Dishes that we now deem to be comfort food were often once peasant dishes, made from the need for filling, cheap food. Over the years as economies have grown and salaries have increased they have often been refined, sometimes shrugging off their once lowly status. Portuguese cabbage soup is almost one such dish, as despite its humble beginnings it has been the subject of art and literature, and can be found in fine dining institutions all over the world. However, the rustic approach lives on in family homes wherever comfort food is needed. For me this is a hearty soup that doesn’t need to be perfectly beautiful, but instead serve its purpose deliciously.
A brief history of caldo verde
Originating in the north of Portugual, caldo verde, or Portuguese cabbage soup, has been a popular dish for many years. The key ingredients originally were onions, potatoes and collard greens, but since its birth the recipe has evolved. Meat was introduced in the guise of a ham hock or chorizo; chefs became divided by mashing the potatoes into the soup vs leaving them in chunks, and collard greens aren’t the only leaves vying for attention – cavolo nero, savoy and kale all make regular appearances.
However, despite the variations in recipe, one thing remains clear: this is an authentically Portuguese soup. In the 19th century prolific Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco had many references to caldo verde in his novels and long after the popularity of Portuguese cabbage soup had spread, Amália Rodrigues sang Uma Casa Portuguesa (A Portuguese House), written by Reinaldo Ferreira, which almost became the second national anthem. She sang, “it takes very little, very little to simply brighten a life… love, bread, wine and hot caldo verde in a bowl”.
Today Portuguese cabbage soup has its own festival, ‘Irivo Caldo Verde Festival’ every year in the district of Peñafiel in Porto, and to top it off in 2011 it was voted as one of the 7 Wonders of Portuguese Cuisine alongside Pastel de Nata.
Portuguese cabbage soup (caldo verde) recipe
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
- 200g chorizo, sliced into generous chunks
- 2 onions, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1l chicken stock
- 400g cabbage, sliced (feel free to be adventurous here, kale, savoy, spring greens – all will do the trick)
- 400g new potatoes, halved
- First up, with a little olive oil in the pan over a medium-high heat sauté the chorizo. When it starts to colour throw in the sliced onions, which will take on the smokey paprika flavours.
- Once the onions are nearly done, add the garlic and bay leaf into the mix. Depending on your pan, there’s a good chance that this will catch on the bottom a bit, so keep an eye out and stir regularly, but don’t worry too much if you get some scrapey bits (technical term) on the bottom. It all adds to the flavour.
- After a couple of minutes you’re ready to add the chicken stock. Now homemade stock is always going to taste better than a stock cube, but use what you have to hand. It’s ideal if the stock is on the colder side – you’re about to add the potatoes and by using cold stock (albeit in a hot pan), they will be evenly cooked throughout.
- Pop in your potatoes. Remember, this is a hearty soup – you needn’t be too dainty about the size of the spuds.
- With the lid on, leave the potatoes to do their thing for until soft. Once they’re nearly cooked through it’s time to add the final ingredient.
- Add the cabbage and then leave the lid off else you’ll end up with losing its green colour.
- Taste and season the soup. Was the chorizo a bit fattier than anticipated? A squeeze of lemon will cut through the richness. Want to make it feel even more warming? Add a grating of nutmeg. Remember that this is your dinner.
- And then, just like that, after a few minutes, you’re ready to serve. It’s great with some crusty sourdough for some classic carb-on-carb action.