A Cape Verdean tradition
by Sydney Bender
Tall and beautiful Margaret Oliveira greets everyone that enters her Oak Bluffs home like family. Margaret stands in the middle of her kitchen holding a silver pot; she has posture only a person with decades of horseback riding would have. With wrists wrapped in wampum, an oversized smile and long brown hair, she is almost identical to the framed photographs of her younger self.
She smiles. “Welcome.”
With a distinguished soft-spoken tone, Margaret talks about her family history and Cape Verdean roots, and all her stories lead to Jag.
Jag, short for Djagacida or Jagacida, is a traditional Cape Verdean dish with spice, rice and beans. But unlike other native dishes, Jag is unique to the person making it, and “Margaret’s Jag is the best,” says her younger brother, John Gonsalves, also an Oak Bluffs resident.
Margaret attests that everyone’s Jag is different. “It’s the beans that make it different.” Her great-grandma used lima beans, and her father tossed in canned peas. Her sister’s was better than her father’s, because she used fresh or frozen peas. Margaret’s aunt will use anything in the cabinet— typically kidney or black-eyed peas. Her uncle preferred green beans because he thought peas were too soft.
“I use kidney beans,” Margaret declares. “It’s funny,” she says, “Growing up I was always told Jag was a Portuguese dish.” Her discovery of Jag having Cape Verdean heritage came after marrying her husband, David Oliveira, a full-blooded Portuguese. With little mention of Jag from David, she eventually discovered that the dish had roots like her own.
Birthdays, backyard barbecues, and potlucks all call for a savory pot of Margaret’s Jag.
“It’s my dish, it’s what I bring,” says the Island native. “But I won’t make it for a potluck if one of my aunts or uncles are there,” Margaret sheepishly says, because, of course, “I don’t want them to critique it.” Margaret insists her Jag is different from the rest, not only because of the beans she uses, but also because of the bright yellow color it achieves after cooking. Her brother and friends insist it stands out because of the unique taste, probably from the secret spice ingredient she adds into it, and won’t share with anyone.
Enter her home, and you’ll feel like you’re family. Ask for the secret ingredient in her Jag recipe and she won’t tell you, so you’ll still feel like family.