I have never been to Portugal, but I have eaten Portuguese food in large quantities on the other side of the world. As I have mentioned before in this column, I lived for many years in Hong Kong, which is situated on the south China coast, on the east bank of the Pearl River estuary. Just across the way, on the west bank of this great river, lies Macau which, until 1999, was a Portuguese colony. Indeed, it had been Portuguese since the 16th century. It was a place full of narrow, little streets, Baroque churches and here and there, eye-catching, ochre-coloured, public buildings. It was very different than Hong Kong with its towering skyscrapers and frenetic pace of life and during the 1990s, my wife and I often escaped there for weekends.
Macau was also seedy and run-down but it had character and, above all, it had good, Portuguese restaurants. It is there that I first encountered caldo verde, which means nothing more than, green broth. This soup probably is to Portuguese cuisine what Irish stew is to that of Ireland and I suspect that every Portuguese mammy has her own recipe for what is a national dish.
In its purest form, caldo verde contains nothing more than potatoes, garlic, couve gallego (a type of kale) and water. Over the years, other ingredients have been added to such an extent that it now sometimes bears little resemblance to its peasant progenitor. I love caldo verde for its potato flavour combined with the bitter taste of winter greens. It does not pay dividends to stray too far from its rustic origins. The recipe which follows has, I believe, the right balance. I recommend it to you as appropriate fare for these cold, winter days. As with all soups, it can be eaten as a starter but, served with good, crusty bread, it is a meal in itself.
900g floury potatoes
1.5l vegetable stock
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
500g kale or savoy cabbage*
3-4 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
Salt and black pepper
*I prefer to use kale which is now available in our shops. Its bitterness makes it particularly suitable for this dish
Peel the potatoes, cut into small chunks and bring to the boil in the stock. Add the garlic. Simmer potatoes until cooked – about 20 minutes – and then blitz them with the stock and garlic in a blender and return to the pot.
If at this stage, the soup is too thick for your taste, add more stock. Cut the chorizo into 1cm slices and fry in a pan in a very small amount of oil. Cut the kale/cabbage into narrow strips, discarding any thick stems. Bring the potato mixture back to the boil, add the kale/cabbage and simmer very slowly until cooked – about 10 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and serve with a blob of olive oil and the sliced chorizo on top.