Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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Portuguese Kale Soup

Kale used to be a little known vegetable, other than often appearing as garnish on salad bars in restaurants. It's great that the world has discovered in the last few years that the tasty green has fabulous health benefits. With a lush crop of kale ready to be picked, I decided to grab the camera and document what passes for a kale soup recipe at our house.

KaleMy fondness for kale came from it being served frequently at home when I was growing up. My mother served it boiled and seasoned with bacon bits or drippings. When I started gardening as an adult, kale was one of the first vegetables I tried. I found that it produced abundant crops in our area, far more than we could use as boiled greens. Then I happened upon a simple recipe in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977):

Kale is an all but unknown vegetable these days, so let me do my part to publicize its cause by passing along the bare outlines of a delicious recipe for Portuguese kale soup. There are dozens of variations of this recipe, but my favorite includes kale (or collards), garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage, chopped onions and garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and freshly cooked kidney beans in a chicken stock. Short of making the soup for you myself, I can do no more.

Since reading about kale soup in the late 70's, I've been working on our version of Crockett's recipe for years. We can and/or freeze two or three batches of Portuguese Kale Soup each year. It's a hearty dish that warms the bones on cold winter days and is not bad at all as a summer dish as well.

I generally try to hold off making kale soup until we have as many of the ingredients as possible available from our own garden. The list may include kale, of course, along with garlic and onions, tomatoes, green beans, peas, carrots, kidney beans, and potatoes.

Our kale soup usually starts with our own chicken broth collected from times when we buy lots of skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, bone and freeze the fillets, and boil and bone the rest for chicken and broth. Since we really like chicken and noodles, kale soup has to compete for the broth. We sometimes also add a large box or two of Swanson Chicken Broth. How much chicken broth you have on hand really decides how big a batch of kale soup you're going to make. Or possibly, how much kale and how rich you want your broth... We've also successfully used turkey broth for the soup.

onionsWe make our soup in a large (12 quart) kettle, as the kale takes up a lot of room before it cooks down. Once we have our chicken and broth hot, I chop onions and garlic for it. I once saw on a cooking show how to finely chop garlic, spread a bit of canning salt over it, and press the salt into it with a cleaver. The salt picks up the garlic oil and the final crushing eliminates any big pieces of garlic. I add our garlic and salt that way. If you use canned tomatoes in the soup, be sure to go light on the salt over the garlic, as canned tomatoes usually have a good bit of salt added.

We have lots of Walla Walla sweet onions this year, so I used those for the soup this time. Walla Wallas have a nice, mild taste, but spoil quickly. I did get a bit carried away peeling onions and only ended up using a few for the soup. The rest from the photo above went into the fridge for later use.

sausageEckrich Skinless Smoked SausageI've tried several kinds of smoked sausage, although never the "garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage" listed by Crockett. I usually just use skinless smoked sausage. Last year I tried using polish kielbasa (shown at left), as we had lots in the freezer. I'm not sure it added as much flavor to the soup as the smoked sausage does, so I went back to it this year (shown at right).

I've tried cutting the smoked sausage into small pieces to add flavor to the soup. That works, but I also like having big chunks (1") in the soup. I used two pounds of polish kielbasa in this batch, although one more pound might have been better.

Also, if you use commercial chicken broth, you may want to cut up some boneless chicken breast into your broth at this point. I like chicken in our soup, but it really isn't essential.

Soup in potPortuguese kale soup does take a lot of time to prepare and can. I generally figure on an all day activity for it.

compostBy this point I've usually created a good many scraps that all go into the compost bucket. We've settled on using old cat litter buckets for compost, as they seal in the odors. And of course, once you start cleaning the kale, peeling potatoes and carrots, there'll be lots more for the compost bucket.

Since kale takes a long time (think 3-4 hours minimum) to cook, I add whatever liquid is needed to the pot and begin the rather arduous task of cleaning the kale. Even though I use Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) on my kale in the garden, a few cabbage looper or small white cabbage worms always seem to evade the safe, biological agent.

Kale in sink cabbage looper worm
We clean out our sink thoroughly and then just dump the kale in one side to soak in saltwater for a half hour. We wash each leaf individually and then strip out the heavy center leaf stem of each leaf. Even with the best of insect control, a few small, green worms seem to slip into our kale. I found about six in this large, one bushel picking of kale.

