Sopa de grão de bico is a deliciously filling chickpea soup from Portugal that’s super easy to make. Flavorful root vegetables add to the soup’s heartiness, while aromatic cilantro and warming cumin give a flavor hit that’s complemented by a citrusy lemon juice tang. Like most cozinha pobre (peasant cooking), sopa de grão de bico requires no fancy ingredients, and is made with basic staples that most of us have on hand.
It’s no secret that the Portuguese love soup – it’s an everyday essential, and, similar to the Czechs, the Portuguese traditionally begin most meals (barring breakfast, of course!) with soup.
While some soups are simply-flavored broths, for example caldo verde (“green broth”), or açorda, others are practically a complete meal in themselves. This hearty sopa de grão de bico (literally; “soup of chickpeas”) is one such. Jam-packed with stomach-filling and nutrient-dense chickpeas and fresh vegetables, with a goodly heft of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil, plus cilantro and cumin, sopa de grão de bico is more of a cross between a soup and a stew.
Portuguese Food and Drink
Possibly Portugal’s most famous export after Carmen Miranda, is the deeply delicious fortified wine, port. It’s generally the first thing people think of when asked to name Portuguese food or drink. However, the deliciousness of Portugal (from the Latin, Portus Cale – the port of the weather goddess, Cala) is so much more than its much-lauded apéritif. Or even its deep golden dessert wine, Madeira… although both are truly wonderful, and not to turn your nose up at!
Thanks to Portugal – the westernmost part of the European mainland – being the oldest state on the Iberian Peninsula, and being continuously inhabited (and oftentimes, occupied) since at least Neolithic times, Portuguese cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world, with Italian, Germanic, Spanish, and Moorish influences, to name but a few.
Brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, hand-made breads and cheeses, and a veritable bounty from the North Atlantic Ocean, the food culture of Portugal is also among the healthiest in the world.
In addition, thanks to a propensity for seafaring and empire-building, Portuguese cuisine has in turn, influenced those of other nations as far afield as India, Macau, and of course, the Americas. And to come full circle, elements of these cuisines, particularly with regard to spices such as piri piri and cinnamon, have become integrated into Portuguese cooking itself.
Furthermore, we have renaissance Portuguese traders to thank for the sweet oranges we all know and love, bringing them from India as alternatives to the bitter Iranian ones which had been grown across Southern Europe for around four hundred years.
Grão de bico
Beginning in Asia Minor, where they’ve been heavily relied on for protein for at least seven thousand years, chickpeas (garbanzo, gram, channa, chole, etc.) have had a long relationship with humans. From Asia Minor (aka Anatolia), their use has fanned outward along trade routes to Southern Europe, India, and down to Ethiopia. By the 16th century, Portuguese seafarers were trading in chickpeas all over the world.
For the Portuguese, chickpeas are an important staple, and are eaten from one end of the country to the other. In addition to being an essential protein-rich ingredient in many soups and stews (vitally important to keep body and soul together for a hard day’s manual labor), chickpeas are used in Portuguese dessert dishes too, such as the Christmas fritters, azevias de grão.
During WWI, chickpeas were roasted and ground up to be used as a coffee substitute – there are some areas of Germany where they still do this!
How do you make Sopa de Grão de Bico?
This is such a simple soup to make. Simply sweat the onions and garlic, then add the vegetables, chickpeas, aromatics and seasonings, along with the broth, and simmer for half an hour until all the veggies are cooked and have released their flavor. Remove half of the soup, and purée, then return it to the pan, and stir in to thicken. Serve with a dash of lemon juice, and enjoy this simple yet impressive taste of the Portuguese countryside!
A World of Chickpeas!
Why not check out these other chickpea and chickpea flour recipes from around the world while you’re here?
Tunisia – Tunisian couscous
Iran – abgoosht
Myanmar – tohu thoke
Algeria – dolma qarnoun
Azerbaijan – dovgha
Morocco – harira
India – palak pakora
Greece – revithia soupa
Egypt – falafel
Monaco – socca
- ½ lb chickpeas , peeled and cooked
- 2 onions , grated
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic , crushed
- 3 tomatoes , peeled, seeded, and crushed
- 1 carrot , peeled and finely grated
- 3 leaves green cabbage , finely chopped
- 3 potatoes , finely grated
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 cubes vegetable bouillon
- 1 bunch cilantro , chopped
- Juice of a lemon
- 6 cups water
- Boil the water and dissolve the two cubes of bouillon. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Brown the onion and garlic for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, carrot and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the chickpeas and cilantro. Mix well and add the hot reserved broth.
- Cook for 30 minutes over low heat.
- Divide the soup in two, and purée one half with an immersion blender.
- Return the purée to the pan, and stir well. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Serve the soup with a dash of lemon juice.