Portuguese Kale Soup (Sopa de Couves)


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…


Fill your largest pot with water. This is my Pampered Chef 12-qt Executive Non-stick stock pot, it’s huge and I love it!

Rinse off and pick through your beans. I like to use a dual colored bean like this pinto or you could use a cranberry bean as well.

Rinse off and pick through your beans. I like to use a dual colored bean like this pinto or you could use a cranberry bean as well.

After they have boiled for about two hours, you will have beans that are busting open on their own. This is the desired effect. You in no way want aldente beans. You want smushy beans.

Now you can add in a good pinch of salt.

I have to tell you my soup making life was forever changed when I bought one of these handy-dandy stick blenders. I just take the blender and submerge it in the hot soup without fear of splashback and I can easily blend all those beans at the bottom of the pot! If you don’t have one of these lovely contraptions, you can do what I used to do… allow the soup to cool to “non-scalding” level and start ladling it into a blender. This will need to be done in stages. It’s alright it there are a handful of beans that don’t end up blended, but you want to be sure the majority of them are well blended in with the cooking water. Do NOT get rid of the cooking water! You want all that flavor!

Now, although a great deal of the cooking water has evaporated at this point, you will need to add in enough to bring the soup level up over the half way mark in your pot, almost to 3/4 of the way up actually. Seen here is your soup base. From this point on, you will want to keep your burner turned to med/med high depending on the strength of your stove. Remember this base can easily burn if you aren’t careful. And take it from me, there is nothing worst than burnt soup!

Now that your base is done, you can start to add in your ingredients. Probably one of the most inexpensive cuts of beef there are out there with the most flavor to impart is the beef shank. This is traditionally what we use in a good Portuguese soup. You want to keep that bone in there and hope that the bone marrow that is in it will melt right into the soup. If not, you can always manually do it. Then later you can remove the bone and its great for your favorite 4 legged canine!

This time of year, obviously I don’t have a garden full of couves. But at harvest time, I was sure to cut some up and package it into nice freezer bags to last all winter long. If you don’t have this handy, no problem… Just grab a bunch of collard greens at the supermarket. rinse each leaf, roll them up and cut into ribbons about 1/2 wide. For this recipe you will need half a bunch and you can freeze the other half just like this for next time!

I don’t bother defrosting my couves, I just pop them right in the hot soup water and here they are. It only takes about a minute really.

A lot of the spice in this soup, which isn’t crazy, is provided by the chouriço, but I like to help it along a bit with a heaping tablespoon of pimenta moida.

Cabbage. This is a take it or leave it ingredient in this soup. I prefer my soup with a bit of cabbage, some don’t. If I don’t have any in the fridge, it doesn’t prevent me from making this soup, I just leave it out.

I use anywhere between 1/4 – 1/2 the cabbage and i chop it up like so, it will further fall apart on its own. All in all you want about two cups of cut up cabbage.

I use all-purpose potatoes for this recipe, nothing fancy.

Roughly dice into chunks. I like to try for a little bigger than a quarter.

Add these in after the cabbage has been added in and cooked for about 1/2 hour or so. Then cook potatoes until fork tender before adding in the pasta.

This is my favorite pasta to use. Elbows are traditional. I like Barilla just because of the extra grooves, but any elbow will do.

Add in to boiling soup with another pinch of salt and boil for about 25 more minutes. Again, the goal here is not to have aldente pasta, at all.

This is what your soup should look like when complete.  At this point I finish the soup with a good swig of vegetable oil like my Vavó always did.


Portuguese Kale Soup (Sopa de Couves)

Serves 8-10


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

kosher salt

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.



7 thoughts on “Portuguese Kale Soup (Sopa de Couves)

  1. Lynn de Jesus Beaulieu says:

    Thank you for posting these recipes I was never taught to cook Portuguese even though I grew up eating it.

    • Stacy says:

      This is a big reason for why I have this blog Lynn… So many of us are 2nd 3rd and 4th generation etc. It’s good to have recipes live on. I talk to so many people who say, “I wish I had paid attention when my Vavo made this or that” and by the time they want to make the meal, the time they could have learned it has passed with their relatives. With these recipes, I am hoping to spark those memories and let them live on 🙂

      • Lynn says:

        This is very true my great grandparents where both Portuguese on my dads side only and he can’t cook. So thank you I plan to visit often my soup came out great I might do my favorite rice pudding next

  2. Emily J Braga says:

    Yes!! Thank you for this… I am from Fall River and have been looking for the perfect kale soup recipe. Of course, ill have to scale it down a bit for just myself, but I cant wait to make it!

  3. Janet Sisler says:

    I’m from the New Bedford/Dartmouth area and now live in W.Va. and I sure miss all the food i was raised on. i am Portuguese on my Mom’s side and they are all gone now. I went home In September and ate my way thru town!! I went to Gaspars and bought all the linguica and chourico products and froze them and put them in my luggage and they were fine when I got home, haha!! Don’t even get me started on the Chinese food we can only get at home!! I love this site, the kale soup is spot on….

    • Stacy says:

      I am so glad you are enjoying the site… it is for people like you that I am so excited to share my family recipes. I think so often these treasured recipes get lost! So, on this site I am preserving my own family recipes for my children, yes, but also for all the portuguese people who have moved away such as yourself and who’s families have passed on and with them their recipes! I ONLY eat chinese when home! hehe… the chinese noodle factory I believe ships out chow mein noodles and the gravy mix too!

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