Twentyish years ago, Mari was living in Brazil. Mario was born in Northern Portugal and was living in Canada. Mari loves to cook. Mario loves great food and great wine. Mari and Mario met, dated and fell in love. Mario proposed. Mari accepted, packed and went to the airport. Mari thought about what Portuguese meals she would cook in their new home. Mari realized she didn’t know any Portuguese recipes. Mari went into the bookstore. Mari found a cookbook and flipped to page one—Caldo Verde. Mari smiled and boarded the plane.
Why was it the first recipe in the book? Because it’s simple goodness. From the first time potatoes and couves (similar to collard greens) collided to make Portugal’s “green soup,” it has made countless appearances on Portuguese (and non) tables around the world. A favourite of my wife, it was originally slotted to be the opening dish at our wedding but we were persuaded to remove it from the menu due to concerns that our guests would spend the evening picking bits of greens from their teeth—fair point.
This soup is unofficially Portugal’s national dish… and so famous that Amália Rodrigues, the queen of fado, sang about it in the county’s unofficial anthem, “Uma Casa Portuguesa,” that’s top honours in my books. Its origins, like Mario’s can be traced to the rural homes of Northern Portugal where people needed something hearty yet inexpensive to eat. The base is made with four simple ingredients—water, potatoes, onions and greens. Ladle into bowls, add a few rounds of chouriço to spice things up, sliced corn bread on the side, and you are ready to indulge in some of the finest comfort food you will ever taste. Simple.
Naturally, a dish this popular is served in restaurants and cafés all around the world [my wedding notwithstanding] but we all know that avós make the best Caldo Verde—fact. Avó Mari didn’t let us down. As she made her Caldo Verde, I could see the recipe from the cookbook had been tweaked. It had evolved. “I add a few dashes of cayenne, Mario and I like a little spice… We’re using pre-packaged greens today, but in the summer we use couves from our garden—Mario loves the garden.” I saw a pattern.
Before we knew it, Mari was adding her finishing touches and the caldo was ready to be served—it smelled delicious. We heard the front door open—it was Mario getting home from work. Timing. They greeted each other with a kiss and before sitting down, Mario said, “This caldo deserves a great wine. I’ll get a bottle of Cartuxa from the adega [wine cellar].” Mari was one step ahead of him—the bottle was already on the table waiting to be poured.
We ate, drank and chatted until her phone rang. She had to take the call, it was her son Henrique who was on vacation with his wife in Hawaii. “Bianca is pregnant! It’s their last vacation before they become parents!” Mari was happy. Mario smiled. That was our cue to leave.
This was of course, an oversimplified retelling of Mari and Mario’s courtship, but like our simple soup, their love is full of spice and passion. A toast to love.
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
5 cloves of garlic, minced
8 cups cold water
1 bay leaf
5 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch collard greens, thoroughly washed
1 lbs sausage (choriço) thinly sliced
cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the collard greens into thin strips.1 Reserve.
In a heavy bottomed pot, add the potatoes 2, onion, garlic, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat and then lower the heat to medium low and cook until the potatoes are tender and ready to be mashed (about 20 min).
Mash the potatoes and bring them back to the pot.
Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth.
Add the greens, stir and simmer for 2 to 5 minutes, until tender.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add a few dashes of cayenne (if you want to add some spice).
Add the sliced sausage to the soup.
Top the soup with olive oil.
WORDS: DAVID GANHÃO
RECIPE: MARI SILVEIRA
PHOTOS: MIKE NEAL