Portuguese Sopas

This post is for the Portugal Day event hosted by Casey at Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria.

I don’t remember my Grandpa John.  He died when I was a baby.  What I knew of him was from pictures and family stories.  I knew he was Portuguese, and a policeman, but not when he came to this country, or why.  I knew he must have had a very thick accent, from the way everyone unconsciously slipped into one when they quoted him, and that he was a well-loved character from the smiles that accompanied the stories.

And I have the recipe for Portuguese Sopas.  Sopas is a soup made of beef braised in stock, served over French bread with a sprig of mint.  My Grandma made it for us when we came to visit, and she always reminded us that it was a Portuguese family recipe that she had learned to make for my Grandfather.

She was a presence, my Grandma was—with her red hair, big laugh, and brisk movements, she filled up a room.  I never got closer than hovering in the doorway of the kitchen while she cooked; I was too timid to get in the way as she bustled back and forth, talking a mile a minute as she worked.  So I didn’t learn to make Sopas at her side.  But I loved to eat it–loved the simple dish and also the family tradition it represented, although I couldn’t have put words to that warm feeling somewhere under my ribs when Grandma plunked a big bowl of Sopas onto a TV tray in front of me, and hollered, “There you go!” as she turned and rushed back to the kitchen for more.

I haven’t had Sopas in at least 25 years, and I had never made it for myself.  But I knew the recipe was around somewhere, and I went looking for it just the other day.  I found the recipe card, and I started thinking about this dish that represents my Portuguese heritage.  I wondered what other family members remembered–what other pieces of the patchwork of family history they held.  So I sent out an email to my sisters.

Sometimes Sissy will surprise me with the bright glints of long-buried memories she can produce, like magic coins pulled from a velvet purse.  But being the youngest, she remembered very little about the Sopas other than that Grandma pronounced it “Soupish”–because of which we all did, and still do.

Big Sister, on the other hand…not only does her memory extend back much farther than mine, she is at once the keeper of the keys–the hub of all family history–and a detective extraordinaire.  She unlocked a treasure chest, dipped her hands in its heaped and jumbled contents, stirred, and brought to light memories of having Sopas at our Grandfather’s house.  She also remembered the grown-ups making some kind of Portuguese wine, about which our aunt said when asked, “Boy, howdy, do I remember the wine… It would knock your socks off…”  She knew that Grandpa was from the Azores, and quickly dug up the fact that he came here when he was only 17.

It turns out that Big Sister has the recipe too, and gave it to her friend Lori who makes it occasionally for Soup Night at her house, so the tradition is very much alive and well.  She asked Lori’s husband, who is Portuguese, how to pronounce Sopas (“Soap-as,” he says) … and in short, I had tapped a rich well of family history.  I realized that this was one of those sibling things, where we all remember different bits of an important thread in our shared story.

So, after a long palaver with the butcher about 100% grass fed beef chuck roast with the bone in, and a trip to my wine merchant for a bottle of Portuguese red, and buying the French bread the day before so that it could duly go stale, I have finally made Portuguese Sopas myself, for the very first time.   An ideal Sunday afternoon meal, the prep time is minimal and the long, slow braise allows the cook to spend the day napping or reading as the house fills with the heady fragrance of beef and spices.

Sopas is also known as Holy Ghost Soup, and was traditionally served for the feast of Pentecost in the islands of the Azores.

Portuguese Sopas

  • 4 lbs chuck roast, bone-in
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Mint leaves
  • Day old French bread

Sauté onion and garlic and remove from heat.  Cut roast into 2 inch chunks.  Brown meat, add bones and other ingredients.  Bring to a slow boil, lower heat, and simmer for 3-4 hours, or until meat is tender.

To serve: Place two slices of day old French bread in a bowl, add mint.  Spoon broth and meat over bread.

**

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41 thoughts on “Portuguese Sopas

  1. Julie

    I have been looking for this recipe for years. My nana use to make this when we were kids. After her passing we would buy the “soupish” from locals who prepared this dish where we lived, Tracy, California. Thank you so much for sharing. I will be preparing this very soon for my family.

