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Açorda à Alentejana is the Alentejo in a bowl

I remember the first time I had a bowl of açorda à alentejana - I did not know what to make of it. It looked like a bowl of water, with lots of green bits, oil and bread. Yet, I have come to love it — and sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.

To understand açorda à alentejana, you need to understand the Alentejo: A vast region that runs from the banks of the River Tejo to the mountains of the Algarve in Portugal - and from the Atlantic to the border with Spain.

In this simple soup, born in poverty, are hints of the region’s past.

Açorda à alentejana is a traditional soup from the Alentejo that, unlike many soups, is not cooked. Rather it mingles flavors. Açorda recipe is different from south to north and from family to family.

The basic pillars of a good açorda are garlic, salt, olive oil, boiling water and stale bread, as well as coriander. It is often served with a poached egg, added right at the end.

The cooking process involves mixing the salt with aromatic coriander and garlic, a mixture to which olive oil is added. Then comes the water which, once boiling, gets the stale Alentejo wheat bread and an egg.

The use of coriander is rare in Portugal, except in the Alentejo, where it is tied to the 500 years of Arab rule. The bread is a call back to the days when the region was referred to as the breadbasket of Portugal. The salt reminds us of the long Alentejo coast and the famous salt pan at Alcácer do Sal do Sal. Olive oil is one of the region’s finest products, and its oils are some of the best you’ll try. And, Portuguese love the egg — sweet or savory — and hot…

In one dish you get the flavors of the Alentejo - the crisp salt, the fragrant coriander, with the hearty wheat bread and the creamy egg… no wonder that Açorda à Alentejana was one of the final candidates for the 7 Wonders of Portuguese Cuisine.


* Jayme H. Simões is a travel blogger on Portugal. He grew up in Chicago but spent summers exploring Portugal with his family.

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