Makes 4-6 servings.