    Reply
  2. Manuela

    This recipe is a keeper. I made yesterday I use my slow cooker it came out really good. Thank you for sharing the recipe. :)

    Reply
  3. Michele

    Thanks for the recipe — I grew up in Central California and our family always went to the Portuguese Celebration in town (and sometimes the following towns). I now live in Central Texas about 3 hours from my sister who’s ex-husband is Portuguese. she has a family recipe but seldom makes it..as her now husband’s not very big on it. Hummm — wonder why? Anyway – she’s forgotten some steps so your recipe will help — I love it!! I’ll have to head back to the San Joaquin Valley and attend a Celebration for old times sake.

    Reply
    1. tara

      Michele….where did you grow up?? im in northern California but go to a lot of festas all over. fresno. Tulare, santa maria! my daughter is the queen for chico this year! cant get enough of sopas!!!

      Reply
  4. Lori

    Hi, I’m SO EXCITED to finally find a recipe that is close to what I remember my Avo (Grandmother) making when I was a child! Your’s fits the bill! Thank you so much for the wonderful story and for sharing this recipe! I was just wondering if you add any of that red wine to this dish, or is it just a pairing?

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Hi Lori-it’s wonderful to taste a dish that you remember fondly from childhood, isn’t it? I don’t add any red wine to my sopas, because my grandmother didn’t. But a little red wine never hurt anything, right?

      Reply
  5. Ronald Berry

    Hester you are so right about the cabbage in the sopas. I am from Los Banos as well. My brother in law Fred Lewis’ father cooked sopas every year at the DES hall in the good ole days. My father in law Joe Machado donated a lot of meat in his day when his livestock market was still running. Joe A. Machado and Joe A. Sousa took me every year to get a really large aluminum pan full every year. That’s how I landed her on this website looking for the recipe as they have all passed (God Bless their souls) I sure miss them and the sopas.

    Reply
  6. Hester Affonso-Stiers

    I love your story! I’m half Portuguese. And do live by alot of Portuguese traditions & I teach my 4 lil ones the language(as much as I know ) & the culture. About 1/2 of my town is Portuguese. We have a Portuguese celebration every May, it last the whole weekend with parades (which my kids march in), Church, crowning of the Queens, auctions ( I like to buy sweetbread) dances & bull fights (bloodless, no killing or hurting the animals) & lots of Sopas & sweets too! Pretty much during the summer you can go to a Portuguese celebration every weekend. Every nationality is invited, you dont have to be Portuguese & its all free. Look my Portuguese hall up on facebook, D.E.S. Portuguese Hall in Los Banos, California. The only difference between your recipe & any other Sopas Ive ever had is we always add a head of ruffly cut up cabbage. Each ingredient stands for a religious meaning. Take Care, Hester

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Hi Hester-thanks for commenting! There must be a big Portuguese population in California, I’m always hearing about these awesome celebrations you have. I’d love to go to one some day!

      Reply
  7. Ann

    Our ancestors were from the Azores and I can remember when I was about seven years in my home town of Pismo Beach, California-We would have an annual “Portuguese Celebration” with Sopas in great big man size pots and that is how I was introduced to Sopas and it was delicious-I was just searching online per my mothers request to find the recipe..:O) Thanks for sharing!!! it means a lot to us!

    Reply
  8. Rosie

    Great story, I love reading about other heritage. I’ve been wanting “soupish” for awhile now. I just been waiting for the right recipe and it looks like I found a winner. I do have a question, on the French bread, do you make your own? Or where can it be purchase at? Thank you so much for sharing a heart warming story.

    Reply
  9. Robin Borba Besotes

    Love your posting and the sopas recipe. Yes, you must definately visit the Azores. We visited back in 2008 and it was the best experience possible. The Portuguese people, living in the Azores, have a much different lifestyle then we do. Slower pace lifestyle. Now, I’m sure the mainland of Portugal is much different, but I don’t know for sure. For approximately 10 years now I’ve been working on my family genealogy that includes two different Grandfather’s Portuguese lines both coming from different islands in the Azores. If you’re interested in learning more shoot me an email and I would be happy to give you resoures that you may find helpful. Obrigda!

