Here in the Pacific Northwest autumn doesn’t sneak up on us, it merely takes a coffee break letting summer step in for a quick 15 minutes. So while elsewhere around the country citizens were barbecuing for months, we never once took the cover off our grill. And regardless what month of the year, I’m always perusing cookbooks and magazines for cold weather recipes, especially soups and stews. Because some of my relatives are faithful readers I decided to share the following recipe, which is a staple of some Hawaiian families. Having said that, I can’t explain why our family ate such hearty fare in the hot tropics. Never thought of it until now. But there’s really no rhyme or reason to why island locals eat what they eat. If it’s “ono,” (tasty) it’s a no-brainer, we’ll eat it.
The first time I can recall eating Portuguese bean soup was at the monthly “Hui Akoni Hemolele” meeting. As the name implies, it was a club to which native Hawaiians belonged, although there were members of other ethnicities, like Japanese and Portuguese. A few men belonged, but the majority were women. My mom had served as an officer a couple of times. Once a month they would all attend a particular Mass to worship. Immediately afterwards they would gather at the church hall, where everyone would be updated on the club’s current affairs. My brother and I would accompany my mom, waiting impatiently until the breakfast of Portuguese bean soup and Portuguese sweet, or white, bread, with butter, would be served. I can still picture the huge steaming pots, from which the serving women would ladle spoonfuls of the thick, homemade soup, heavily laden with chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. It was heaven on earth to eat food that even God would want served at His table. I exaggerate, but that’s how wonderful it tasted, especially for my brother and I who weren’t use to eating an abundance of red meat in those days. I think we thought ourselves extremely lucky if we ate hamburgers.
When the talking finally ceased, members seconding the motion to adjourn, and the short capes of yellow and red bird feathers removed from around their shoulders, we knew that signaled “Let’s eat!” My brother and I didn’t need to be asked twice. We made a beeline for the food. I think my mom would bring up the rear, because she’d always get sidetracked talking with this person, and that person. But the soup never seemed to run out before everyone got their helping. Sometimes there was enough leftover, so we took a potful home. Lucky, lucky us!
I have several recipes for this soup, this being one of the simplest. I’ve not made Portuguese bean soup since Christmas, so I’m starting slow. At some point I may cook the version that has many more ingredients, including papaya which is a natural meat tenderizer. So as the cold season unfolds, I’ll post one or more recipes for this delicious concoction. If you’re wondering why Hawaiians cooked a food traditional to the Portuguese, the short answer is decades ago they were brought to the islands to serve as “lunas” (bosses) on the pineapple plantations. They oversaw the laborers, first the Chinese, followed by the Japanese and finally, the Filipinos. With the influx of these nationalities, came a melting pot of foods, which became Hawaiian food as we know it today, a smorgasbord of this and that. Still my favorite, I’d easily double my body weight if I were a resident. I’d have a plate lunch of beef teriyaki, spam, portuguese sausage, macaroni salad, and rice, instead of a Big Mac and fries any day of the week. Bring it on…
Meanwhile hope you try this recipe, enjoying its hearty flavors near a blazing fire on a cold, wintry Fall evening, or on your lanai, in the shadow of the setting Hawaiian sun, the gentle ocean breezes lightly caressing your cheeks.
PORTUGUESE BEAN SOUP
- 2 lb Portuguese sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (if unavailable, try another sausage, like Kielbasa)
- 1 lb ham hock
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 quarts water
- 2 carrots, diced
- 3 potatoes, diced
- 1 small cabbage, chopped
- 1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
- 2 cans (15 oz size) red kidney beans, including liquid
Put sausage, ham hock, and onion into a large pot; add water. Cover and cook on low heat for 1 hour. Remove meat from ham hock. Put meat back into soup and add carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and tomato sauce; cover and continue cooking for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in beans, including liquid, and cook a few more minutes, adding more water if necessary. Makes 12 servings.