Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Caldo Verde (Portuguese chorizo, potato & greens soup)

When I was a young girl, it was a special treat to go "over the hill" to Half Moon Bay, California. Back then, in the early 1960s, it was a sleepy little village, with a strong population of Portuguese fishermen. When we were done getting artichokes, or pumpkins, or spending an afternoon at the beach, my father always drove us through the Portuguese neighborhood as part of our "fun day". Their bungalows looked so exotic to us, daringly painted in lavender, periwinkle blue, salmon pink, purple, and aqua. I wish we'd taken pictures of them, because that Half Moon Bay is long gone, but this will give you an idea of what it was like:

I'm sure many of those families made caldo verde, which is the Portuguese national dish. What a perfect way to warm up after spending the day fishing out on the icy winter ocean! The traditional recipe calls for a dark green cabbage that is not available here in the United States. If you can get Portuguese cabbage, lucky you! For the rest of us, collards are the closest we'll get to this taste. Do not use the green cabbage varieties available in the US grocery stores and still call it caldo verde, or the food police will come after you: it's way too sulfurous for this.

This soup is thick and hearty with plenty of flavor and a sneaky heat that creeps up on you in a pleasant way. Perfect fuel for shoveling the snow that's coming our way this weekend, or a nice, long trail ride through the fall leaves, or even daring the Black Friday crowds. Serves 6-8. Make the whole recipe, it freezes well and is delicious as leftovers.

4+ TB EVOO, divided
12 oz Spanish style chorizo sausage, cut into thin slices.
1 med onion, finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Couple pinches red pepper flakes
2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4" chunks (very large bite-size)
4 c chicken broth
4 c water
1 lb collard greens, rinsed well, stems removed, and sliced whisker-thin, or as close to it as possible. See prep picture. You can use kale instead, but it is a different taste, and honestly? Kale has been so over-used the last 3-4 years, I'm tired of it. I need a break.
2 tsp white wine vinegar

If you can't find an additive-free, nitrite-free chorizo, and boy do I know how hard it can be, a Cajun-style andouille is close enough to substitute. I use Aidell's brand. I know what you're thinking. You can sub out the sausage, but not the cabbage? That's right. Trust me on the cabbage, please.

Prep all your food in advance; the greens will take the longest, so start with them. Pile up a few half-leaves, cut them in half vertically, and then pile them up and slice them. Cutting them in more and smaller bunches will give you better results than super-high piles.

Once you have everything ready, heat up 1 TB of the EVOO in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage slices. Even if the sausage is already cooked, like mine, brown them anyway for the added layer of flavor.

Remove sausage to a bowl and set aside. Reduce pot heat to medium, add another splash of EVOO if needed, and add the onion and garlic, 1.5 tsp salt, 8-10 grinds of fresh black pepper, and a couple pinches of crushed red pepper. You want to add the spices now for two reasons. One, the salt releases moisture from the onion, which will help to sweeten it. Two, the hot oil will better help release and develop more of the black and red pepper flavors before being diluted in the stock. Saute until the onions are translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, broth, and water. Cover & bring to a boil; remove cover and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Use a measuring cup to scoop 1 cup of the solids (potatoes, onion, garlic), and 1 cup of the liquid, and ladle both into a blender. Set the blender and contents aside for now.

Add the collards to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Re-cover the pot if needed to help bring the heat back up faster, then remove the lid again. Add the chorizo back in to the pot and simmer another 10 minutes, so all the flavors can begin to marry. Usually collards take a good 30 minutes to get nice and tender, but one of the advantages of slicing them so thin is that they cook faster. Use a fork to grab a couple of strands to make sure they're done.

Add the remaining 3 TB EVOO to the soup in the blender and puree till it's nice and smooth. Off the heat, pour the blended soup back into the pot (I ladle a little of the soup broth into the bottom of the blender to get it all), and add the vinegar. Stir to combine and taste for salt and pepper. So good.

I wish I'd checked the camera to make sure I had a sharply focused picture before the soup disappeared, but you get the idea: