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.
- 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.