In search of an authentic Caldo Verde?

Posted on February 23, 2012


What defines authentic cuisine? Why is an authentic recipe always the most sought after? Who verifies whether a dish is authentic or not?

I continue to make an effort to prepare authentic Ghanaian food for my husband. I know what the authentic food tastes like. I use all the same ingredients that go into the authentic dish. I have somewhat of an idea of the steps I need to follow in order arrive at an authentic final product, but still, even when I am successful, my Jollof rice or Groundnut soup or Kenkey and fish is quite different from the next cook’s — from the ingredients, to the process, to the outcome.

I think this is what makes it difficult for me to immediately believe claims of a recipe’s authenticity, simply because there are probably a million variations of “authentic” when it comes to any traditional ethnic cuisine.

I might be a more ready believer if I am simply told that recipe is really, really good because that’s how my grandmother’s grandmothers’ grandmother used to make it and it has been improved and and refined by generations of cooks who have tailored the dish to fit the best available local, seasonal items.

That seems like a good definition of authentic. And I wish that is what would be meant when such an advertisement is waived around. Such a word, much like the very in vogue claims of “real” or “all natural” ingredients, has great power over our perception of the food that we may potentially decide to put in our mouth and if used rightly, gives an important nod to the expertise of those who came before us, those who built the food culture that sustains us. 

All that is to say that I’m not sure if this is an “authentic” recipe for the famous Portuguese soup, Caldo Verde. I wrote the recipe myself based on how I learned to prepare it from my very good Portuguese friend and her mother. I may have fudged it up a little bit or added a tweak that is totally wrong, and probably, the soup made in their kitchen would taste a million times better than mine simply because they are surely and truly authentic cooks, who even own a special kale mincing apparatus that can be attached to the table and uses a hand crank to feed the kale through a blade that chops it into miniscule shreds.

And that is one of the keys to this soup — mincing the kale to the thinnest possible width. Because I don’t have one of those cool kale death trap combobulators, I learned a trick from my friend that involves tightly rolling up kale leaves and setting the sharp edge of a knife at the very end of the roll to cut through the leaves, like a chiffonade. This takes some concentration and patience, but if you put in the effort, the kale will cook down in the soup and lend it just a hint of its nutrition-packed green hue. It is for this reason, I guess, that the soup earned the title, caldo verde, or “green soup.”

So, even though I can’t promise the following recipe is authentic, I do avow that it is really good. Really, really good.

Caldo Verde (“Green Soup”)
or Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb chorizo sausage, sliced to thin rounds
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced to large pieces
1 large bunch fresh kale
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add chorizo, and brown slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove chorizo using a slotted spoon, and set aside.  Add onion and garlic to fat in stock pot. Saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add potatoes and a dash of salt. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then add enough water to cover the potatoes by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are softened enough to be mashed with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, begin mincing kale. Stack together three to four leaves, and fold in half along stem. Use a sharp knife to remove tough stem (if desired), then roll kale leaves into a tight log. Cut kale crosswise into very thin ribbons, about 2 cups in all.

Lightly mash potatoes with a fork in stock pot, then transfer to a blender. Remove center part of blender lid to allow steam to escape during blending. Blend to a smooth puree, working in batches if necessary. Return puree to stock pot, and if desired, add a little more water to thin puree to a light soup.

Return soup to a simmer, then stir in kale. Cover, and allow kale to steam until softened, about 10 minutes.

The soup will thicken slightly. Stir in reserved chorizo, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Kale will definitely be going in the garden this year!