Hawaiian-Style Portuguese Bean Soup
Hawaiian-style Portuguese (or Portagee, in pidgin) bean soup is a comfort food staple in Hawaii. Every local knows this dish and has a different way of making it.
The recipe was originally brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants that came to work on the sugar cane plantations. The recipe below was passed down from my aunt and has been in our family for a very long time. It is, in my humble opinion, the very best Hawaiian-style Portuguese bean soup recipe.
One of the greatest things about this recipe is that it can be altered to any taste without losing quality. Like minestrone, it is flexible.
There are some basic ingredients for this soup that are used by all island cooks. These include:
- Smoked ham hocks
- Portuguese sausage
- Red beans
- Either canned tomatoes, canned tomato sauce, or canned tomato paste.
Traditionally russet potatoes are used, but if all you have on hand are red potatoes, then red potatoes it is. If you don't have red kidney beans, use pink, pinto, white, black, or any combination of beans if you want. This recipe doesn't need to be followed exactly to be delicious.
Still, I recommend trying it the way I make it the first time.
But while you can substitute many of the ingredients in this recipe, the smoked ham hocks and the Portuguese sausage is where most of the soup flavor comes from, so you must use them both to achieve the right smoked, spicy flavor.
Often, I will only use one large ham hock for flavor and add lots of vegetables. When I make the soup for my in-laws in New York, I use two or three ham hocks, depending on the size, because they really like the chunks of meat.
Hawaiian-Style Portuguese Bean Soup Ingredients
This recipe serves: 8-10
- 2-3 medium-sized, or 1 very large, smoked ham hocks
- 3 quarts water
- 1 28oz. can whole tomatoes
- 1 large onion, (coarsely chopped)
- 5 cloves garlic, (minced)
- 2 celery ribs with leaves, (diced)
- 4 or 5 medium-sized carrots, (chopped)
- 1/4 medium-sized cabbage, (cored and coarsely chopped)
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, (stems minced and leaves chopped and divided)
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon "Old Time" Hawaiian sea salt
- 2 tablespoon Hawaiian chili-pepper water or Louisiana hot sauce
- 1-2 tablespoon Aloha Shoyu soy sauce, depending on taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 4 medium-sized potatoes, (peeled and cut in bite-size chunks)
- 2 15.5-oz. cans kidney beans with liquid
- 1 pound hot Portuguese sausage
- 4 cups watercress (chopped)
- 1 can chicken broth
1. Boil the ham hocks.
Put the ham hocks in a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cover the ham hocks with water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Simmer for about one to two hours, or until they are done. Once they are finished, remove them from the pot and allow them to cool.
Keep the broth in the pot.
2. Add vegetables and seasoning to the ham hock broth.
While the ham hocks are cooling, add the vegetables to the broth, including
- Canned tomato
- Chopped onion
- Minced cilantro stems
- 1/2 of the chopped cilantro
Also add the seasonings to the broth, including
- Bay leaf
- Hawaiian sea salt
- Soy sauce
- Hawaiian chili pepper water or Louisiana hot sauce
Simmer for about 30 minutes. As it is simmering, skim off any fat or foam that rises to the surface and discard. Louisiana hot sauce can be substituted for Hawaiian chili-pepper water. If you don't like spicy food, you can wait until the soup is pau (finished), then add hot sauce to taste.
3. Prepare ham hocks and potatoes and add to pot.
When the ham hock has cooled enough to touch, remove the bones, skin, and fat. Chop the meat into bite-size chunks and add them to the pot. Also, add the potatoes to the pot. Simmer everything together for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Add Portuguese sausage and beans.
Add the Portuguese sausage and beans. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the beans and sausage are heated through.
Note: I have tried substituting Polish kielbasa for authentic Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, but it just doesn't work. The kielbasa doesn't have enough flavor.
I now buy my Hawaiian Portuguese sausage online at orderhawaiianfood.com. In fact, I buy all of my Hawaiian ingredients from the site, except for Hawaiian sea salt and aloha soy sauce. I buy these on Amazon because I get a better price.
My last resort is to call KTA Grocery Store on the big island, where I can order a case of them.
If I cannot obtain any Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, I substitute either chourico sausage from Brazil, linguica sausage from Venezuela, or andouille cajun sausage.
5. Add watercress.
If you can't find any watercress where you live, you can substitute two cups of chopped spinach, kai choy (Chinese mustard cabbage), Swiss chard, or any other bitter green. Simmer until just wilted, but still bright green.
6. Serve and garnish.
Before serving, add about 1/4 cup, or a small handful, of chopped watercress to each bowl and top with hot soup. Garnish with some chopped cilantro leaves and watercress.
In Hawaii, we put our soup on a scoop of white rice before serving. If you choose to serve the soup this way, put one scoop of white rice in the bottom of the bowl, top the rice with the watercress, then pour the hot soup over. You can garnish with cilantro and watercress.
Some people like to add cooked pasta. If you want to use pasta, add the pasta to the bowl, top with the watercress, pour the hot soup over. You can garnish with cilantro and watercress.
Add soy sauce and chili-pepper water to taste.