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The Tenth Island, Alcatra, Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa, and Practicing Charity #FoodieReads

I picked up The Tenth Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores by Diana Marcum* this week. And I finished it in two sittings. This is Marcum's personal account of her explorations of the remote Azores islands off the coast of Portugal. She had forged relationships with the Azorean diaspora in California's central valley, then traveled to the islands to live temporarily on the island of Terceira.

'The Tenth Island' - as there are nine islands in the Azorean archipelago - refers to everywhere in the world that Azorean communities keep the traditions alive, including California, Canada, Hawaii, and southern Brazil. It's less of a physical place as it is a piece of the Azores that the people carry within themselves that preserves their culture for themselves and for future generations. "The Tenth Island is what you carry inside you. Its what's left when everything falls away. Those of us who live between worlds just know the Tenth Island better. No matter where I have lived--I have never left my Island." Even still, carrying their island inside, I was surprised how many Azoreans spent part of the year in California, for example, and part on the islands where they maintain their ancestral homes.

Early in the book, Marcum wrote something that resonated with me as we, here on California's central coast, were on various levels of evacuation warnings and orders from the four fires burning around us right now. "Growing up in California, you learn early that living amid great beauty comes with great risk. Our sunlit mountains, fertile valleys, and sparkling coastal cities are vulnerable to fires, floods, and earthquakes. Try finding someone in California who has never been evacuated." While we prepared a go-bag, it was a great opportunity for discussing that is irreplaceable and what has true value.

Marcum deftly illustrates how the Azorean relationships ebb and flow with the islands through the years as she frames their stories within the narrative of her own visits. She makes the people and the places come to life. "Before we had left for Alberto and Dona Maria’s, Luisa had picked a basket of red and yellow tomatoes from her garden, arranging them just so in a basket. She placed them next to the figs. In the Azores, I was surrounded by still-life paintings come to life."

The two standouts, in my mind: the bullfights and the food. Tourada à corda is a type of bullfighting traditional to the Azores Islands, and particularly the island of Terceira, where the intent is not to kill the animal unlike the Spanish bullfights. In this, the bull has a rope around its neck and is controlled by several people running along a street. This is a nightly event with a rotating parade of bulls; it seems after a fight the bull rests for at least a couple of weeks before it has to run again. They even have cow fights where the females, with horns still, fight.

And the food...reading this book made my mouth water. "There was a big table groaning with food: cozido à portuguesa—every kind of meat, beef, pork, chicken, and various blood sausages, amazing potatoes from the garden, white potatoes that were as sweet as pastry, chewy yams, and creamy little round batatas as rich as butter. There was bread straight from the fire and pumpkins from the garden sliced in half and sprinkled with brown sugar and transformed into something intense by their stone-and-fire roasting. My favorite Portuguese word is the word for pumpkin—abóbora—it’s just fun to say."

While pumpkin is a favorite of mine, too, I was intrigued by the foods I've never tried such as limpets, what the Azoreans call lapas. "The lapas were for only the most patient divers. They had to be scraped off the rocks, which they clung to with a ferocious tenacity. They looked like rocks filled with translucent, jellied blobs. People say they taste like the ocean—salty and clean. I wouldn’t know. Although I could feel the censure of all my seafood-loving friends from past and present, I couldn’t make myself taste one. All the pretty kale and lemon garnish in the world couldn’t make them look like something I wanted to eat. I grew up vegetarian. I had to overcome a certain squeamishness to eat a grilled chicken breast—no way could I slurp a raw sea snail."

If you have been following my blog at all, you'll know about my pandemic adventures with sourdough. Marcum writes about transformative bread in the Azores: "On Fridays at Ti Choa, they bake bread in a big wood-burning oven. The first time I tasted this bread, I was chatting along and absentmindedly broke off a piece and put it in my mouth. Everything else stopped. My entire attention turned to the bread. The thick brown crust was chewy, the pale soft interior a beehive of bread and pockets of warm air. There was the faintest whisper of sweetness. The recipe comes from their great-grandmother. It is based on pão caseiro, traditional Portuguese home-style bread but with an until-now-secret ingredient: sweet potato yeast."

The Tenth Island, and Marcum's way with words, definitely placed the Azores on my list of dream travel destinations. Portugal has always been on that list, but now I definitely want to rent a house on one of those islands and stay for a little while. Besides, their view toward wine mirrors my own. "White wine is not always afforded full respect in Portugal. I once biked down the coast of the mainland with a wine aficionado. A waiter recommended a full-bodied red, and my friend said, 'Really? But we ordered fish. Not white wine?' The waiter said, 'Sir, in Portugal we believe in good wine. So always red.'"