Soaking ones kale in saltwater for a half hour or so removes any grittiness that may be in the kale and usually does in any worms on the kale. Then, it's just a matter of rinsing the leaves one at a time, checking for worms or any foreign matter (often grass clippings), and then stripping the heavy stems from the leaves. Leaving the center leaf stem lengthens the cooking time considerably.

Kale boiling downI push the kale into the boiling pot of soup a bit at a time, filling it to the top and pushing the kale into the broth with a heavy spoon. In about 10 minutes, the kale will have cooked down some, and I can add more. I continue this process until I've gotten all my kale into the broth. While it may seem like you're getting too much kale into the soup, remember that it will greatly reduce in volume as it cooks. And for kale lovers, there's never too much kale!

For our 2018 batch of kale soup, I picked a little over two five gallon buckets of kale, gently pushed down into the bucket. That pretty well supplies all the kale needed in a twelve quart batch of the soup. Note that I give directions below for smaller batches of the delicious soup.

If we have fresh tomatoes available when making the soup, we go with them. Generally, I use about twelve peeled and cored tomatoes for a big batch of soup. Lacking fresh tomatoes late in the season, I add a quart jar or two of canned, whole, skinned tomatoes and their juice. Again, note that canned tomatoes have salt added.

Almost doneYou can also begin adding other stuff at this point. I add some vegetables from the garden, if available. This year that was just some sliced carrots. I also added about half a pound of frozen mixed vegetables. I generally drain canned kidney beans and rinse them before adding them. I do wait to add the potatoes until last, as they can become so soft as to become unrecognizable in the soup if added too soon.

Cook the soup until the kale leaves are tender. The rest will be done when the kale is done. We let this batch simmer for the whole day!

This is about what a large batch and a single serving of Portuguese kale soup looks like at our house. I wish you could smell it!

Portuguese Kale Soup

Over the years we've tried adding other meats, more chicken chunks and such, but generally come back to the general recipe outline as provided by Crockett. We've also substituted turkey broth for the chicken broth with good results, other than everyone getting really sleepy. We've also added mushrooms, but really didn't like that soup as well.

Canning Kale Soup (9/2/2009)

Canning the soupIt has taken me a year to realize that I left a couple of things out of this piece. Since our version of Portuguese Kale Soup contains meat, it needs to be treated as a meat when preserving it. We follow the recommendation of the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving and pressure can pints of the soup for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes. Since we've already added salt to the soup, we don't add salt before canning.

Portuguese Kale Soup also freezes well. When we make a batch that isn't large enough to can, we just put it in a ziplock bag or, more often, a leftover margarine or cottage cheese container, and pop it in the freezer.

I also inserted "canning" to a reference earlier about salt. Since we usually can our soup, we don't use iodized table salt that can degrade the color of canned foods. We use canning salt.

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Okay, here's the list of ingredients:

  • chicken broth with bits of chicken
  • onions
  • garlic (both regular and elephant garlic, a type from the leek family, I think)
  • skinless smoked sausage
  • kale greens
  • tomatoes (canned, whole skinned or about a dozen fresh)
  • dark red kidney beans
  • potatoes
  • mixed vegetables - if using fresh, green (and a few lima) beans, peas, carrots, and sometimes a bit of sweet corn
  • salt and pepper

And for those of you who need quantities, here's a list for a bit smaller batch:

  • Walmart2 large (48 oz.) boxes of Swanson chicken broth
  • 1 pound or so of chicken chunks
  • 2-3 pounds skinless smoked sausage (sliced)
  • 2 cans whole, skinned tomatoes
  • 2-4 chopped medium onions
  • 2-4 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 4-6 bunches of kale from the grocery
  • 6 potatoes
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans
  • 1 pound frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste

Over the years, I've become a bit of a purest with the ingredients for our kale soup. I try to wait until we have all the ingredients for the soup from our garden, canned, frozen, or preferably fresh, to use in the soup. In 2017, our soup featured all garden fresh ingredients grown in our garden plots, including kale (of course), carrots, green beans, kidney beans, peas, potatoes, onions, and garlic.

Tip: When either my wife, Annie, or I feel a cold coming on, we break out a jar of kale soup. It's loaded with vitamins, particularly vitamin C. It's not a cure, but it does make us feel a bit better.

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last updated 11/2/2022