Cape Verdean Foods
Cape Verde's dry, tropical island environment and its role in Portugal's 15th-century colonizations have shaped its cooking traditions. Enslaved Africans brought knowledge of growing and cooking tropical crops. The Portuguese brought livestock. They used Cape Verde for feeding the crews of their sailing ships and as an experimental station for growing foods from the Americas, such as corn, hot peppers, pumpkins, and cassava (mandioca). They also transplanted sugar, bananas, mangos, papayas, and other tropical crops from Asia. National food preferences, reflected in ritual foods, include an affection for dried corn, either whole kernels (hominy) or ground to various degrees of fineness. The national dish, cachupa, is a stew of hominy and beans with fish or meat. It means home to Cape Verdeans everywhere.
Cooking cachupa from dry ingredients may require as much as four hours over a slow but steady flame. Years of drought have made firewood scarce. Locally produced charcoal is seldom in adequate supply. In rural areas women and children spend many hours each day gathering firewood (lenha). Despite government subsidies to make bottled gas easily available to all the cost to many poor families is prohibitive. Gradually the effects of drought and its continuing impact on agricultural production and the availability of affordable fuel have combined to transform the culinary tradition of Cape Verde. Cachupa rica has become expensive and something a family can only hope to serve on special occasions. Thirty years ago imported rice was served on these special occasions. Canja de galinha, the thick chicken and rice soup is one such dish, and is still was served for weddings, funerals or New Year's eve celebration or perhaps to nurse a sick relative to health. Today rice which cooks in under twenty minutes is fast replacing corn as the staple of Cape Verde.
Recipes for cachupa vary from island to island and from household to household. On Brava island cachupa is called munchupa. What's in a kettle of cachupa may also depend on whether it has been a year of rain or a year of drought. In a good year there will always be greens, mandioca, potatoes, maybe squash, yams, and plenty of pork meat. In a dry year you might have to make due with corn, a handful of beans and a piece of salt pork.
For Cape Verdeans scattered in immigrant communities around the world, its always a special occasion when friends gather to share a well-made kettle of cachupa. These festive occasions are called cachupada. In spite of the rising costs of making a cachupa rica in the United States or Europe, Cape Verdeans everywhere will still make an effort to bring added significance to a social gathering by setting a pot of cachupa on the table. Cape Verdeans trust in the "power" of cachupa to transform a simple meal into an occasion for storytelling and sharing memories. Cachupa can teach a lot about Cape Verdean culture.
Cachupa recipes can be easily adjusted to accommodate household preferences. Marinated chicken, beef or fresh tuna can substitute for pork. And for a vegetarian offering corn, beans and greens are one of nature's healthiest combinations.
But the best is yet to come - leftover cachupa for breakfast! To really prepare yourself for a day's work on a fishing boat or a night on the town, nothing sticks to your ribs quite like cachupa guisada. Fry up a few ladles of cachupa on top of some browned onions and let it heat up slowly until it begins to dry out. Some folks let it cook up until it is almost crispy on the bottom. Serve it with a fried egg on top (cachupa ku ovo stralado) and you're ready for anything life has to offer.
Nha Augustinha (Maria Augustina Faria Lima) was born in Ilha Brava and later moved to Mindelo, Sao Vicente Island before immigrating to Gaithersburg, Maryland. Nha Augustinha presented her cachupa at the Smithsonian Institution's 1995 and 1997 Festival of American Folklife.
2 cups of
1 cup large dry lima beans
1/2 cup dry stone beans (feijao pedra)
1/4 cup dry red kidney beans
1 lb. lean salt pork meat
1 pig's foot (split) if desired
1/2 lb chorico sausage (or other smoked garlic sausage)
1 whole, uncut blood pudding sausage (if desired)
1 small cabbage cut in quarters
1 - 2 cups big pieces of hard winter squash (if desired)
6 garlic buds (or more to taste)
2 seeded ripe tomatoes
2 laurel bay leaves
1 chicken bouillon cube (or substitute chicken stock for as much of the liquid as possible)
1/2 c. olive oil
* midge cutchido, dried and hulled cracked corn also commercially available in the U.S. as samp or yellow or white corn groats.
Wash all corn and dry beans. In a heavy large kettle (10 quart) boil corn for 10 minutes and carefully discard froth which collects on the top. Add dry beans, 1 bay leaf and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a boil. Lower heat enough to maintain a steady but slow boil. Add salt pork. If you are using pig's feet add at this time. Leave cover slightly ajar. Throughout cooking make certain liquid covers the corn and beans. Use at least 4 quarts of water or stock. After the mixture has boiled for the first hour add any pork meat and sausage. Cook partially covered at a very gentle boil over low heat for an additional one and one half (1 1/2) hours. [Cooking time can be reduced by soaking dry ingredients overnight. But cachupa "purists" prefer to work from dry ingredients].
Saute onions, garlic, chopped seeded tomato or tomato paste in oil until very soft. Add the second bay leaf. Add the mixture to the kettle when the cachupa has about one hour of cooking time left. Correct seasoning by carefully adding salt and pepper to taste. If adding squash do so when there is about 1/2 hour cooking time remaining. Remember that squash will continue to cook even after the kettle has been removed from the heat.
A few Cape Verdean cooks will even add a cup of canned or fresh tuna to the sauteed onion, garlic and tomatoes to enhance the flavor of the stew. But generally one prepares either a meat cachupa or a fish cachupa (cachupa di peixe).
For best results let cachupa sit covered and off the flame for at least twenty minutes before serving. The spices and salt will be absorbed into the corn, bean and the "gravy" will take on its special texture. Arrange the meats and vegetables on a large platter and serve the corn and beans from a bowl. Some folks may want to individually drizzle a little tabasco or piri-piri sauce on top.