Caldo Gallego (Cal-doh Gah-jeh-goh) is a dish that is very popular in Puerto Rico. Even in Ponce, in the southern part of the island, where my parents hail from, the measure of a good restaurant is not its arroz con pollo or mofongo, it’s the quality of its Caldo Gallego. This is a vigorous soup that was brought over from Galicia, a historic region in northwest Spain. I’m told that in Galicia the base for this rich broth is an aged bacon called unto (oon-toh). Since you may not find it here, lean cured ham and/or salt pork can be used instead. Also, in Spain the soup is cooked in a large earthenware pot and is served in earthenware bowls. For those who don’t have earthenware, any heavy pot or kettle can be used, like a caldera (a heavy pot made from cast-iron or cast aluminum and found in any Caribbean store). And, yes, regular soup plates will do. Add a loaf of good bread, and you have the perfect repast. Simple, delicious, and filling.
Let me add that the recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Thunder’s Mouth Press). The soup needs long, gentle cooking time ( about 3 hours). But it’s worth the wait.
CALDO GALLEGO (Galician Style Broth)
1/2 pound dry white beans
3 ounces lean cured ham or salt pork, washed and diced
1/2 pound smoked ham, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small onion, peeled and sliced in rounds
1 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 turnips, rinsed and quartered
1 10-ounce package frozen turnip greens
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1. Rinse beans under cold running water and drain.
2. Place beans in a large kettle or Dutch oven. Add water to cover, cured ham, smoked ham and onion. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 2 hours.
3. Add remaining ingredients and gently stir to mix. Bring to a second boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 1 more hour. If needed, you can add more water during last hour of cooking. It depends on how “soupy” you want it.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.