There is an Old Portuguese proverb that says, “Of soup and love, the first is the best.” In Portugal, what doesn’t go into soups is a shorter list than what does, and national soups like caldo verde and feijoada have sustained the Portuguese through feast and famine.
What is feijoada?
Feijoada, which in Portuguese means beans, is a bean stew made with beef or pork, where the beans play musical chairs based on the region.
From one region to the next, traditional local beans are used. In the northeast, in Trás-os-Montes, feijoada is made with red kidney beans, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage, while in the Minho and Douro Litoral near Porto, feijoada is made with white beans, rice, and sometimes chouriço (or chorizo, a Spanish sausage) and farinheira sausages. It’s this version of feijoada that was later exported to the former Portuguese colony of Brazil, where it’s now one of their favorite national dishes.
It could be said that Portugal’s love of pork is so complete they eat every part of the pig except the squeal. Pork can be found in everything from soups, to grilled kebabs, and even dessert. This mad obsession is so prevalent countrywide there are matanças dos porcos, or pig killing festivals, where every part of the pig is used in some dishes like this feijoada a transmontana. What they can’t use is cured and preserved and turned into presuntos, or hams, as in the fine, dry-cured hams from Lamego in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal.
The name comes from feijão, Portuguese for “beans”. The basic ingredients of feijoada are beans with fresh pork or beef. In Brazil, it is usually made with black beans (feijoada à brasileira). The stew is best prepared over low heat in a thick clay pot. It is usually served with rice and assorted sausages, such as chouriço, morcela (blood sausage), farinheira, and others, which may or may not be cooked in the stew.
The practice of cooking a meat (pork) stew with vegetables that gave origin to the feijoada from the Minho Province in Northern Portugal is a millenary Mediterranean tradition that can be traced back to the period when the Romans colonized Iberia. Roman soldiers would bring this habit to every Latin settlement, i.e. all of the provinces of Romania, the Vulgar Latin speaking area of Europe (not to be confused with the modern country solely), and this heritage is the source of many national and regional dishes of today’s Europe, such as the French cassoulet, the Milanese cassoeula from Lombardy, Italy, the Romanian fasole cu cârnați, the fabada asturiana from Northwestern Spain.
Feijoada is one of Portugal’s greatest exports – this tasty dish of beans with beef and pork can be found commonly prepared in Macau, Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Goa and Brazil. However, the recipe differs slightly from one country to another.
What is the origin of feijoada?
The bean stew began in the Trás-os-Montes region, the Northeastern province known for its hilly, wild landscapes. It is Portugal’s version of chili and perfect for your next big party and every meat lover’s dream as this recipe has 8 different types of meat.
The original feijoada à transmontana is the genesis for all other feijoadas that followed. It is a balance of sausages, less desirable meats, red beans (always) and cabbage. It originated around the 14th century in the Northern region of Portugal. Eating meat and poultry on a daily basis was historically a privilege of the upper classes. Pork and beef are the most common meats in the country. Meat was a staple at the nobleman’s table during the middle ages.
Generally, feijoada is made with white beans but in the Tras os Montes region, red kidney beans are used. During that time meat was scarce, so the poor peasants began using every part of the pig as a staple in their diets along with beans and cabbage which were easily available. All the funny parts of the pig end up here, as the dish was created when people couldn’t afford to waste anything the human body could eventually digest. Meats included may vary, but if you are too picky, ask before you put something in your mouth. It’s not at all uncommon for feijoada to include delicacies such as pig hocks, knuckles or ears!
As a celebratory dish, feijoada à transmontana is traditionally served on Saturday afternoons or Sunday lunch and intended to be a leisurely midday meal. It is meant to be enjoyed throughout the day and not eaten under rushed circumstances. The meal is usually eaten among extended family on special occasions like taking in a soccer game.
This dish is great served with classic Portuguese rice recipe and your favorite bread. It’s one of those dishes that taste even better the next day! Enjoy!
- 1 lb red kidney beans (soaked for 8 hours)
- 1 lb pork loin
- 1 pork ear
- 1½ lb veal shank , cut into pieces
- ½ lb pork belly
- 1 pig's trotters
- ⅓ lb smoked bacon , cut into small cubes
- 1 chorizo
- 1 smoked sausage
- 3 onions , thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 3 carrots , peeled and sliced
- 1 kale
Cook the red kidney beans in their soaking water in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes.
Stop the cooking and check with a fork. The cooking time depends on the quality of the beans. The beans must not be too tender. Continue cooking for 15 minutes if necessary.
Remove the beans from the heat and set aside in their cooking water.
In a large cast iron pot, place all the meats except for the smoked bacon. Season with salt and pepper, cover with water and cook for 1h30 over medium heat.
Test the tenderness of the meat and continue cooking if necessary.
After cooking, cut all the meats into pieces (except the veal which was cut before cooking). Slice the chorizo and smoked sausage. Set aside.
In a large cast iron pot, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add the reserved smoked bacon and stir.
Add the sliced carrots and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the dry white wine and simmer for 2 minutes after boiling.
Add all the meats, chorizo and smoked sausage. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the cooked red kidney beans and 3 ladles of their cooking water. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes.
Coarsely cut the kale, rinse well and drain.
Add the kale to the pot, mix gently and continue cooking for 15 minutes over low heat.
Adjust the seasonings if necessary.