    Reply
  10. Mary

    Thanks for the wonderful recipe, my great grandmother is from portugal and my father-in-law is also portuguese. I wasn’t raised with the culture, but as a gift to my father-in-law I have been trying to find a recipe to remind him of his childhood. He frequently talks abouth soupish and I am super-excited to make this for him, Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Hi Mary–I hope you’ll check back after you make it and tell me how it turns out!

      Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      I do hope to visit Portugal someday…one of my sisters has been there. I didn’t know that Sopas was called Holy Ghost Soup, or Holy Spirit Soup, until I started researching for this blog post. Fascinating!

      Reply
  11. Lois B

    What a great write-up! Thanks for sharing the family story and the recipe. I especially like the idea of something that can simmer on the stove on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Lois-
      There’s nothing like a lazy Sunday afternoon with something good on the stove!

      Reply
  12. 5 Star Foodie

    What a wonderful post and a terrific recipe! I love cumin and allspice here, such great flavors!

    I’m actually preparing a post right now of a sweet treat my grandmother used to make when I was young. No one had her recipe but I was finally able to replicate it!

    Reply
  13. Casey Angelova

    What a wonderful and moving post. My Polish grandmother died when I was young, but my family still talks about her cooking. Even family friends remember my grandmother’s food. Sometimes going back to our roots is incredibly satisfying. I hope Sopas is something you keep in the family for generations to come.

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Casey-thanks so much for sponsoring Portugal Day and inspiring me to write this post. It was such an enjoyable process!

      Reply
  14. kate at Serendipidy

    Don’t these look perfect. I have never had sopas, but I think I see some in my future. Thanks for the recipe. AND for the story. I love stories like that. I can see your grandmother rushing around…

    Reply
  15. Claire

    Rowdy Chowgirl – Love the new picture! I also love reading your posts –you are a great writer. This is a wonderful story and I can’t wait to try this recipe, it looks easy and delicious!

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Thanks, Claire. Sopas is definitely both easy and delicious. I was surprised at how quickly it came together–probably 15 minutes total prep time.

      Reply
  16. Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron

    I enjoyed the story. Do you have 2 sisters? I have 2 younger sisters myself. I liked that you mentioned about your sisters. It makes me wonder what my sisters would think about me. haha

    Your roast seems tender from 3-4 hrs of cooking. Sopas look so good!

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Yes, two sisters and a brother…it was a lot of fun writing this post because it was sort of a collaboration with my sisters. The beef was very tender, and the broth was surprisingly rich, because of the bones, I think.

      Reply
  17. Kevin

    Great story and recipe Rowdy Chowgirl! Ok. I want to make this. Question. Do you brown the meat IN the onion/garlic sauté, adding the remaining items after the meat is browned? Or do you put the sauté in after the meat has begun to simmer. Can’t wait to try this.

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Good question, Kevin. I sauteed the onions and garlic in a large pot, and I browned the meat separately in a cast iron skillet. Then I added the meat and all the other remaining ingredients to the pot with the onion garlic saute. I hope you do try it and let me know what you think!

      Reply
  18. lemonsandanchovies

    What a nice story. I always enjoy reading about the history of a particular dish.

    I was lucky enough to visit Portugal a few years ago and loved it. The people were so welcoming and friendly. I’ve actually been poring over my Portuguese cooking looking for recipes to try.

    Nice to come across your blog. :-)

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      I’ve never been to Portugal myself–the closest I’ve been is Spain. I hope you’ll blog about the Portuguese recipes you decide to try!

      Reply
  19. Stella

    Hey Rowdy, I read this whole post! It’s very sweet. I know only a bit about the Azores region, but one thing that comes to mind immediately is the area’s economic problems. If I’m remembering correctly. I believe a lot of young people left there in the early 1900′s to make money here and in other areas of the world. I would imagine that this is probably still happening…???
    This soup sounds wonderful even to me (non beef eater). I would eat it if I was at your house, as I know you use wholesome meat and such.

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Stella–Wouldn’t it be fun if we could have a Portuguese potluck? You bring the Orange-Olive Oil Cake, I’ll bring the Sopas!

      Reply

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