What is caldo verde? I hope it is soon to be one of your favorite soups because it sure is well loved in my house.
Caldo verde is a Portuguese soup made traditionally with couve, which is a dark green cabbage that I understand is hard to find outside the Iberian Peninsula. The name caldo verde actually means green broth or soup. Because kale and collard greens are in the same family of dark, leafy greens, many recipes substitute those for the couve. In my mind, kale is more culturally Italian. Therefore, I make my caldo verde with collard greens.
Since I was raised in Brazil, and since Brazil was settled by the Portuguese, this soup was a part of my early diet. It is very popular there. And like many dishes that have grown beyond the borders of their country of origin, the recipe can vary slightly by country or region. Caldo verde is also popular in the areas of the US that have seen an influx of Portuguese immigrants, such as Massachusetts.
What I love about caldo verde are the layers of flavor that embrace your mouth with every spoonful. It is a rich, spicy, creamy, and meaty soup, with surprising variations in mouth feel. The variety of textures in every bite owe a lot to the collard greens. And amazingly, it gets all of that huge flavor without stewing for a long time. It literally cooks in 30 minutes or less.
And man, on a cold winter day, caldo verde will warm your tummy and your heart, and have you going back for seconds and thirds.
Let’s See What Goes Into Caldo Verde
It’s a bit amazing to me that these few little ingredients can transform into a dish that will grab and shake you into sitting up straight and taking notice. Obviously, the collard greens are key, but the other huge contributor is the linguiça.
Linguiça (pronounced leen-gwee-ssah), is a Portuguese sausage made from smoked pork, garlic and paprika. You’ll see the evidence of the paprika when we cook the meat and the rose color bleeds out into the pan. It comes in mild and spicy varieties, and I picture them both above. But trust me, the soup will not be the same if you don’t use the spicy kind. So, use the spicy kind. Seriously, use the spicy kind.
What if you can’t get linguiça where you live? I recommend chorizo, and only after chorizo would I recommend polish sausage. But, if you don’t eat pork, you can always use a turkey polish sausage, or as my friend Ziad suggested, vegetarian chorizo.
Turns out linguiça was much easier to find in the US than I would have thought. I NEVER have trouble finding it in my local Asian market. Why? Well, I have my own theories on the degree of separation of cultures and events. But I suspect that since Portugal had some colonies in East Asia, linguiça found its way into their culinary preferences. And somehow through those Asian connections, it seems to have become a favorite in Hawaii, where I’ve heard they use it as a breakfast sausage. Go figure.
Let’s look at the Steps for Making Caldo Verde
I find that this soup is really easy to make if you chop everything first and then start the cooking.
Start with the collard greens. Rinse them thoroughly and remove all excess moisture. Then break the stems off right at the base of the leaf and stack the leaves with the larger on the bottom and the smaller on top. It helps to stack them in order of size because you will be rolling the leaves tightly into a cigar shape and slicing them very thinly. You will probably want to slice your bunch of collards in two steps instead of slicing all of the leaves at one time.
Don’t be afraid of the thicker stems at the bottom of the leaves. They are full of flavor and fiber and totally worth keeping.
As I said, roll the leaves up tightly and, applying pressure to maintain the cigar shape, use a sharp knife to slice the collards about the width of a blade of grass. So, when I say use a sharp knife, I mean use a sharp knife. Because it will really reduce your level of effort and result in more consistently sized pieces.
This is one half of my bunch of collard greens, sliced. Transfer the sliced collards to a bowl.
Chop your onions and dice your garlic. It may look like a lot, but don’t skimp on the onion and garlic. To me, copious amounts of both serve as the hallmark of Portuguese cooking.
Slice your linguiça into slices between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.
At this time, peel and cut your potatoes into large chunks. Place in a bowl covered with water so they will not turn brown.
Then heat a large soup pot to medium heat.
Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the linguiça. Cook until it has been browned. Then, using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage, leaving the fat and juices behind. Critical layer of flavor right here. So, I repeat, keep the linguiça drippings!
Next, add the rest of the olive oil and the garlic and onion. Cook just until the onion has softened and is a little translucent.
Then add your potatoes.
And then add your broth. Heat to a boil, cover, and reduce flame to medium low. Cook until the potatoes are softened.
When the potatoes are cooked, use a hand masher right in the soup pot to break the potatoes apart. And here is where many recipes vary. In Brazil, many people cook the potatoes separately and mash them completely before adding them to the soup. That makes the caldo verde more consistently creamy, but that’s not how I prefer it.
Mash the potatoes thoroughly enough not to leave any large pieces, but the occasional little intact nugget is part of that mouth feel I was talking about before. There is enough creaminess using this method to suit my taste. I want some amount of clear broth too.
Then pour the linguiça back in and add the collard greens.
Stir and season at this point. The linguiça is quite salty and will get you most of the way there for salt.
Cook only to re-heat the sausage and mildly wilt the collard greens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remember, the verde part of the caldo verde comes from the greens. Don’t ignore the star of the dish by cooking it into a dull green mush. It should be bright green and still have a bit of chewiness to the bite.
Then pour it into bowls and serve nice and hot. Be sure to drizzle your excellent olive oil over the top. That is a necessary and traditional step that CANNOT be skipped! 🙂
You can pair your caldo verde with fresh crusty breads, such as French or sourdough, which dip beautifully into the rich broth. Or perhaps serve a nice corn bread with butter on the side.
If you want more spice, sprinkle some red pepper flakes into your bowl and stir. I’m fine with the spicy sausage, but my guys like it hotter.
But however you eat it, I challenge you stop with a single helping. It’s hard to do. Really hard to do.
- ¼ cup quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1 to 1½ pounds of linguiça, chorizo, or Polish sausage sliced
- 3 russet potatoes, cut into large chunks
- 6 cups chicken broth, low sodium
- 1 bunch collard greens, thinly sliced (about 6-7 cups)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, diced
- Salt & fresh ground pepper
- Slice the collard greens, chop the onions, dice the garlic, cut the potatoes, and slice the sausage.
- In a large soup pot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and brown the sausage slices.
- Remove the browned sausage to a bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pot.
- Add the remaining olive oil, then add the onion and garlic.
- Cook until the onion is just turning translucent.
- Add the potatoes and the broth.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low.
- Cook covered until the potatoes are tender, about 15 - 20 minutes.
- Using a hand masher, mash the potatoes in the soup pot, making sure to leave no large pieces but some small nuggets are ok.
- Return the sausage to the pot and add the collard greens.
- Adjust seasoning as needed.
- Cook only until the sausage is heated through and the collard greens are slightly wilted. The collards should still be bright green and have some crunch.
- Pour into serving bowls, drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil, and serve hot.