It may be cold and (often) miserable out but that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about what you are going to grow once the days get warmer! This is my first “growing season” with a patio that receives actual sunlight so I will be relying heavily on Heather’s expertise to help me grow a little food. The first test I set for myself began last fall at the UBC Apple Festival with my somewhat crazy purchase of an apple tree. My next challenge will be to grow Portuguese cabbage.
About a month ago, an envelope arrived from my grandfather in Terrace. In it were some seeds whose provenance involved a transatlantic flight from Portugal in the 1970′s. Was that kind of thing illegal back then? To accompany the tiny, jet-black seeds, was a very simple note instructing me on how to grow them.
All that talk about loss of traditional knowledge? Yup, that’s me. I need “good” soil. If I go into the garden centre and say, “I need the good soil”, they will steer me in the right direction, yes? Even more mind-blowing to my uneducated self, the instruction about waiting a few days after the full moon. I immediately think of something biodynamic. Doubt my grandfather has ever heard the term biodynamic; bet he intuitively knows many of its dictums. According to my grandfather, I need to plant these seeds on Sunday, March 11th.
I grew up with a lot of veggies, especially greens. One of the most classic dishes in my grandmother’s kitchen was Caldo Verde, or quite simply, green soup. You can use any kind of green you like but for me, the memory of this dish is tied to the cabbage that you can’t buy in any store around here. I can’t wait for the day these tiny seeds turn into gorgeous jade-coloured leaves. This “cabbage” I will be growing more closely resembles collard greens but is soft, sweet and less leathery.
There are many versions of this soup; my grandmother’s is very simple and uses no stock or bacon or sausage. So simple, in fact, that she doesn’t have a recipe. This is my closest approximation of what she creates. Serves 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, such as german butter, cubed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt (remember, you aren’t adding stock!)
1 very large bunch (or two average bunches) of lacinato kale, collard greens or savoy cabbage
Optional: 2 cups of cooked pinto beans (or 19oz/540mL can, drained); 1 cup of cooked pasta
Heat the oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions until soft and glossy. Remove the stems from the greens, trim the ends and chop. Add the chopped stems to the pot and stir. Next, add the garlic and potato and stir until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add 10 cups of water and the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add salt. Cover and simmer.
Meanwhile, slice the greens. Slice the leaves in half lengthwise (for larger leaf greens, do this again so you end up with quartered leaves or the strands will be too long for your spoon) and then stack the leaves and finely shred crosswise with your knife. Alternately, my grandmother always “chipped” the greens: after you remove the stems, grasp the bunch of greens tightly in one hand as you take a paring knife or kitchen shears and roughly chip away at the greens so that you end up with small pieces of greens instead of long strands. I wish I had a picture of this for you. It’s crazy. Not for the novice in the kitchen.
Take a potato masher and mash the soup partially, just so the potato forms a bit more of a broth. You still want chunks of potato in the soup. Once that is done, add the greens and cook until the greens are soft. Add the beans and pasta at this point if desired for a heartier soup. Adjust the seasoning if necessary before serving.