With so many mentions of food, I was inspired by this passage: "'C’mon,' Romana said, grabbing my hands and pulling. 'We’re going to another village to the best butcher for Marilva to get meat for the alcatra'—a traditional Azorean dish of meat cooked in a clay pot—'and it’s beautiful along the way.'"

I especially like this dish because it's a traditional beef pot roast dish from Terceira, the island on which Marcum lived. Traditionally the alcatra beef roast is slow-roasted in a clay pot that's shaped like a flower pot with herbs and spices. The closest thing I have is a large stoneware baking bowl.

And it take two nights to make because of the overnight marinating. From all of my research, a few ingredients are key to the alcatra marinade - cinnamon sticks, whole allspice, onions, garlic, wine, bay leaves. So I placed all of that in the stoneware bowl with the rump roast and two nitrite-free Portuguese sausages to soak overnight.

After marinating overnight, I roasted the alcatra for three hours in accordance with some more modern recipes. At 375 degrees Fahrenheit, the roast cooked for three hours. Then I added potatoes, reduced the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and cooked for another hour. 

To serve I smashed the potatoes, sliced the roast and sausages, and topped it all with the roasted onions. Delicious. But the recipe I'm going to share for this post is a plant-based stew as Jake doesn't eat meat during the week. 

Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa

Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa is a flexible, thick vegetable-heavy soup that is partially blended and finished with cooked beans. One version I found had pumpkin and cabbage; I had butternut squash and used that.

Ingredients makes 8 servings

  • olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
  • 4 cups potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup cubed zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used yellow and red)
  • 1-1/2 cups green beans, trimmed to 1" lengths
  • 4 cups chopped green cabbage
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 to 2 cups water, as needed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • cooked beans for garnish (traditional is garbanzo beans, but I used some heirloom Italian beans)
  • Also needed: large soup pot (I used a Dutch oven), blender or food processor


Heat the oil in a large soup pot (or Dutch oven) and sauté the onion, celery, and garlic over medium heat until the onions are translucent and softened. Stir in the potatoes. Turn to coat with the oil in the pot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes before adding in the butternut squash, zucchini, and bell peppers.

Pour in the stock. The vegetables should be covered by at least an inch of liquid, if not, add in water.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until all of the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove two ladles full of the vegetables and set aside. In batches, pulse the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the puree to the pot and add in the reserved vegetables. Fold in the cabbage and green beans. Stir in the smoked paprika and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the cabbage is softened, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle servings into individual bowls. Top each bowl with a Tablespoons of cooked beans. Serve hot and enjoy!

 Practicing Charity

The last passage that stuck with me from The Tenth Island, "Each spring the impérios come alive as the center of Holy Spirit festivals. It’s a celebration in which huge pots of soup and baskets of bread are served, a reminder to practice charity." So, we made soup. Check. And, because of the large number of evacuees on the Monterey Peninsula who have been displaced due to the fires, D and I looked up some of the items that were needed, ran to the store, and dropped off at a local site. It was a nice reminder to be gracious and generous in the face of other people's misfortune. I hope it's a lesson that he carries with him into adulthood.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in August 2020: here.


  1. A veritable feast. I continue to pray for all of those affected by the fires. Stay safe my friend.

  2. I've been trying to locate a recipe for Terceiran sweet potato-leavened bread ever since I encountered mention of it in Álamo Oliveira's novel "Já não gosto de chocolates," which I co-translated with Diniz Borges as "I No Longer Like Chocolates." The author has his elderly central character lament how Portuguese women don't use the traditional method any more, but instead rely on packaged commercial yeast for leavening it.

    The only other place I've seen the sweet potato-leavened bread mentioned was when I was reading Marcum's book "The Tenth Island" (and by extension here on your blog), when she mentioned having it at the Ti Choa restaurant in Serreta, Terceira.

    Do you know of a recipe for it? Online searches in both English and Portuguese have failed to yield any, as the sweet potato breads I've found call for either dried yeast or levain (wheat-flour starter).

    Please let me know whether you know of any links to the old-fashioned recipe using sweet potato for fermentation. Obrigada!

    1. P.S. You might like to try my family recipe for Azorean Watercress Soup in the style of the island of Flores:


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