Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't discard those gorgeous beet greens!

Even if they are a bit wilted, as mine were after just a couple of days in the 'fridge. I've been aware for a long time that the greens are edible but often, by the time I use the beets, they look very sad and wilted. Yesterday I was determined not to waste them, partly because I happened to be shopping with my husband when I bought the beets and he asked if the greens were edible.
I twisted the stems and greens off the beets (I'm not sure that is the correct procedure but it worked okay) and, as they were very sandy, washed them the way a former tenant of mine, an African-American woman, showed me how to do with collards. Omitting the squirt of dish soap I swished them around in a huge bowl of water (my sink was...ahem...indisposed) for a couple of minutes then lifted them out (gently--they are not anywhere near as sturdy as collards) and rinsed them in a large colander. I then chopped the stems and leaves together by rolling up small handfuls chiffonade-style and slicing thinly (emphasis on 'style'---no need for fussiness here as they are not meant for garnish).  I repeated the wash and rinse and left to drain in the colander while I roughly chopped a couple of onions with the vague idea of making 'a soup of some sort'.
I added the still-wet greens to the pot, along with three large cloves of garlic peeled and a quart of  store-bought vegetable stock. I also had to add a bit more water to cover. This will obviously depend on the amount of greens you have. I had the greens from two bunches of beets which, while still attached to the beets did not look like much but once they were all chopped amounted to several cups worth.
You certainly do not have to add ready made stock but I would advise you to throw in a couple of chopped carrots and maybe a stalk of celery (to be removed after it's usefulness is gone---in this 'recipe' celery does not seem right). I did not have any carrots left (SHAME!) which was the primary factor in my decision to use valuable pantry stock.
The lack of carrots and celery sort of led to the soup's evolution into a sort of Portuguese soup, which my family calls by it's rightful name of caldine (kale soup). If you want to sound super authentic you can say 'sopa de caldine' . I think the correct Portuguese is caldo verde. I'm guessing the 'caldine' is sort of an affectionate slang, much like 'panala' (puh-NAY-lah) which is my mother's family's word for any sort of large soup pot. I'll explain the reasoning regarding the lack of carrots, etc. later so I can get back to the soup.
I let the greens, onions, and garlic simmer for about an hour until the water had a nice brothy look and a lovely dark amber color. I had let the greens simmer uncovered so some of the water boiled out and I added a bit more. I also added a couple of cans of mixed lima beans. I have never used lima beans in soup but I did not want to use pinto or black beans and I mistakenly thought I did not have red kidneys which is what I would really have liked. The limas were quite lovely for canned, however.
I also roughly chopped about 4 thin-skinned potatoes---a combination of red and yellow which is what were in my pantry. At this point I was pretty much aware that this was at least smelling somewhat like caldine so I used my trick for vegetarian caldine which is to add about a tablespoon of smoked paprika which mimics the seasonings of linguica and chourico (not to be confused with 'chorizo'), either one of which are traditionally found in caldine. I added a few liberal pinches of salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper and let the soup simmer another 20 minutes. Delish!
I am currently eating a (mostly) vegan diet, having decided that dairy is simply not doing my IBS any good. I'm trying for at least a month of no dairy and no meat other than some fish (sardines, anchovies,smelts, shellfish, and the occasional bit of salmon).  For the sake of tradition, and because it is absolutely delicious and you must try it at least once, I am offering my mother's recipe for caldine. Different family cooks have different recipes and I've tried this soup at many diners and restaurants in Rhode Island and Massachusetts but I like my mom's extremely simple method the best.
She would take a couple of pounds of mild chourico , chop roughly into 2"-3" pieces  and add it about 6-8 qts of water. This simmers for about an hour until the sausage has yielded up most of it's garlicy, spicy, fatty goodness. If she was trying to be low-fat, at this point she would remove the sausage and set aside and chill the stock overnight to make for easy fat-skimming. I don't bother with that. It is not a particularly fatty soup even without skimming.
What? No onions? No carrots? No celery? Nope. Nothing else at this point. Nada.
At this point add 2-3 cans of dark red kidney beans (I sometimes use cannellini but my mother never did) I don't know if my mother would bother to drain and rinse them. Ordinarily, I would because my dad lives with us and he is on blood pressure meds and has suffered a series of strokes and I don't want to kill him (yet!). However, for caldine I like to keep the liquid as it adds an extra bit of heartiness (and saltiness) to the stock.
We cannot forget the main attraction which is the lovely, leafy, emerald green kale. I find that supermarket kale does not need much more than a token rinse (sssh....I don't rinse it at all) before chopping coarsely and adding to the pot.
When the greens and beans have simmered about 20 minutes you can add the final ingredient which is 4 or 5 good-sized thin-skinned (aka "waxy") potatoes cut into large chunks. Simmer for another 20 minutes or so until the potatoes are cooked through.
Serve with large helpings of crusty bread and butter. If you can find Portuguese white bread, which has a softer crust than Italian, you will be even more authentic.  Honestly? Even Wonder bread taste delicious slathered in margarine and dunked in this soup.
If I were still drinking I would advise you to serve it with a full-bodied, inexpensive red such as Yellowtail Shiraz, or even cheaper Gato Negro Merlot. This is peasant food, after all (although my mother's family were hardly peasants, having owned quite a bit of farmland in California, Massachusetts, and the Azores). My parents, in the days before my mom began her long struggle with non-Hodgkins, would have had a jug of Carlo Rossi. 
From the time I was a kid until today I have picked around the sausage and potatoes. While I love what they add to the soup, I don't care for the texture of either. But as my mother would have said, "mais fica", short for 'mais fica para mim' which translates as 'there will be more left for me'. My husband, who has been enjoying my mother's (and later mine) caldine for 30 years now, has always been a bit scandalized by this expression which in his Yankee way can't fail to see as anything but rude. My dad, a Southerner born and raised, has no problem with it.

My daughter has been a vegetarian since 2001 but she loves caldine so much she eats it in the name of 'cultural tradition'. She doesn't eat the sausage of course but everything else is fair game. Once the soup is thickening up, if I haven't added more water and re-served it, she and my husband like to take the beans, kale, and potatoes and make home fries served with eggs over-easy.
I think by now you've guessed how my beet greens soup evolved into Portuguese kale soup due to a lack of carrots. To me (and apparently to many other Portuguese cooks) the sweet taste of carrot would be overpowered by the robust flavors of kale and chourico, which is flavored with liberal amounts of garlic and smoked paprika (or such is my educated guess anyway and this Wikipedia article seems to agree with me). Onion simply seems superfluous.
To make a veggie version that is more authentic than my off-the-cuff pantry soup, simply substitute kale for beet greens, and red kidney beans for the limas. And be sure to add plenty of smoked paprika. You may see it as Spanish paprika or simply 'smoked paprika'. Whatever you use should have a deep orange-red hue and have a distinctive smokey aroma. Plain old generic 'paprika' will not do for mimicking the flavor of chourico. For the vegetarian version, go ahead and use carrots and onions (but please, no celery) as, unless you are starting with a rich homemade or good quality store bought stock, you will need the flavor boost. Don't forget lots of garlic.
This recipe, the first of many to come, is dedicated to my dear friend Paula Vargas who metaphorically kicked my ass 9 ways to Sunday to get me started.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your feedback and contributions. Rude posts and spam will be immediately deleted.