Cooking – Caldo Verde

It’s official. Autumn has landed in a big, fat puddle of hibernation-inducing blah. Time to dig deep and try to remember how to drag yourself out of bed when the sky is dark with rain. Having something to look forward to at the end of the day always helps, so it’s definitely time to plan steaming bowls of soup and stew (and maybe a glass of wine or beer) for dinner.

Many years ago, I clipped one of Jurgen Gothe’s ‘Uncorked’ columns from the Georgia Straight and added it to my recipe collection. It had a recipe for the super-simple and hearty, Portuguese soup caldo verde (hot green). It has since become one of my favourite autumnal/winter dinners.

Caldo verde (hot green) and a wee glass of vino…

Caldo verde only requires four key ingredients, so it’s wonderfully easy to grab what’s needed on the way home or a day or two in advance.

Potatoes, Kale, Sausages, and Olive Oil!

Traditionally, the Portugese sausages chourico or linguica would be used, but I’ve never used them. If you want to try them, they are often available at Oyama Sausages, Union Foods Market and Bosa Foods. I make caldo verde with 3 big links of bratwurst from Whole Foods. I find the very simple seasoning of bratwurst just right and the ones at Whole Foods are good-quality, tasty and inexpensive.

Simply leave the sausages out for a delicious and hearty, vegetarian version. It will still have tons of flavour.

I have found that the results can vary significantly depending on the type of potatoes that you use. Russets will give you a very thick and smooth soup if you mash them well in a separate bowl (a bit too smooth for me). Yukon Gold (and yellow-fleshed) potatoes don’t mash as smoothly, so you get more texture, which I prefer. I make it with whatever potatoes I have on hand and found that using two kinds of potatoes (since I had a few odd balls in the fridge) works fine too. I’ve even tried it with a couple of yams mixed with the potatoes, producing a very different and slightly sweet soup which Simon liked.

I leave my potatoes unpeeled for more nutritional and textural value. And, since I can’t be bothered to mash the potatoes in a separate bowl (one less dirty dish), I like to use Russet potatoes and just mash them in the water for a soup with some texture. As long as the starch to water ratio is right, the olive oil will still blend well into the soup once everything is added. I’ve only had it fail to blend smoothly once when I used this shortcut, but for guaranteed results, mash the taters with the oil in a separate bowl.

This is my variation of Jurgen Gothe’s recipe.

Caldo Verde Recipe

  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and cut (I prefer them unpeeled)
  • 6 to 7 cups cold water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup tasty olive oil (not bitter)
  • 1 bunch of finely shredded kale (no stalks)
  • 2 or 3 sausages, cooked, then sliced (cut with kitchen scissors if you have them)

Options for cooking the sausages:

  • I put the sausages on a small, foil-covered pan (with a bit of an edge to catch the fat) and cook them in the oven on 350 C for about 30 minutes. They should be golden on top and surrounded by lots of juice. I prefer to cook the sausages this way so I can add the juice and fat into the soup.
  • Jurgen’s recipe says to simmer the sausages in water for 10 to 15 minutes. The sausage water is not used in the soup, which seemed like a waste to me.

Put the sausages in the oven and then start prepping the potatoes. The sausages are the last thing to go into the soup, so the timing works out perfectly.

Instructions (thanks to Jurgen Gothe)

Bring the potatoes to a boil in the salted water in a big pot, then simmer with the lid off for 20 minutes or so. Take the potatoes out of the pot with a slotted spoon; DO NOT POUR OUT THE WATER. Mash them in a bowl and beat in the pepper and oil. (A key is not to mash the potatoes too much; a few little lumps are nice.) Now stir the mush back into the hot potato water.

Rip the kale’s leafy parts off the stem (discard the stems), wash the leaves very well in a couple changes of water, bunch the leaves together, and cut them into fine strips with a sharp knife.

Bring the soup to a boil again and toss in the kale. Boil five to seven minutes. Some people like their kale crunchy; not me, so I cook it longer. Add the sausage slices and let bubble another two to three minutes. Eat as soon as you can without burning your tongue.

Caution: The name, caldo verde, means hot green and is truth in advertising as this soup is seriously hot when you bring it off the burner!

Serve with bread or homemade corn bread warm out of the oven slathered in butter!

Add caldo verde to your winter-survival tool kit tonight! Well….tomorrow is okay too.

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