Feijoada with Flavors of Timor-Leste

A plate of Feijoada with flavors of Timor-Leste, with orange slices

Feijoada (Portuguese pronunciation: [fejʒuˈadɐ]) is a stew of beans with beef and pork. The name feijoada comes from feijão, ‘bean’ in Portuguese. It is widely prepared in the Portuguese-speaking world, with slight variations.


Next stop on our tour of feijoada. We’ve left Africa behind and headed to south Asia.

First off, a disclaimer: I’m fairly certain that the recipe I’m presenting here is probably not at all like what you would get if you asked for feijoada in Timor-Leste. Once again, source recipes are nearly non-existent, but I’ll get into that in a minute. I would love to hear from anyone who has actual knowledge of East Timorese cooking though. How has feijoada really been adapted into the culinary culture of the country?

Timor-Leste, or East Timor to us English speakers, is the eastern half of the island of Timor, along with a handful of smaller islands and a small enclave on the western side of the island surrounded by Indonesia. It was colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and declared it’s independence in 1975- only to be invaded by Indonesia nine days later. The ensuing 24 years were a long and bloody conflict between separatist groups and the Indonesian military. Indonesia finally relinquished control in 1999 and Timor-Leste became the first new sovereign nation of the 21st Century in 2002. The name Timor-Leste literally means “east-east”, Timor being the native word for east, and Leste the Portuguese. I guess you could say that it’s the far east?

Given it’s recent history, I’m not too surprised that there aren’t many Timorese (Timoran?) recipes on the internet. There are lots of sites that list “popular foods in East Timor” that include feijoada on the list, but none of them include recipes. In fact, for weeks I could only find one recipe- and that written by a blogger who, although she has an Indonesian parent, lives in Europe and seems to have taken a veganized Brazilian feijoada recipe and adapted it with her knowledge of common Indonsian/Timoran ingredients and flavors. I debated for a long time whether I should just skip this country? Share her recipe as is? Try to adapt her recipe with the fragments of information I could glean from other sites (namely that it is commonly made with Cannellini beans, rather than the black beans she used).

After I posted my last recipe I finally got serious about looking for more information. I changed the language settings on Google search to Portuguese, and managed to find a Facebook post that said that feijoada is also called “koto”. So off I went on a new search tangent. As best I can tell, “koto” just means beans. While I found a number of blogs and sites that described a dish that sounded like a Portuguese feijoada (beans, cabbage, pork, root vegetables…), anywhere I found an actual recipe it seemed to be a dish consisting of beans and macaroni, with very little resemblance to the feijoadas of any other country. So that was pretty much a dead end.

Finally I tried changing the language settings to Indonesian. Weirdly, this mostly returned english language sites, but included a few that hadn’t shown up when searching in English, including one from a blogger who learned how to make feijoada from her Timoran boyfriend. She had veganized the recipe, but it was otherwise recognizable as coming from the same tradition as the other feijoadas I’ve made, mostly containing the same western ingredients that its Portuguese ancestor does.

My best guess, after all this research, is that in East Timor, “feijoada” is probably mostly served in homes with substantial Portuguese heritage or restaurants serving Portuguese food, and may not actually be that different from the original dish as served in Portugal.

In the end I simply combined the two recipes I could find, along with the tidbit about the type of beans that are used, to create this recipe. It’s probably not authentic, but it gives a new and exciting set of flavors to the dish.

Both the source recipe were “cheat recipes” with canned beans, so I kept it that way. After a weekend of entertaining and feeding my parents I wasn’t super excited about spending more time in the kitchen, and it was nice to have a recipe that came together quickly.

Since both source recipes were based on vegan sources, the only meat to wind up in the recipe is Spanish chorizo (a Portuguese chouriço would probably be more authentic), but you could easily add other cuts of pork for a more authentic take on it. Or skip the sausage (or use a vegan substitute) to make it vegan again.

Most of the ingredients are pretty familiar European ingredients we’ve seen in the other versions recently- carrots, onion, cabbage and potatoes. The addition of sweet potato is tells us we’re probably not in Europe any more, but would probably not be out of place in some of the African versions we’ve recently explored.

There are a bunch of dry spices that may or may not be authentically Timoran- cumin, smoked paprika, thyme, black pepper, chili powder, and coriander seed. Keep in mind that in most of the world chili powder means pure ground red chillies, rather than the blend of spices that make up American chili powder. I used whole coriander seeds and crushed them with my mortar and pestle, which really made that flavor pop. (I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve probably let a lot of my ground spices get too old, so perhaps the flavor balance would be different with all fresh spices. On the bright side I think I emptied two different spice jars making this, so in the near future I should have at least a couple fresh spices!)

We use two different types of soy sauce, and finish off with some fresh lime juice. In Indonesia (and presumably East Timor) there are two main types of soy sauce; kecap asin or salty soy sauce, and kecap manis or sweet soy sauce. Kecap asin is generally not available in this country, and your standard Kikoman and other readily available soy sauce is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Kecap manis is thick and sticky, with a sweet, molassesey flavor along with the umame notes of standard soy sauce, and none of the saltiness. There isn’t really a good substitute; In a pinch I might try a touch of molasses, but that wouldn’t really begin to cover all the complexities of it’s flavor. If you don’t have a good Asian grocery store available, kecap manis is readily available on Amazon.*

The final flavor of the dish is definitely unique among the feijoadas I’ve tried so far- fiery hot from the fresh chilies and chili powder, citrusy from the freshly crushed coriander and the lime juice, and smoky from the paprika and chorizo.

Two things I would do differently next time, from what you see in the pictures. Number one, I’d make sure I had all my vegetables cut before I started cooking- I’m a former professional chef, and usually can manage to chop as I cook for a small batch of a recipe like this, but by the time I had everything else in the pot my chorizo was perhaps a little dark. Secondly, I failed to read my own recipe and added the soy sauce and lime with the cabbage instead of at the end. Not a huge deal, but the lime in particular probably lost a little of it’s flavor with those few minutes of cooking.

Feijoada with flavors of Timor-Leste

Serves: 4-6
Prep: 30 Minutes
Cook: 45 Minutes
Total: 1:15

4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
1-2 red or yellow onions, sliced

2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or minced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 Thai bird chilis, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 sweet potato, grated
4 small potatoes, chopped
1 vegetable bouillon cube

1-2 15 oz. cans cannellini, kidney or black beans, with liquid
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons red chili powder
3 teaspoons coriander seed
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper, or to taste 
4 teaspoons dried thyme

¼ small head cabbage, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons kecap manis
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste 

2 hand-fulls Italian parsley, minced
Rice, cooked
1 orange, sliced

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, and sauté chorizo until fat renders. Add onion and sauté until lightly browned.

Add ginger, sauté for about 30 seconds, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add carrots, Thai chlies, bell pepper, sweet potato and potatoes. Add the bouillon cube and enough water to barely cover everything. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are tender. 

Add the beans, with their liquid, and the spices and herbs. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the cabbage and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. 

Add the soy sauces, squeeze in the lime, and taste for salt. 

Garnish with parsley and serve over hot cooked rice, with orange slices on the side. 

*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.

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