Sopas… What do we mean?
Sopas is singular, but the direct translation means soups (plural). But when Sopas is said in the Azores, it doesn’t mean soups as we know soup to be. If someone says “I could go for some sopas”, they’re referring to this meal–the traditional bread-based “soup” normally served during the Holy Ghost Festival (Festas Do Espírito Santo).
You can learn a bit more about this festival in one of our previous posts about Traditional Azores Round Sweet Breads – Rosquilhas. In that post, we share a bit of background on the festivities and foods.
It’s not even really fair to call this a soup. It’s not a soup in the traditional soup-spoon kind of way – it’s a meal of meat, collard greens, and broth soaked bread. It’s a “soup” you eat with a fork and knife.
A great reason for a get-together!
We were recently at a cousin’s birthday party, chatting with some friends. We realized that we hadn’t gotten together with them in ages. Liz took a quick peek at her calendar and we made plans for a get-together at our place in the coming weeks.
Shortly after setting the date, I realized it was dab smack in the middle of the Holy Ghost festivities that I have very fond memories of celebrating while living in Pico. I decided there and then that our feast would be a traditional meal served in Pico during these festivities… Sopas!
The day before our scheduled gathering, I was returning home from doing grocery shopping for our feast and I thought of another couple who were brought up on the Island’s culture and who I knew would likely enjoy some “sopas”. I sent my buddy a text, and I was thrilled to find out that he and his family would be joining us–and especially happy knowing that his daughters were really excited about what we were serving.
For our feast, we enjoyed the traditional “sopas” with slow cooked beef. Our friends brought the Portuguese grown-up beverages to accompany and complete the meal. It was a treat to enjoy our red wine in the old traditional clay wine bowls (see them on the left side of the picture). We topped off the meal with sweet bread, cheese brought directly from Pico, and Azores style rice pudding.
We often, and with good reason, plan a lot for the future. This is a good thing, but it’s important to remember the traditions we grew up with, to appreciate where we came from and what helped shape us into the people we are today.
Move forward, but cherish your traditions and history. Share old traditions and start new ones, and always eat well, friends!
Traditionally served in the Azores during the Holy Ghost Festival or Festa do Divino Espírito Santo, soon after Easter. Bread soup with slow-cooked beef. Often accompanied by sweet bread and rice pudding.
- 4.3 lbs (2kg) beef shoulder roast
- 5.9 lbs (2.7 kg) beef shank
- 10.3 lbs (4.7) beef chuck
- 6 tbsp coarse salt
- 4 medium onions , peel removed
- 4 heads garlic , outer skin removed, all cloves still attached
- 7 cinnamon sticks , roughly 25g or 0.9 oz
- 1/2 litre tomato paste
- 2 1/2 tbsp allspice (Jamaica pimenta) , NOT ground
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 10 leaves collard greens
- 7 1/2 litres water (roughly) + 1 to 2 extra litres during cooking
- Fresh mint leaves
- 4 Home-style crusty breads , about 700g or 1.5 lbs each
Distribute the salt evenly over the all the meat and refrigerate over night. Note, we kept the meat in an aluminium roasting pan for easy storage.
Before cooking the meat, wash the meat under cold water to remove a majority of the salt.
Place the meat in the pot and add the water. The amount of water we recommend in the ingredient list should be just above (covering) the meat. If it's not, add a bit more water.
Heat the water and meat on high until it starts to boil.
After the water has boiled for a bit, you'll see some impurities accumulating on the top. Skim these off with a small sift. Repeat until very few impurities come up. Keep cooking at a moderate boil (between medium high and high).
After about 1/2 hour, add the onions, garlic heads, cinnamon, allspice (in a spice bag or a new panty hose sock, cut and tied) and tomato paste. Mix well.
If the water starts to reduce quite a bit, add a bit more water to bring it back to the same level you started with.
After about two hours, add the butter and collard greens.
While the meat's cooking, cut the bread into large handful-size pieces and place them snug into large deep baking or casserole dishes. This should be just under the rim, sometimes in two levels. Add mint leaves sporadically between the bread pieces and over the top. Think of this step like putting together a puzzle of bread 🙂
After about 3 hours of cooking, pick a piece of meat out of the pot using tongs. The meat should feel like it can easily be broken apart. It's ready. If you find the meat a bit hard, cook for another half our or so.
Using tongs, remove the meat from the pot, cut or break into smaller pieces and place on shallow serving dishes, along with the collard greens. Cover emmediately with aluminum foil to keep hot. You can place the meat dishes in the oven on it's lowest setting to keep it warm.
Using a large slotted spoon, remove the cooked onions, garlic and other bits and pieces from the broth.
Place a sift over a large jar with a spout and pour broth from the pot over the sift and into the jar.
Pour the broth from the jar over the bread up to the top edge of the bread (cover all the bread). Repeat this step until all the bread in each of the dishes is covered. It might feel like a lot of liquid, but the bread will soak up most of the broth.
Cover the dishes with lids or aluminum foil and then cover the dishes snugly with warm blankets to keep the soup hot.
Let the dishes with bread soup sit for about an hour to soak up the broth.
Uncover the meat and soup and serve. Enjoy one of the iconic Azores dishes with friends and family!
Feel free to make a smaller portion, but I've always heard from the "master soup makers" that the larger the portion of meat, the better it'll taste. It'll probably still be very good if you half all the ingredients.
We used a 20 litre pot for this recipe.
The key to great flavour in this soup is a good mix of quality meet with bone, fat and lean meat. I used a combination of beef shoulder roast, shank and chuck.
This recipe varies from island to island and even from town to town on the same island. This recipe is characteristic of the south side of the island of Pico in the Azores. Other Island recipes include sausage, cabbage, chicken and other vegetables.
You'll want to use crusty home-style bread with big irregular holes. Nothing too dense.
We use a lot of allspice. A common way to keep these together is to use a new pantyhose sock, cut and tied like a little bag.
This recipe makes a large quantity of soup. This is good for two reasons! One is the flavour which we've already mentioned. The second is that you now have a good reason to invite friends and family over for a great evening 🙂
It's likely that you'll have plenty of leftovers. Portion some of the bread soup and meat into sealable plastic containers and freeze them. Once you get a craving for this meal again, place the contents of the container in a deep casserole dish, cover the top with aluminum foil (to avoid toast or drying up the bread) and heat it up in the oven at 350 ºF for about 40 -45 minutes. Perfect quick dinner for a busy weekday night! If you had broth left over, pour it over the bread and meat before freezing. This will help keep everything moist.