It rained. And rained. And rained. For sixty days and sixty nights it rained. Wind howled through empty streets and whistled in through the cracks between windows and doors. The clouds enveloped our little village, and the world became small, seeing nothing beyond green and gray, green and gray.
Indoors, fires crackled. Chimneys smoked, and the smell of fresh burning wood was in the air. Flannel blankets covered beds and everyone was hidden beneath layers of wool and fleece. On stoves, soup pots bubbled, warming kitchens, bellies, and souls. Outside, the clouds rolled in, the rain fell and beat against the windows, and the wind howled to be let in, but inside, with a blanket and a bowl of soup, all was right with the world.
This is one such soup. It is what we would call in Spanish "reconstituyente," which is like refreshing, comforting, and renewing all in one word. It's been eaten in Galicia since the beginning of time and it's hearty, healthy, and simple - perfect for cold, rainy, disgusting winter days.
It contains only a few basic ingredients, and yet the sum of it all is so much more than its humble individual parts. Some white beans, some fresh hardy winter greens, a few potatoes and a bit of whatever meat you've got lying around is all you need. Start by soaking your beans. Sure, you can use canned, and I have done so many times, but trust me when I say that using dry beans makes all the difference in this soup.
Cook them with some bacon, or a ham hock, or whatever you've got. In Galicia we use salted cured meats, such as lacón, panceta or costilla salada (salted ribs), but just use whatever you have. Some kind of ham or pork is best. I personally like bacon for the smokiness that it adds.
Recipe: Caldo Galego (Galician Soup)
*This isn't really a recipe. The measurements are Galician Grandmother measurements, wherein nothing is actually weighed but simply estimated or eyeballed per person.
250g dried white beans (about a coffee cup full of dried beans per person)
A few slices of bacon or a ham hock or other salted pork (rinsed if salted)
Half a chorizo per person, diced
4 medium potatoes (about one per person), peeled and cut into sizable but edible chunks
A big-ass bunch of greens (that's the official term), such as: kale, broccoli rabe, turnip tops, chard, spinach, or whatever you've got lying around, cleaned and stems removed
Unto (similar to lard...if you want to be really traditional about it, you'll need a tiny bit of this, about the size of a walnut. You could also use olive oil but honestly, no fat is necessary for this dish.)
1. Soak your beans. I find white beans tend to soak faster than black beans, and for me, just six hours was plenty. Just put them in a pot with cold water, and leave them there for a while.
2. Cook your beans. If you're using bacon, dice the bacon and cook it in the pot first. When it's cooked, add the beans and enough fresh cold water to fill the pot about 3/4 of the way. If using an already cooked ham hock or other cured meat, just add it to the pot with the beans and water. Cover and let the beans cook for about an hour on medium high heat. Stir occasionally, removing any foam that has gathered on the surface.
3. While you're cooking the beans, you can blanch the greens. This is step is totally optional, but can help with two things: 1) it will help reduce the bitterness of any especially bitter greens, such as kale; and 2) it will keep the soup from becoming an unappetizing shade of green, though this is purely aesthetic. Just boil the greens in a separate pot for a few minutes to soften them. Then rinse them under cold running water to stop them overcooking and retain their green color. Chop them a bit if the leaves are very large. Feel free to skip this step entirely, but then make sure to cook the soup long enough for the greens to become soft and silky.
4. When the beans are pretty much cooked (they don't have to be totally, completely done as we'll keep cooking them), add the potato chunks and chorizo. Make sure to keep the pot at a rolling boil as you add the potatoes.
5. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a knife. Finally, add the grelos and taste for salt. If you used a salted meat, you probably won't need any additional seasoning.
6. Finally, add the greens and let cook until greens are soft. Taste again for seasoning. The soup should have taken on an almost creamy consistency, though it remains a broth. Eat immediately or save for later. It's even better on day two. Don't forget the bread!
Recipe brought to you by Galician grandmothers everywhere