I’ve now been in Portugal for a month and a half, mostly in Lisbon where I lost my socks and found my appetite. This spring is my first real stay in Portugal; I spent a few days here in 2012 when I spoke at a conference in Porto and subsequently wound my way up along the narrow roads that line the Douro river. Ever since, I have wanted to return.
Madeira, a tiny island not far from the Canary Islands, was my choice to write, eat, and hang out with friends. I spent a month there, renting a place in Funchal, the capital, and enjoying time with friends on the island.
Following my recent arrival, I’ve consumed my fill of specialities, many of which I’ll write about later. Marinated beef cooked on skewers of bay leaf stems, grilled black scabbard fish, angry and slimy but delicious, and limpets, gastropods that come to the table sizzling on a flat platter, smothered in garlic and lemon juice and parsley.
Of all the new dishes, however, tiny lupini beans were the ones I wanted to share first, called tremoços in Portuguese. Lupini beans are high-protein legumes that originated in Egypt or the East Mediterranean, cultivated since the days of ancient Egyptians but expanded in geographic reach once they became a staple of the Roman diet. The Romans used the beans both for themselves and for their animals. As the Roman empire grew, so did use of the lupini beans.
“No kind of fodder is more wholesome and light of digestion than the White Lupine, when eaten dry. If taken at meals it will contribute a fresh colour and cheerful countenance”
Large and flat, they resemble giant kernels of corn with a much thicker and tougher skin. (Fun fact: when you eat them you’re supposed to take that skin off, but I did not. I ate a bag full skin on. No ill effects this time but I’ve been schooled that it’s not good for digestion to leave the skin on.)
Because of this outer layer, and the alkaloids found in the earlier Roman era version of these beans, the lupini are usually prepared by cooking and preserving them in a salty water marinade. While modern lupini beans are not as aggressively alkaloidal, soaking them overnight, boiling, and then re-soaking for days is a necessity. Once most of the bitterness has left the beans, they taste delicious with beer or wine. It’s no wonder that I’ve seen these snacks in bars around Portugal, Italy, and Spain.
While lupini beans are popular as snacks in the Mediterranean, they are also available in Egypt and Syria and other parts of the Middle East. A source of protein that is second only to soy beans — 100g of lupini have approximately 36g of protein in them — they are a healthier snack than potato chips or other bar food. Forget greasy bar snacks: eat lupini instead.
While this post provides an overview, history professor and author Ken Albala devoted an entire book to beans. He rightly notes that, “nearly every culture has depended on beans” — so he decided to write about them in full. In his book Beans: A History, Albala notes that while they have helped keep civilizations alive as a source of food for the poor, as soon as people are able to afford meat, they often turn their backs on the humble bean. As the Latin expression goes, dives factus jam desiit gaudere lente: “He became a rich man and suddenly he no longer likes lentils.”
About our subject matter here, Albala writes, “The lupine is the oddest rebel among beans. For those who have never encountered them, they break every rule known about bean cookery. To start with, they are poisonous.” And onward he goes, discussing the history of this bean that needs to be soaked and tamed before it is eaten, food for society long ago.
Today, lupini beans are still consumed in some parts of the world, like Madeira. I’ve shared the recipe from there below, marinated and tangy, salty and bitter all at once. These days the lupini is not subject of philosophical discussion, but in most of the world is not a staple food. Lupines today, Albala writes, “are a traditional food eaten by people as a reminder of their homeland and by adventurous eaters hoping to experience simple but authentic peasant fare.”
Lupini Bean Recipe: Marinated Tremoços from Portugal
- About 1 cup (240 ml) dry lupini beans, rinsed. (Available via Amazon here.)
- Large pot of water, at least 4 cups (1 litre).
- 2 cloves of garlic, vertically sliced into thin slivers.
- Olive oil.
- Black pepper.
- White pepper (optional).
- Handful of chopped fresh parsley.
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) salt.
To Soak the Beans:
This is a recipe for patient people. But your patience is rewarded with delicious and healthy snacks!
- Put the beans in a pot of water and soak overnight, for a total of 24 hours. Ensure that the water covers the beans completely. After twelve hours, check on the beans to make sure they are fully submerged and add more water if needed.
- After the 24 hour period of soaking, bring the beans to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.
- Drain and rinse the beans.
- Place the beans in a large container and cover with cold water. Let them cool and then stick them in the refrigerator.
- For the next 14 days, change the water once a day with new cold water. This soaking is what removes the bitterness from the beans.
- After 14 days, add 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of salt and the sliced garlic to the beans. Place back in the fridge to soak overnight.
On the 15th day (I know, I know):
Once you are ready to eat your lupini beans, you simply remove the amount you would like to eat, and toss with olive oil, a pinch of black pepper, the chopped fresh parsley, and some white pepper if you would like a punch of heat.
Store the rest of the beans for future use in your airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for approximately two weeks.
The easy method for the less patient snacker:
If you would like to make these without the 14 day process, you can buy ready-to-use lupini beans that are pre-cooked and de-bittered. For this quicker method, empty and drain the beans from the jar and soak overnight in cold water and garlic. The next day, serve as you would above on the 15th day.
Don’t forget to remove the husks of the beans when eating!
For more food from Portugal or recipes to try and home…
I recommend the following books to read and cook from at home. Ingredients aren’t difficult to find outside Portugal, and the history of the dishes are extremely interesting.
- Authentic Portuguese Cooking: More Than 185 Classic Mediterranean-Style Recipes of the Azores, Madeira and Continental Portugal, by Ana Patuleia Ortins
- My Portugal: Recipes and Stories, by Chef George Mendes
- Taste Portugal: 101 Easy Portuguese Recipes, by Maria & Lisa Dias
Other delicious lupini bean recipes from around the web:
These are recipes I have tried and loved.
- My fave: lupini bean and zucchini cakes, with a dill hemp dressing. Easy to make with a blender and a few choice ingredients, and extremely tasty! Recipe here.
- Not very healthy — but definitely very satisfying option: crispy fried lupini beans with bacon. What’s not to love? Recipe here.
- And for those who want the crispy crunch without frying: baked crispy lupini beans with zaatar, easily the one I make the most. Recipe here, keto-friendly.
- Simple recipe like this one, with garlic and olive oil.
- A summer fave: this one with baby kale salad.
- Lupini bean hummus here.
- And: asparagus and lupini bean salad here
And finally, my Food Maps of Portugal are now in the Legal Nomads shop!
Hand-drawn map featuring all the delicious Portuguese foods you love, placed around the shape of the country itself. Check it out here, including the Azores and Madeira on the maps. I am currently using the tote bag for my food shopping.