29. May, 2017

Azores Holy Ghost Soup

Sopas… The real meaning!!

 

The people of the Azores called them Sopas but used in the singular form when spoken, the direct translation to english means soups (plural). But when Sopas is mentioned in the Azores, it doesn’t mean soups as we know soup to be. If someone says “I could eat some sopas”, they’re referring to this great meal–the traditional bread-based “soup” normally served during the Holy Ghost Festival (Festas Do Espírito Santo). It’s not even really fair to call this meal a soup. It’s not a soup in the traditional soup-spoon kind of way – it’s a meal of meat, vegetables, cabbages, and broth soaked bread. It’s a “soup” you eat with a fork and knife, see what I mean!!!

 

Without a doubt it’s a great reason for a get-together, with family or friends!

 

The earthy scents of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg can bring to mind chilly winter days and cozy nights by the fire, baked holiday goods and blissful memories of family and friends. What a perfect time for a recipe that calls for these spices cooked into tender strips of beef that are mixed in a dark, savory broth that’s perfect for bread dipping.

 

I have a great friend, Silvestre that comes from the Azorean island of Faial, Portugal and he always tells me fantastic stories regarding the traditions of his beloved island, he says; “ In my family, Sopa de Espirito Santo, is carried out in accordance to an old family recipe and everyone has his own secrets regarding the methods and ingredients used, commonly served during Holy Ghost Festas.” Personally I have enquired and ascertained that the recipe varies from each Azore island because it’s a “taste and add this or that” type of ingredient or spice to the dish

Silvestre also tells me that;  "His mother recalls marching in those religious parades carrying decorated baskets of soft, warm Portuguese sweet bread (massa sovada) to be place in  the “festa” dining halls. My aunts and uncles are always trying to outdo each other and never fully shared their recipes. One likes more wine, one likes it salty, and one bakes theirs while another’s version that includes chicken, or linguica at times, bubbles on a stove."  He laughs, when he remembers that his cousin persists  in the usage of a sock to hold the herbs and spices while making her broth, but it really is a good method - as long as it’s clean. He also tells me that the all family agrees that his grandma’s sopa was the best.

A tear appears in the corner of his eye as he recalls the time and manor in which his grandmother took to perfect her sweet and spicy broth, he says. “ it was wonderful to watch her at work in the kitchen after being lured into the house by the hot, woody smell of fresh spices simmering on the stove. Her sopa never looked pretty, but it was delicious and filling, not only of the belly, but of the soul." 

I am honored that Silvestre has shared with me the base of his grandmother's recipe, has he said, in order to make it, I should use some imagination, creativity and lots of love, with that he was sure that I would produce a great Sopa de Espirito Santo. Well I put into practice what he indicated and my family and a couple of friends came to taste the end result, they all enjoyed it very much. The truth must be said !! none of them are from the Azores, so I have to wait for Silvestre and his family to visit me and then I will have an experts opinion. Until then, please try it out and let me know, it’s a great dish.

Course: Main, Main Course

Cuisine: Azores, Portugal

Servings: 10 to 14 people 

Ingredients:

  • 2kg beef shoulder roast

  • 3.5kg beef chuck

  • 6 tbsp coarse salt

  • 4 medium onions , peel removed

  • 4 heads garlic , outer skin removed

  • 5 cinnamon sticks , roughly 25g

  • cloves, and nutmeg 25g
  • 1/2 litre tomato paste

  • 4tbsp allspice (Jamaica peper) , NOT ground

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 6 regular heads of green cabbage

  • 7.5 litres water (roughly) + 1 to 2 extra litres during cooking

  • 6 Fresh mint leaves

  • 4 farm style crusty breads , about 700g each

Instructions:

  • Distribute the salt evenly over the all the meat and refrigerate overnight.

  • 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 olive oil and cabbage 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 hour 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 cabbage greens. Cover immediately with aluminum foil to keep hot. You can place the meat dishes in the oven on 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 a jar. 

  • Pour the broth from the jar over the bread up (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, to keep the soup hot.

  • Let the dishes with bread soup sit for about 20 minutes to soak up the broth.

  • Uncover the meat and soup and serve. Enjoy one of the iconic Azores dishes with friends and family!