12 March 2011

Cachupa - the national dish of the Cape Verde Islands

The Cape Verde Islands. This enchanting archipelago of ten islands off the west coast of Africa, not far from Senegal, is truly a special place. With topography varying from starkly arid mountains to white, sandy beaches depending on the island, an ethnically mixed population (the country was a Portuguese colony until 1975), stable economy and political climate and amazingly rich music and culture, Cape Verde is a place unlike any other.

Cape Verdeans are a migrant people, and there are large communities in Portugal (naturally), the Northeastern part of the United States (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), the Netherlands, France, Sweden and neighboring Senegal.  Though this is changing through increasing tourism, many people (Americans particularly) have never heard of this tiny island country. Those that have might particularly know of the music of Cesaria Evora, Cape Verde's biggest star who is loved the world over for her beautiful mornas, the hauntingly beautiful fado-like music of Cape Verde. Check out the video below to hear Cesaria singing "Sodade", the most famous morna of them all. Sodade is a derivative of the Portuguese word saudade (the Cape Verdean vernacular is a Creole based on Portuguese). It's hard to translate sodade precisely into English, but the essence of it is a type of nostalgia and longing...one that Cape Verdeans (and all migrant peoples for that matter!) feel for the land and loved ones that they left behind at home.


Luis's mother was Cape Verdean (from the island of São Nicolau) and he himself was born there (on the island of Sal), and though I was a big fan of Cape Verdean music and culture years before I met him based on my own travels in Cape Verde (the island of Santiago) and Senegal, I have definitely enjoyed getting better acquainted with it through him and his family. One of the highlights of this has of course been the food! Though much of Cape Verdean cuisine is essentially the same as Portuguese cuisine, one notable exception is the national dish, cachupa

A type of cassoulet or stew made with beans, corn (hominy), cassava, sweet potato, pork, chorizo and tuna, cachupa is the ideal "poor man's dish" - cheap to make, packed with protein and filling, sometimes so filling that you can have it for lunch and not need to eat anything else all day! What's more, cachupa tastes even better the next day sauteed with some chopped onion for breakfast, which is called cachupa refogada.

Although cachupa is definitely a very meaty dish, the great thing about it is that the beans, corn and vegetables can be cooked separately from the meat. So whenever Luis or his family makes cachupa, I get a vegetarian (though admitedly non-traditional) version while they get the full deal. Talk about an ideal dish - cheap, nutritious and one that both veggies and meat eaters can appreciate. 

Luis's cachupa recipe is as follows. I've noted the recipe as is, meaning with the meat of course (a first here on The Mistress of Spices!), but have given the vegetarian option as explained by Luis. The photos though only reflect the vegetarian version ;-)

Serves 6

2 cups dry corn or hominy
3/4 cup dry red beans
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 onions, chopped
2 bay leaves 
4 cups (1 liter) vegetable or chicken broth
4 cups (1 liter) water
3 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 piece (250 grams) chorizo, chopped into big chunks
500 grams ready to use salted pork, chopped into big chunks
1 tablespoon chili powder (or less if you don't like too much heat)
4 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 sweet potato, peeled and quartered
1/4 white cabbage, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded  and finely chopped
1 can of flaked tuna (optional)

1. Wash the corn and the beans a couple of times. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a pressure cooker. Add half of the chopped onion and one bay leaf. Saute until the onions are translucent.

3. Add the corn and the beans. Stir well and add broth and water. Make sure that there is enough broth and water to cook the corn and beans for 40 minutes without burning (adjust if necessary).

4. In a big pot, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the remaining chopped onion, garlic and one bay leaf. Stir well and saute until the onions are translucent.

5. Add the chorizo, salted pork and chili powder. Stir continously on a low flame until cooked, for about 15-20 minutes. 

6. For the vegetarians, separate the quantity of corn and beans desired and  place in a separate pot. Add a portion of the potatoes and cabbage (you can decide how much), mix well, then add a portion of the chopped tomatoes and cook until the vegetables are cooked. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Taste to make sure that there is enough salt and adjust as necessary. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes before serving.

7. For the carnivores, add the corn and beans to the meat mixture. Then add the potatoes and cabbage, mix well, add tomatoes and cook until the vegetables are cooked. This will take about 15-20 minutes. At this stage, you can mix in the tuna if desired.

8. Taste to make sure that there is enough salt and adjust as necessary. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes before serving (note - cachupa is traditionally served on its own - not with rice or any other accompaniment). Cachupa goes wonderfully with a nice chilled bottle of vinho verde (Portuguese "green" wine) or any fresh white wine or a light beer. If served for breakfast as cachupa refogada, enjoy it with a nice big mug of coffee with milk.


  1. Very interesting post about Cape Verde! I am sure Luis likes it too - Mom

  2. thank you for such an informative post!! I would love to try that dish it does look delicious with all those wonderful flavors!

  3. enjoyed reading about the place and I am sure this dish can be made without the pork? being a hardcore veggie, the rest of the recipe is hugely appealing to me :)

  4. Such a beautiful place. We not only get to know new recipes we also get t0 know about so many places culture etc through your blog.

  5. Ramya, your travels to all these exotic places makes me feel like I'm on all these exciting culinary journeys with you. You should be a writer/editor for Travel magazine...I'm serious!
    Such a lovely post, so informative, along with the beautiful photos, and interesting culinary foods, and most of all, the fabulous recipes you provide with them!
    Thank you for sharing, as always...you're such a gracious hostess!

  6. In college, I did service work in Cabo Verde! Great post!!!

  7. Another fabulous and fascinating post! I'm jealous of all the places you and your husband have traveled and have called home, I'd love to see your photo albums!

  8. Another exciting travel food post. I love them! And this dish had me at African and Portugese.

  9. Hi. So glad to find this recipe! A friend shared cachupa with me. As a rule I don't care for beans but this dish was amazing! The only difference is I'm sure the version he shared had curry in it, not much just a hint. How much curry would you use in this recipe to give just an under current of flavor.


  10. Loved reading about Cape Verde. Very interesting dish! I think it would easily lend itself to the many vegan proteins available on the market.

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