In May, I was in Portugal for a photography workshop with the super-talented women behind Little Upside Down Cake and Local Milk. Sanda and Beth offered guidance and encouragement as we chased light and shadow through the winding streets of Lisbon. I learned a lot. And connected with a group of inspiring, creative women from around the world.
After the workshop, I wandered Lisbon and Porto solo, scouting unique restaurants, shops and markets to share on my upcoming culinary tour. Which resulted in me falling more in love with Portugal than ever. It’s funny to think how a tiny country I’d never dreamed of visiting two years ago, has fast become one of my very favorite places.
There are so many reasons to fall for Portugal. The light, for one. There’s something about the clear, bright light and the way it casts deep shadows. It’s so unlike the soft, cloud-filtered light we have in Seattle.
The architecture in Portugal is another. It is at once incredibly grand--baroque churches and towering castles--and slightly down-at-heel. The country is full of peeling, timeworn monuments to its history as a renaissance super-power of the high seas.
The people also make Portugal easy to love. The Portuguese have a slightly reserved but warm and generous spirit. Everyone I met was eager to help me out when I got lost or share information on where to find the best salt cod fritters or traditional egg pastries.
And the food.
I almost don’t have words to describe how much I love the food in Portugal. Maybe because, unlike with the cuisine of France or Italy or Spain, I harbored no high expectations for the food of Portugal. It’s excellence was a total surprise.
Portugal is a country of creamy soft-ripened cheeses and expertly cured meats. The most amazing fresh sardines I’ve ever had, charred and smoky from the grill. Salty-crisp cod fritters. And everything anointed with the country’s superlative gold-green olive oil.
The ubiquitous pastel de nata (egg custard tart) is a thing of beauty still warm from the oven with a cup of strong coffee. And I had something called a pão de deus--a fluffy brioche with a creamy layer of coconut under a golden, crisp coconut top--that almost brought tears to my eyes it was so good.
When I returned home, I found myself missing the flavors of Portugal. So I put together this salad to remind myself of my time in Lisbon and Porto. It is not a traditional dish by any means. But it has all the classic Portuguese flavors I love: kale, chiles, silky potatoes dressed in olive oil, tender grilled octopus and--perhaps best of all--smoky chorizo.
It’s my own little ode to the flavors of that sunny country by the sea.
Potato, Kale and Octopus Salad with Warm Chorizo Vinaigrette
- 2 cups stock or water
- 1 small onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small dried chile (or a large pinch of chile flakes
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to season
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 small octopus (mine weighed 3 ¾ lbs), cleaned
- 1 lb. new potatoes
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- Generous pinch chili flakes, or to taste
- 3 oz Spanish- or Portuguese-style cured chorizo, cut into very thin matchsticks
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 small bunch kale (I like Lacinato kale), stems removed and torn into 2-inch pieces
- ¼ cup hot or sweet pickled peppers, cut into rings or roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons parsley leaves
- ¼ cup whole mint leaves
*NOTES: If you live in Seattle, you can buy excellent quality octopus at Wild Salmon Seafood Market.
I like Mama Lil's pickled peppers, but any hot or sweet pickled pepper will add the kick you need to balance the chorizo and olive oil.
Combine the stock, onion, bay, chile, peppercorns, coriander, ½ teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven. Bring to the boil over high heat. Add the octopus and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover and braise the octopus until it is very tender, about 90 minutes.
Remove the octopus from the braising liquid and set it aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the tentacles from the body. Arrange the octopus on a platter or sheet pan and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. (You can braise the octopus a day in advance if you like.)
While the octopus is braising, cook the potatoes. Place in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover by 1 inch and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil over high heat then reduce heat and cook at a simmer until the potatoes are very tender, but not falling apart. The time will vary based on the size of your potatoes, but start checking after 8 minutes. Drain, but do not cool by running under cold water. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a large saute pan. Add the fennel seed and chili. Cook for one minute then add the chorizo. Cook until crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove the chorizo strips with a slotted spoon. Set aside.
Place the minced garlic in a medium bowl. Add the hot oil and spices from the saute pan along with the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper and whisk to combine.
Cut the warm potatoes in half and place them in a large mixing bowl. (If you let them cool completely, they don’t absorb the dressing as well.) Toss the potatoes with the kale and ¼ cup of the vinaigrette.
Heat a grill or grill pan to high heat. Toss the octopus with one tablespoon of the vinaigrette. Grill until the octopus is slightly charred and crisp. When it’s cool enough to handle, slice the octopus into 2-inch pieces.
Add the grilled octopus to bowl with potatoes and kale. Add the pickled peppers, herbs and reserved chorizo. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding the rest of the vinaigrette and more salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 4 main-course servings.