28 June 2012

Azorean sopa de feijão (bean soup)

My husband Luis grew up in one of the most gorgeous places in the world, the Azores Islands. This rocky and volcanic archipelago of nine islands is part of Portugal but about two hours west of Lisbon, in the middle of the Atlantic. Luis spent most of his childhood on the biggest island São Miguel, in the capital city of Ponta Delgada. I was fortunate enough to visit with him once and found a place of extraordinary beauty and one that has been largely untouched by tourism, despite its verdant valleys, blue lagoons, rolling hills, miles and miles of hortencias and azaleas and bubbling hot springs. The Azorean people are simple, kind, deeply religious and strong, many of them emigrating since generations to the U.S. (most Portuguese in the U.S. are actually from the Azores), Canada, Bermuda and other places.

Like Portuguese cuisine in general, the Azorean cuisine is a humble and hearty one, based largely on olive oil, potatoes, beef and dairy products, chouriço and other pork and codfish (bacalhau). Check out this fascinating description of Azorean cuisine from renowned food writer and cookbook author David Leite, who hails from an Azorean family himself. The archipelago is also known for its cheeses and egg-based pastries such as the famous queijadas from the town of Vila Franca do Campo (where Luis's father was from) and bolos levedos from the hot springs of São Miguel. Speaking of the hot springs, one of the most fascinating things to do during a trip to the Azores and São Miguel specifically is to visit the Vale das Furnas, an area of bubbling hot springs. Visitors and residents alike love to experience the cozido das Furnas, which is a method of cooking using the geothermic heat underground. You basically leave your pot to be lowered into the ground, go away for a few hours (during which you can go and have a bath in the therapeutic hot springs) and when you come back it's unearthed and all cooked. 

Sopa de feijão (bean soup) is typical in Portugal, Brazil and other Portuguese-speaking countries. Each region and family has its own recipe, and this is Luis's Azorean version. The soup is traditionally made with couve galega, with a special type of Portuguese collard green which is also used in the traditional caldo verde soup, perhaps Portugal's most famous dish. If you're lucky enough to live near a Portuguese store, you might find couve galega there, otherwise regular collard greens or cabbage make fine substitutes (Luis actually prefers cabbage in this). Chouriço is typically used in the soup as well (just like in caldo verde) but is not really available here in Thailand, so Luis now makes a default vegetarian version (lucky me!). The use of coriander is also definitely untraditional, but it does add a delicious touch. Sopa de feijão is a simple but hearty dish that will fill you up...true comfort food! Considering my love of beans, I feel like I could eat it every day. Every time that I do, I am reminded of the beautiful Azores...a place that everyone should consider visiting at some point in their lifetime. 

Serves 6

1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Chili powder, to taste
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
8 cups vegetable broth (or 8 cups water and 1 vegetable bouillon cube)
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
Handful of fresh coriander (optional)
2 large carrots, thinly sliced (optional)
2 cups of roughly torn couve galega (if you can find it), collard greens or cabbage
Salt, to taste (optional)

1. Warm a large pot (without any oil) over high heat. Add the onion and roast until browned, which will take approximately 4-5 minutes depending on your stove.

2. Add the olive oil, garlic and chili powder. Mix well and saute.

3. Add one can of beans and saute lightly. Pour in the vegetable broth (or the water and vegetable bouillon cube).

4. Add the potatoes and the coriander (if using). Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.

5. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a blender (and return to the pot).

6. Add the carrots (if using), the second can of beans and the couve galega/collard greens/cabbage. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, covered. Add salt to taste, if desired.

* Note: This soup is even better eaten after some time. That is, if you can resist the urge to dig in right away!*


  1. This speaks to me. I love the color and all of the ingredients.

  2. Very delicious sounding soup! Lot of interesting info about beautiful Azores-Mom

  3. adorei este post em particular!

  4. With a high of 110 degrees Farenheit today, where I live now, I still think this looks very appealing.

  5. This looks so good! Intrigued by cozido das Furnas...must do it. Please have Luis share his calde verde recipe! Obsessed.....

  6. This looks so good! Intrigued by cozido das Furnas...must do it. Please have Luis share his calde verde recipe! Obsessed.....

  7. I am intrigued by that method of cooking too. Oh, wow! I would so like to try that. Thanks for giving us a view of a place few of us have heard of.