May Gray: Kalefornia’s Summer Soup

Caldo-Verde

Caldo Verde is a traditional Portuguese soup made with collard greens or kale, potato and sausage. The Grubstake has been serving it to San Franciscans to warm their souls and to cure their hangovers for more than 50 years. 

While the rest of the country is getting ready for sunny days and sweaty nights, San Franciscans are adding layers to protect them from the damp cold as the fog rolls in for May Gray and June Gloom. It’s not all bad — one of the benefits of living in a place where it’s either cool but not cold or warm but not hot is that you can eat soup or salad year round. It’s kind of perfect.

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Of course there are some days that are better for salad and others for soup — and they alternate more frequently than you can plan for. For a while, after buying mass quantities of kale for salad I would regularly be surprised by the chilly days and no desire for a kale salad — leaving me with piles of kale to rot.

{This is a good point to note that my kale consumption has nothing to do with the healthy food that California has a reputation for. My kale salads involve bacon, ciabatta croutons fried in bacon fat and kale and tomatoes dressed in bacon fat and vinegar. It’s a kind of bacony kale panzanella — a salad to look forward to.}

Cooking the kale would have been a great way to make use of the excess greens — but it wasn’t that easy. I had an experience with cooked kale a few years ago and never recovered. It was a very rich Tuscan kale and sausage stew. Bon Appetit published The Publicans recipe for ribollita (Italian “garbage soup”) and I made it exactly as it was written. It was a good soup; the fault was mine for not cutting the recipe down to a manageable amount for a single person. I believe I thought the first bowl was good, albeit heavy, but the subsequent servings… I ate with regret. I still don’t eat Tuscan kale and I actually shudder when I think about the soup.  

Until I started ticking off the iconic dishes of San Francisco, I was opposed to ever eating cooked kale again. One of the dishes is caldo verde from Grubstake at Polk and Pine. I did not set out to get the soup on this particular day, but it did happen to be cold and rainy and I was walking by…. So I tried it and fell in love.

Caldo verde is also a sausage and kale soup but it’s not nearly as rich as the ribollita. In fact, it’s very light considering it’s thickened with potato. It’s Portuguese and the sausage (linguica) is much less fatty than Italian sausage — it’s more like rope sausage you might get from Hillshire Farms. The soup also has fewer ingredients to compete with the flavors of the sausage and kale. It’s a simple soup that warms your soul and makes you feel nourished rather than weighed down.

I adapted this loosely from a Serious Eats recipe to make it similarly to how it was served at Grubstake. This time, I cut it down to a suitable size for a single person, but this soup is so effortless and forgiving, you probably don’t need to measure anything. Really. I think it would be nearly impossible to mess this up in a way that it couldn’t be corrected. (I also used Andouille sausage because I like a little bit of spice.)

Caldo VerdeCaldo-Verde

  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ bag of pre-washed kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 12 oz cooked andouille sausage, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • TT Kosher salt
  • TT Crushed Red Pepper (optional)

In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add onions until they start to soften before adding the garlic.  Continue sauteeing until it’s all soft and fragrant.  Add broth and raise the heat to medium-high until it begins to boil.

Caldo-Verde

Reduce head to medium, add potatoes and cover. Let it simmer until the potatoes are very soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.  Stirring the soup with a whisk, break up the potatoes and until the soup is fairly smooth.  Stir in sausage and continue to let it simmer for another 5 minutes.  Stir in kale and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the kale is bright green and soft.  Add salt and red pepper to taste. Serve Hot.

Caldo-Verde

I should mention that because I used Andouille sausage, and the broth was a more-golden-than-normal color, the soup is a bit darker than an authentic bowl of caldo verde might be.

This stands alone as a meal — it’s filling and I can’t think of anything that would pair well with it. It’s also great the next day.

Cheers to eating soup in the summer 🙂

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