Friday, January 21, 2011


Caldo Gallego--Galician soup with beans and broccoli raab.

In the summertime, I grow a “gazpacho garden”—tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers to keep me supplied with the ingredients for that lovely cold dish. In the winter, it becomes a “soup garden”—leeks, chard and kale for adding to hearty vegetable soups.

This year, instead of kale seeds, I received a packet of broccoli raab seeds. Broccoli raab? What’s that? Although I had never tasted broccoli raab, I went ahead and planted it. Broccoli is a vegetable I really like, so I figured this broccoli cousin would add to my vegetable repertoire.

Broccoli raab.
But when the leaves began unfurling, I was puzzled. Hey, this ain´t broccoli. It looks more like turnip greens—

Then the plants sent up slim stems topped with a sort of broccoli bud look-alike. Before harvesting, I needed to find out how to cook my accidental vegetable. On-line research confirmed that broccoli raab is not related to broccoli, but to turnips. OK, now what? I found some tasty recipes for broccoli raab with penne and Italian sausage. But where does this new green fit into Spanish cooking?

The clue was right there on Wikipedia: broccoli raab (brassica rapa) is also known as rapini, broccoli rabe and grelos. GRELOS! The signature vegetable of Galicia, in northwest Spain. I once went on a pilgrimage in the market of Santiago de Compostela in search of grelos. Alas, in early summer, they were not to be found. Neither do they seem to be grown elsewhere in Spain. Now, in chilly January, I had them in my own garden!  

I flipped through my own cookbook, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, in search of recipes and found two recipes for traditional Galician dishes, lacón con grelos, cured pork shoulder braised with greens, and caldo gallego, Galician soup with beans and greens. In those recipes, I suggest substituting chard, kale, collards or cabbage for the requisite grelos. Now I could make them with the real thing.

Grelos--broccoli raab.
Yesterday I put the beans to soak and today I cooked them with a ham bone, chunk of pork fat, some potatoes and the chopped broccoli raab. Some Galician cooks add chorizo, which colors and flavors the soup. I decided to forgo the chorizo, but added a little pimentón (paprika) instead. And, many suggest mashing up the pork fat to enrich the soup. I skipped that too. 

Whether it’s an Italian recipe for broccoli raab or Spanish grelos, most recipes advise blanching the greens before incorporating them in a dish. This both removes any bitterness and, for the Galician soup, keeps the soup from turning green. Full disclosure: In cooking, the grelos turn a dull green. So, after I blanched them, I saved some of the bright green ones to add to the soup for the photo. As they were picked from the garden and cooked on the same day, the blanched bits were plenty tender and not at all bitter. 

From my soup garden, here is a traditional soup, perfect for a chilly winter day. In Galicia, it is served in cuncas, or “cups,” white porcelain bowls. In Galicia, wine also is sipped from cups.

Galician Soup with Beans and Greens
Caldo Gallego

Serves 6.

Caldo Gallego.
¼ pound dried white beans,
    soaked  overnight
1 bay leaf
½ onion
meaty ham bone or ham hock
1 beef marrow bone or short rib
3 ounces pancetta or salt pork,
      in one piece
1 pound potatoes, peeled and
     cut in chunks
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces broccoli raab or other greens, chopped and blanched
chorizo (optional)
pimentón (paprika), optional

Drain the soaked beans and put them to cook in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off the froth. Add the bay leaf, onion, ham bone or hock, beef bone and pancetta. Bring again to a boil and skim. Simmer for 1 hour.

Add 1 cup of water, the potatoes, salt and the greens, which have been blanched in boiling water. Cook 1 hour more.

Add the chorizo, if using, and cook 15 minutes. If using pimentón, mix it with a little of the broth, then stir it into the soup.

Cut meat off bones and discard bones and bay leaf. Cut pork fat into small pieces OR discard before serving.


  1. Janet! How come I hadn't heard about you before??? You must live in the most beautiful of places, judging from your kitchen view... I love seeing Spanish cooking (and other stuff) through "foreigner" eyes, though I guess after 30 years you're not so much a foreigner. I'm following! Besos ;)

  2. Miriam, and, why hadn't I heard of you before? Found you through the DMBLGIT foto contest on I do, indeed, live in a beautiful place.

  3. Hi Janet, I am also an American who recently began to spend 6 months of the year in Murcia and although I can find most of what I want in terms of food, I can't find kale! Is it grown in spain or do you have to grow it yourself? We live in the huerta with lots of espinacas and acelgas, but no kale...any help much appreciated!

    1. Christy: I rarely find kale in markets here--when I do, I suspect it's coming in from elsewhere in the EU. It's easy to grow, so plant your own or interest a local farmer in trying it.