Someone from Galicia is called a Gallego (it’s also a common surname). So Caldo Gallego could be translated as Galician soup or Galician broth. It’s a hearty soup, loaded with beans, turnips (or potatoes), meat and greens. Caldo Gallego is really quite delicious and after a day walking through the foggy mountains of Galicia, it will warm you to your toes.
They love their greens in Northern Spain. You see them growing everywhere. There seems to be lots of varieties and they also eat the greens from plants like cauliflower and broccoli that we normally throw away. Almost as soon as you enter the region you notice tall stalks loaded with leaves.
In the photo above you can see some type of kale (?) growing in front of a hórreo, similar to the corn cribs you may be familiar with. The cook cuts what is needed for a meal and allows the rest of the plant to continue growing. Greens are also fed to livestock. It’s a very efficient system.
I was in a town called Triacastela when I had my Camino Caldo Gallego. The greens served with the soup were incredibly tender, almost fluffy, and very flavorful. I don’t know what type of greens they were. Turnip greens and kale are traditional.
I remember being incredibly hungry. The day before I had survived the difficult climb to O’Cebreiro, the first stop in Galicia. The walk from there to Triacastela was also a struggle for me, so after checking into the municipal albergue I went looking for something to eat.
There was enough soup for two people in the sopera, but I ate it all without hesitation, along with the crusty local bread and a bottle of very crisp and fruity Albariño, the local white wine. If you like Riesling you’ll probably like Albariño. The second course was a baked egg dish similar to Huevos a la Flamenca (I don’t remember what it was called on the menu) followed by a local goat’s milk cheese topped with honey. The cheese was very soft and tasted almost grassy.
They say hunger is the best seasoning, but that meal stands out to me over a year later.
I wandered around Triacastela for a while before heading back to the albergue where I was asleep before the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains.
Here’s how Rick and I make Caldo Gallego in our house. It’s a “hurry up” version as opposed to the traditional method which uses dried beans and takes a couple hours to cook unless you have a pressure cooker.
Carmen, Rick’s mother, always used turnips and turnip greens but if you’re not a fan feel free to substitute potatoes and another type of green. Chard or kale would be nice, or a leafy cabbage. The greens are added near the end of cooking so something tender would be the best choice.
The white beans used in our soup are called judiones. We buy them in a jar. They’re larger than cannellini beans but have a similar texture. Lima beans would be a good substitute. Again, buy the canned ones to save cooking time.
For the meat, we used a piece of “soup meat” and some sausage. In Galicia you’re likely to find chorizo or morcilla (a type of blood sausage that tastes better than you might think). If you use chorizo it turns the broth a nice color but it may overwhelm the other flavors. Sometimes the chef will use pig’s ears or snouts to flavor the broth. (Both orejas and morros are commonly used in Spanish cooking. I will eat them if they show up in something I’m served but otherwise I choose something else.) The point is, use whatever you prefer to flavor the broth. You’ll end up with good soup.
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 -3 cloves garlic, diced
- pinch red pepper flake
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 fist sized turnips, with tops, trimmed and cleaned or peeled, diced.
- Reserved tops from the turnips, rinsed and chopped. Keep the stems separate from the leaves.
- 4 ounces of "soup meat" We also used a fresh sausage. (Bacon works, too. Cook it first and saute the onions in the drippings)
- couple bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 jarred or canned cannelini beans (12 - 16 ounces)
- Use a large dutch oven to saute the onions, garlic, the stems from the turnip greens and red pepper flakes in a little olive oil. (We sauteed the sausage at the same time)
- When the onions have softened and changed color, add the chopped turnips and whatever meat you're using to flavor the soup. Cover with the broth. Season with the bay leaves and salt and pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until the turnips are soft. It will take 30 minutes or more depending on the size and age of the turnips.
- Stir in the beans and the turnip tops. If adding chorizo, this is the time to do it.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
If desired, you can omit the meaty bits altogether. If you’d like to bulk up your Caldo Gallego, add more greens. You could also add a chopped potato.