Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Category: Soup

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde, what a nice name you have. Mysterious, exotic, European, warm.

Rather charming for a soup, I’d say.

(It might be too opaque for some, I grant you. We could flip-flop to English and adopt “Green broth.” Yes, go ahead, make a face. Or we could go literal: Portuguese Sausage Soup with Kale and Potatoes. But please, let’s not.)

In its mysterious linguistic cloak, Caldo Verde alludes to a party, a celebration like that of feasts of various saints honored in Portugal in June, when this soup is a requisite menu item. (As are sardines. A party with sardines is my kind of party.)

But forgive me, Saint John, for I can’t wait till June. My dear friend Judy told me about Caldo Verde this weekend, and October is prime soup season.

At first, when I read your recipe, I thought you might be too dull.

But soups are stovetop alchemy.

Think of French onion soup or chicken noodle soup or miso soup. Unfussy ingredients somehow meld together to create a tastebud quilt. Even the limp vegetables become savory pillows. Broth transforms into a magical foundation for dinner.

Stone soup isn’t just for kids.

Caldo Verde has its own entry in the alchemic textbook. Sausage. Potatoes. Kale. Onions. Garlic. Broth. Salt. Pepper.

Done.

I resisted the lure of the paprika, the cayenne, the tumeric, all eyeing me from the cabinet.

This simple sausage soup, filling and delicious, sent my sweetheart back for thirds.

Caldo Verde Soup

adapted from the Joy of Cooking

  • 1 pound chorizo sausage (Tip for Charlottesvillians: We were happy with Timbercreek Organics chorizo from Relay Foods.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves (or more!), minced
  • 4 medium potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 big bunch kale, washed and torn up into pieces
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced, deseeded, and ready to squeeze

Cook the sausage, sliced or broken up into chunks, in a Dutch oven or other big soup pan on medium heat until browned and cooked through.

Remove the sausage onto a plate or bowl. Leave the luscious fat drippings in the pot, unless the quantity is bordering on obscene, in which case, you may want to drain a little until you get a tablespoon or two covering the bottom of the pot.

Now sauté the chopped onions and minced garlic on medium heat in the sausage drippings for 5 minutes or so, unless softened but not browned.

Add the 3 cups of chicken broth and 3 cups of water, plus the potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Joy of Cooking advises 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, but I only did a half-dozen cranks each of the black pepper grinder and salt grinder. We’re not in the excessive salt fan club here.)

Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

If you have a potato masher, mash up the potatoes. If you don’t, as I didn’t, you could use the back of a metal spatula to mush them up a bit. Don’t worry if the potatoes don’t crumble into bits. Potatoes are potatoes are potatoes, and the soup will still be delicious.

Add back in the sausages and the torn chunks of kale.

Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Squirt in lemon, to taste.

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Bear’s Garlic Soup

Bärlauch soup

Bärlauch soup

This weekend was glorious, the first truly adequate batch of weekend weather we’ve had in 2013. Germany’s cold slate ceiling opened to reveal the blue of ocean skies, a hundred miles inland. My eyes swam in the sky, a deep, nearly periwinkle blue, and soaked in the sunrays. The spring breeze whispered over everything, and the city of Stuttgart felt content, alive, healthy again.

On Saturday, after a run through the farmer’s market, teeming with tulips and tomatoes and strawberries, we ended up at a bustling cafe called Cafe Grand Planie. I’m not sure how we hadn’t gone there before. The cafe borders the square that hosts Saturday’s flea market, where we poke around for gems among the rugs, toy cars, antique kitchen items, knickknacks. (We did find a shiny 1870s sideboard there on Saturday, chipped a bit but charming.)

Cafe Grand Planie opens with a glass display case of dazzling cakes and tarts, surprises you on the wall with a  reproduction of Otto Dix’s neon “Großstadt” triptych (the real one is nearby at the Kunstmuseum), and stretches way past a bar, a huge sprawling room of cafe tables, booths, chandeliers, and towering vases of flowers. It feels cosmopolitan European, full of lively conversation and clinking mugs and saucers.

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Even in warm weather, I can’t resist house-made soup. And today’s special turned out to be Bärlauchsüppchen. My first guess was barley soup, but I was wrong – the real soup was even better: “Bear’s Garlic Soup”!

Bear’s Garlic is apparently wild garlic, a European relative of the North American ramps. I had seen these long, beautiful leaves at the market that morning, like basil crossed with baby palm fronds, but I hadn’t know what they were. I realize now they were Bärlauch, perhaps (as the menu description says) the first of the season!

The soup was delicious, warm and savory and thickly garlic and buttery, with a tender shrimp dangling overhead. With a big hunk of crusty bread to mop it up, my first  Bärlauchsüppchen was a sweet welcome to an overdue German spring.

White bean, spinach, tofu, leek soup

This winter has been Germany’s darkest in recorded history, with the fewest hours of sunshine ever. The sky is a perpetual stretch of muted gray, as blank and listless as concrete. A drifting of clouds is cause for celebration, and any sighting of the golden orb leaves me blinking like a maulwurf.

And just a few days into spring, it snowed.

So I’d like to be writing about grilling. About the first bundles of Italian white spargel (aparagus) and baskets of shiny strawberries at the market. About picnicking in a new-found park, a blanket on prickly new grass under the young sun’s rays.

But instead, I’m still in soup season.

Bean soup

Bean soup with leeks, spinach and tofu

This soup is a quick and easy version I made up with the spinach and leeks I bought at the market. It feels enormously comforting, both because of its savory, pick-you-up taste and the plethora of good-for-you vegetables.

