Probably one of the most recognizable staples in any Portuguese-American home is Sopa de Couves. More affectionately referred to as just “Sopas” or “Sopinhas” (soup-ee-n-yas), this beloved peasant style soup is not a thing to be trifled with. It is as hearty as they come almost a cross between a soup and a stew. Served with a fresh piece of Portuguese bread (pop-seco), this soup is served as a main course in the Portuguese-American home. Often a big pot of this is prepared on a Sunday, served for “dinner” at 1 o’clock and then left overs are served all week long… at least that’s how it was in my house. Two things that are not well-known by many of my American friends is that no two families prepare this soup the same way and there is actually no kale in this soup!
Let’s tackle the recipe issue first. The Azores are made up of 9 islands off the coast of Portugal. Until recently, communication was not something that was abundant among the tiny villages throughout these islands let alone among the islands themselves. Hense, a different recipe developed within each village. Often times this soup was made up of whatever a family had on hand resulting in a different recipe among each family. The basics are the couves of course, then inexpensive vegetables like potatoes, cabbage and beans. If a family was lucky, a piece of meat was added in along with a piece of chouriço! Whether to add carrots (which my family does not) or cabbage (which my family does) was often a matter of what was grown in their back yard garden or simply what was on hand. Today, each family has their special family recipe and that is likely a very loved recipe upon which all other versions of the soup are compared against.
Now onto the issue of the kale. So, Kale Soup is actually made from the Portuguese “Couves” which is a cousin to kale. It has a broad flat, deep green leaf more closely resembling a Collard Green. In fact, making kale soup with the American curly kale would not be traditional at all. My grandfather brought Couve seeds over from St. Michael many many years ago and my family has been growing the vegetable in our back yard gardens ever since. If I ever run out of the home-grown authentic Couves, I in fact use Collard Greens and it turns out just fine.
What I will take you through today is my family’s version of this Portuguese staple… and if I do say so myself, it is a really good version! Thick and hearty, this soup starts with a bean broth base with no whole beans in it at all. Most of the ingredients are kept in my freezer and pantry at all times so a pot of this is usually ready to go whenever I get the inclination. Naturally this soup has really become a football food in my family seeing as how we make it on a Sunday and football is on on Sundays. There is nothing like a steaming hot bowl of soup and a fresh piece of crusty bread to really take you through each quarter of a football game! Take a look at how I do it…
Portuguese Kale Soup (Sopa de Couves)
1 16 oz. bag dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked through
8-10 medium all-purpose potatoes, diced largely
2 cups Couves or Collard Green, Chopped into 1/2″ ribbons
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 lb. beef shank
1 lb. chouriço, cut into 1 1/2″ chunks (not peeled)
1 heaping Tbs. Portuguese ground red pepper
1/2 lb elbows macaroni
2 Tbs. vegetable oil (optional)
note: I use a 12-qt. stock pot for this recipe
Soak beans over night if you have the chance. If not, boil beans for several hours until they are very soft and popping open. Do NOT add salt to this step.
Once beans are fully cooked, use a stick blender to blend beans in with cooking liquid. Add water to pot enough to come 1/2 – 3/4 of the way up your largest pot. Add in beef shank, a large pinch of salt, couves (collard greens), chouriço, cabbage and pepper. Boil this for about 1/2 hour until the couves and cabbage become soft. Next, add in the potatoes and cook until fork tender, about another 1/2 hour. Add in the elbow macaroni, simmer until done about another 1/2 hour. Finish with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil. Serve hot with a crusty piece of bread.
***To make this recipe gluten-free, omit the macaroni or use a gluten-free version, but be careful not to over boil the gluten-free version as the recipe calls for with the non-gluten-free.