Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Taste of Childhood: Caldo Gallego

As I was growing up, food was a central part of my experience of my Spanish heritage. My father was from the north of Spain, near San Sebastian, which is Basque country; if you don't know much about the region, suffice to say they have their own language and customs ... in many ways, the mountains define the Basque people as different from Castilians, closer to Portuguese, a little more rustic and less refined, a little more "salt of the earth," somehow.  Though my son has never known his grandfather, I talk about him, and I memorialize him in food, because I think it's important for my son to know where he comes from, beyond our little corner of the Northeastern U.S.  I've written before about the black bean soup and plantains of Union City, but as I got older, I also remember going to the ironbound district of Newark, where the Portuguese and Basque restaurants are.  

One my favorite dishes from these restaurants is caldo gallego, essentially "Galician Stew."  (As Ana points out below, it's not Basque, but then again, I never claimed it was!)  It's often served automatically at the beginning of the meal, to everyone at the table.  I always loved the salty, comforting aroma and taste; it conjures up smiling black-haired waiters and crusty bread and white tablecloths, on the one hand, and my Tia Rosin's kitchen in Spain, on the other.  There are a number of variations on this, but most of them involve white beans, kale or collards, and some kind of smoked meat (ham, chorizo, etc.).  The great news, for me, about caldo gallego is that it uses about a pound of greens.  While my original recipe calls for cabbage and kale, I used collard greens and chard (see? I knew I'd be sorry I was so forgiving of the chard ... we got practically a pound of it this week!).

Vegetarian caldo gallego is sort of an oxymoron in Spain, but if you're vegetarian, you might want to throw in some vegetarian bacon or andouille style sausage, to get the smoky, salty flavor ... or use a flavorful vegetable broth in place of the water.  If it gets too chunky for you, feel free to water it down; the flavor doesn't seem to suffer from a bit of thinning.

Tell me: what are the tastes of your childhood?

Caldo Gallego

1/4 c. onion, diced
4 c. water
1 ham hock or smoked turkey leg
1 lb. ham, diced (or as much as you want, really ... I went light this time)
1 small chorizo (optional; if you can't find authentic ones, don't bother)
1 15 oz. can white beans (I prefer the small ones)
1/2 t. salt (optional; I find that the ham hock makes it plenty salty)
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 lb. kale or collards, chopped
3/4 lb. cabbage, chopped
1/2 lb. potato, peeled and chopped

Put the onion, water, ham hock, ham, chorizo and beans in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for two hours.

Add the kale, cabbage, and potato; bring to a boil again and simmer over low for 1/2 hour, partially covered.

Take out the ham hock and remove any meat.  Return the meat to the pot and discard the ham hock.  Slice the chorizo and return it to the pot.  Simmer for another 1/2 hour, partially covered.  Add more liquid if necessary.
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  1. This sounds wonderful - and a great way to use silverbeet. ;-) To be honest, my mum is/was a *terrible* cook. And she seemed to have a migraine my entire childhood, so I learned to quick early and I must say I prefer my cooking. My mum used to subject us to sauerkraut, as she had memories of her mum making it from scratch (I hated it; I like it when I make it though); from my father's side we'd occasionally be subjected to revolting festy herring and other fish (I always thought Swedish food was awful until I stayed in Sweden). Something I can remember from my childhood is turkey with stuffing. I make the best stuffing, and because of my upbringing had an odd affection for dry turkey breast. Oh - one good thing I remember from my childhood! Crab and crab cakes. (Yes - this Australian was born Maryland.)

  2. you are basque! are you rh negative? I am... did you have any complications, if you are, with your son (if he's not)?

    the soup sounds wonderful. I admire that you make such lovely meals...

  3. Spain is one of my favourite countries in the world. I have only ever been to Barcelona but still, the people, the food, the architecture fascinated me and made me fall in love with this amazing country and its people. Our dream is to move to Barcelona one day...

    Tastes of my childhood.. there are two that stand out in particular, one being cakes the other friend zucchini flowers. My mom and my grandmother (my mom's mom) baked the most amazing cakes and they would always ask my brother and I to help out. I loved all the work that went into it and I was always fascinated by seeing something that went into the all gooey turn into something delicious in just half hour! They baked chocolate cakes, apple cakes, ricotta cakes.. every day there was a different cake at our table.

    Friend zucchini flowers were my other grandmother's specialities. She had her own green garden and during the summer she would make me fried zucchini. They were easy to make and they tasted like heaven. I could eat them every day and never get tired of them!

  4. What a wonderful blog you have here. Your passion for food is so inspiring!

  5. "I also remember going to the ironbound district of Newark, where the Portuguese and Basque restaurants are." What restaurants in the Ironbound are Basque?

  6. For one, Casa Vasca ... the owner, Maria, is a family friend! If you haven't been there, you should try it ... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/255972

  7. Thanks, yes, I've been to Casa Vasca, I loved it! I dont know any other though, do you? Thanks!

  8. Wow, this recipe looks amazing too.

  9. Gallic? You mean.... Galician?

    Galician (comparative more Galician, superlative most Galician)
    1. Of or pertaining to the region of Galicia in Iberia or the Galician language.

    Gallic (comparative more Gallic, superlative most Gallic)
    1. Of or relating to Gaul or France

    Caldo Gallego is from Galicia, not from the Basque Country.

  10. Ana, thanks for the correction; Galician, not Gallic. I was looking for the right adjective. But I never claimed that caldo gallego was from Basque country ... actually, I said it was from the restaurants in Newark (though the one we happen to eat it at most often *is* a Basque restaurant)!

  11. For me it does not make sense to eat a Caldo Gallego at a Basque restaurant!!!

  12. Casa Vasca has wonderful caldo gallego :) Don Pepe owners are from Galicia and they make the best caldo gallego in newark. Also, Spanish Pavillion and even Euro Lounge in North Arlington NJ are all Gallego owned and wonderful! I'm Gallega and from the area. It's the most comforting food you can eat with a spoon and you'll leave with a smile no matter where you try it. It's amazingly authentic in all of the above !


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