White bean, spinach, leek, tofu soup

  • olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 leek
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3-4 cups of broth (I used chicken broth)
  • 1 can white Northern beans, or another kind of your liking, drained and washed
  • 1 box firm or extra-firm tofu, chopped into bite-sized cubes
  • dried herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, basil (Herbes de Provence works nicely)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • 2-3 cups of washed, chopped fresh spinach
  • sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Trim the leek. I cut off the bottom tangled root bit, and the tough green leaves, although you could use them, too. That leaves a cane of white and pale green, which I wash, then slice once lengthwise, then into lots of half-moons. I wash them again in a colander, separating the curls and making sure any grit is gone. (Sometimes leeks are a tiny bit dirt-happy, sometimes they are pristine.)

Trimming the leek

Here’s where I cut off the darker, tougher leaves. You can use eat them, certainly, but you’ll need to cook them rather voraciously, I think, to mellow out their strength. Any ideas how to use them? And is this about where you trim your leeks?

Leek, trimmed

Almost a bit of art

Chopped up leek curls

Chopped up leek curls, ready to be cooked.

In a dutch oven or other pot, cook the leek curls on medium heat in a swirl (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil and/or butter. Don’t abandon them, as they’ll need a stir every so often to prevent scalding. If the leeks are beginning to develop brown spots, the stove is too hot; turn it down to medium-low or low.

Wait until the leeks have softened, maybe 10 minutes. Try one to see if its lusciously soft enough for you. While the leeks are cooking, I made a batch of cornbread (recipe to come), but rice would have been nice, too. If you’d like a side, now’s a good time to tackle that, assuming it’s fairly simple.

Once the leeks are softened to your wishes, add the sliced garlic. Let it cook a minute or two.

Then add the beans, the tofu, and the broth. Let it come to a simmer.

Add a good sprinkle of dried herbs and pepper. Taste and adjust. It may need more herbs; it may need salt; it may need a sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce to jazz it up. A lot will depend on the intensity of the broth.

Let it simmer for a little while, maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, depending on what else you need to do in the kitchen. Let it take its time.

You may want to sample it one more time. (One of the lovely perks of being the cook.) If you are feeling like the broth is too subtle, try red chili flakes for a kick or a bit of grated cheese on top, once you spoon the soup into bowls.

Spinach, washed and drying

Spinach, washed and drying

When all other parts of the meal are ready, add the spinach. Give it a good stir, and let the spinach cook for a minute or two. If you like the spinach simply wilted, then don’t even wait that long – you are ready to slurp the soup and warm up.

Bean soup, close up

Bean soup, close up

The Empowerment of Coconut Soup

For a new cook, any delicious spoonful created by your own hands brings with it a stunning epiphany: I have food power.

I never have to wait for that take-out place to open at 5 or the grocery store to be stocked in premade whatever or my good friend so-in-so to invite me over or the occasional trip to Texas/New Orleans/San Francisco/insert your favorite food city.

Any time I want this precise glorious taste, at 4 p.m. or 2 a.m., I can have it.

And the skies open and tea kettles sing.

I feel this same sweet emotion whenever I make something I never imagined I could, something that once tasted so exotic, I had no idea how to begin picking out the flavors.

Like Thai Coconut Soup.

On a chilly snow-slush day like today in Germany, I craved the creamy, warm, spiciness of coconut soup, filled with soft vegetables. A veritable vitamin-packed tropical escape.

Though, in all honestly, I don’t really know how Thai this concoction is. There are no kaffir lime leaves or galangal or lemongrass or ginger even. So let me work on the name. Hmm.

The basic gist is coconut milk, vegetables and spices. The right spices. Fish sauce is also key. If I had had ginger, I would have added it. Ditto on chicken or shrimp and most any vegetable – string beans, okra, zucchini all sound nice to me.

Coconut Soup with a Kick

Serves 4

  • 2 cans (around 13-15 ounces or 400 ml) of coconut milk (ideally at least 1 non-lite)
  • 2 cups of chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 2 sweet peppers, sliced into strips
  • Handful of shiitake mushroom caps, cut into strips
  • 1 small eggplant, sliced thinly into rounds and then each round quartered
  • 1 box of firm tofu, cut into chunks
  • 3+ garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil (peanut, canola or vegetable – not olive)
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, more to taste
  • sprinkle of cayenne powder, more to taste
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, optional
  • rice (cook according to package instructions)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium in a deep skillet or dutch oven. Add the minced garlic and red curry paste. Stir.

Add the eggplant, peppers and any other chopped vegetables you like. (White mushrooms would be good to add here – shiitakes are so delicate, they cook just by simmering later.)  Add the tofu. Let it all cook for a few minutes, enough so the vegetables get a head-start on cooking. Stir periodically. Add a little more oil if things start to stick.

Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water). Stir to combine. Add the shiitake mushrooms. Let it come to a boil and then adjust the heat so it simmers.

Add the curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, red chili flakes and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. (If you aren’t one for heat, omit the cayenne and only sprinkle a bit of the red chili flakes. You can always add more.) Let it simmer for a minute or two and then taste. Does it need more fish sauce? More heat? More curry? Add more spices and fish sauce until you hit the right spot for you. This is one of the most valuable parts of your own kitchen. Dinner is exactly to taste – your taste!

Let the soup simmer until all of the vegetables (the eggplant is usually the last to relax) are soft enough to your liking and ready to eat. It won’t hurt to keep the soup simmering a little longer while you set the table and wait for the rice to cook.

Serve with rice and topped with chopped cilantro, if you like.