Caldo Verde – Potato, Cabbage & Sausage Soup
Caldo Verde is now a national Portuguese dish, one which is often served at gatherings and for some reason at barbeques. A soup well loved by the population for its taste but also because it evokes childhood memories. It’s a creamy soup with cabbage strands and the light smoke flavour from the sausage. Originally it’s a soup of the North and more precisely around the region where I was born, the area between Minho and Douro. This is a very particular soup and has to be served with the cabbage cut in a distinctive way, otherwise it might as well be any cabbage soup which the Portuguese make on any given day.
Cabbage and potato soup with added beans or vegetables, cooked with a piece of salted pork, beef or sausages are soups my Gran still cooks now and I remember my Great-Gran cooking, no rules apply. Caldo Verde has rules. I would like to think I’m open to recipes evolving, this is afterall something I like to do myself, I play around with recipes, but not here. I’m quite intolerant when it comes to certain things, for me there’s no room for manoeuvre to the likes of Tortilla Española, Pasteis de Nata or Caldo Verde….my bossiness comes out in dishes like these.
The Cabbage – It’s Not Kale
The first false representation of caldo verde that’s all over the net is the type of cabbage used, wikipedia has got it wrong, some British TV chefs have got it wrong, it’s not kale cabbage. I did a little search to see how this translation of a very particular type of cabbage used in Portugal has been translated to kale. On wikipedia it says, kale cabbage is used or sometimes some recipes use collard greens. Let me say we never use kale, always collard greens, large dark green open leaf cabbage, that can grow quite tall. Kale and collard greens are apparently genetically similar and both primitive possibly going back to the Greeks, if you want to know more I found information here.
Why I’m so sure of this? Collard greens is the cabbage we grow commonly in Northern Portugal, it’s also referred to as the caldo verde cabbage. Anyone with a little patch of land will have a few stems of these greens, they’re easy to grow and are at their best in the winter months when very little grows in the cold frosty soil of Northern Portugal. This is poor man’s winter food; you have potatoes in the dark cellar from the harvest, a sausage that has been slowly smoking over your log burning stove and you go to the backyard to pick up a few leaves, when they are crisp and tender from the cold weather.
Collard greens grow throughout the year but during the summer they’re tougher and I have a note in my traditional Portuguese cookbook to blanch the summer collard greens first before finish cooking them in the soup, during the winter you add them straight to the soup without blanching them.
The other very specific reason we don’t use kale is because the greens of caldo verde have to be rolled up very tightly (see photos below) before you cut as finely as possible into thin strands, these strands are referred in Portuguese as “cortada em caldo-verde” meaning cut in style of caldo verde. To roll the cabbage like this you’re using large flat green leaves like collard greens. The kale cabbage comes in varying types of curly, not a good leaf to roll up. As a kid I don’t remember seeing kale but I do remember playing in the backyard among the caldo verde greens with my cousins.
Why is the Kale Cabbage in Caldo Verde All Over the Net?
While searching I was trying to figure how kale has become the translation for the caldo verde cabbage. It became clear when lovely Moira from Tertúlia de Sabores blog e-mailed me some information about her family’s recipe. Moira said when she looked up the word couve (cabbage in Portuguese) the dictionary translates to kale, she’s right it does. Couve is a generic term for cabbage with open leaves, not tightly grown into a cabbage ball.
Below is a photo of these collard greens in my parents’ garden, you can see two tall stalks of cabbage that have grown with thick stalks, and there’s some more shorter ones around them, when you pick the cabbage leaves you snap them from the bottom so the stalks will carry on growing with the younger top leaves.
The Vegetarian Option
Caldo verde ingredients are as follows; potato, cabbage, garlic, onion (optional), extra virgin olive oil, one sausage. It really needs the sausage to add the slight smokey flavour, that’s where the magic of this soup comes from.
You can omit the sausage and make it vegan but….and this coming from someone who eats a fair amount of vegan food...but…it lacks something…the mild smokey flavour. For this reason compensate a little, use a generous amount of black or white pepper to bring a kick to it. You can add a sprinkling of smoked pimentón to add smokiness…just don’t tell me about it!
Preparing for the Soup
Caldo verde is the sort of soup that is done by “Olho”, meaning by Eye, no recipes, you know what’s in it and add more water if too thick or reduced if too thin. The method is always the same, boil floury potatoes with garlic, onion and sausage, remove sausage, liquidise then add shredded greens.
Here in the UK the closest I can get to the collard greens is what goes by as greens or spring greens, pick out the largest leaves and cut the stalks out. Cut the leaf down the middle and pile the halves on top of each other.
Take a small pile of the cabbage leaves and roll them up as tight as you can.
Cut with a sharp knife as thinly as you can. If you want to make the strands of the leaves shorter then before rolling them up cut them across.
I grant you it can be very unlady-like to eat the soup with long strands of cabbage hanging off the spoon but this is what sets the soup apart from the rest.
Getting the right sausage here is difficult unless you have a Continental delicatessen nearby. In the supermarkets near me what I find is either Spanish chourizo or other paprika heavy sausages like the Hungarian one below right. The traditional Northern Portuguese chouriço is not paprika heavy, it will vary because each household if they had slaughtered a pig would choose to fill the cases in their individual way. The chouriço on the left is one I picked up in the Portuguese deli near me, it’s just pork, pork fat, garlic, salt and pepper with a slight smokey flavour.
I do remember caldo verde being served with different types of sausages even the not so traditional blood sausage; this is where you would add what was left smoking over your stove. Given how hard it is to find a non-heavy paprika sausage, use one you like, be it paprika, spicy, blood sausage, anything but a fresh sausage, preferably slightly smoked. However there is one piece of advice… do not cut open the sausage while boiling with the potatoes… for the reason I give below.
Don’t Cut the Sausage While Cooking
You want the soup at the end with a white creamy colour from the potatoes and little goblets of green extra virgin olive oil. What you don’t want is what I have below, the paprika fat released into your soup if you cut the sausage while cooking, only slice it at the end for garnishing the soup.
I made different variations of caldo verde, with and without the sausage, with and without the onion and different portions of water giving variable thickness to the soup. I like mine creamy and thick but you can easily thin it down with extra water, use the recipe as a guide to your personal preference. I think it was better having added the onion and this was confirmed by Moira’s family recipe.
For a vegan option see my notes above.
- 500g floury potatoes (peeled weight) cut into quarters
- 1 large onion, cut into large pieces
- 2 cloves peeled
- 1 small sausage left whole, see note above
- 200g green cabbage leaves (not bitter greens) shredded, see note above
- 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- pepper – optional
Add the potatoes, onion, garlic, sausage and salt with 1.5 litre of water to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are falling apart and the onion is soft, about 15 mins.
Remove the sausage and keep it aside. Either with a handheld blender or in a liquidiser pulverise the soup until it’s smooth and creamy.
Add the strands of cabbage to the soup with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and simmer until the cabbage is tender, about 10-15 mins.
When the soup is ready drizzle the last 1-2 tablespoon of olive oil and slices from the sausage.