This is the second post in the series Cooking the Mediterranean Countries. You can read the first post with this link.
Europe’s exploration of the world began in the 15th century and it was Portugal who pioneered what came to be known as the “Age of Discovery”. Portugal was the first to explore the Atlantic Ocean and the west coast of Africa and the first to colonize the Azores and other nearby islands. In 1488, Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Dias, was the first to sail around the southern tip of Africa and in 1498 his countryman, Vasco da Gama, repeated the trip, making it as far as India. Portugal would establish ports as far west as Brazil, as far east as Japan and along the coasts of Africa, India and China. There were several reasons for the Portuguese to explore the world via the sea, but the overriding purpose was to discover a sea route around Africa to the east, with its rich promise of trade in valuable spices.
When Ancel Keys and his team of researchers studied and characterized the Mediterranean diet and compared it with the eating habits of most of the developed countries during that time period, they identified it as the “Diet of the Poor”. According to Portuguese gastronomist, Maria de Lourdes Modesto and Keys, Portugal was included in their observations and studies, and Keys considered Portugal to have a pure “Mediterranean” diet. However, Salazar, the leader of Portugal at the time, did not want the name of Portugal included in the “diet of the poor”.
While Portugal’s shores are technically not on the Mediterranean Sea, the country is considered to have a typical Mediterranean diet. The basics of the Portuguese diet include vegetables, fruit, good quality bread, unprocessed cereals, dried and fresh legumes (beans, chickpeas, broad beans, etc.), dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, raisins, etc.), olive oil as the main source of fat and seafood instead of red meat.
A Portuguese breakfast often consists of fresh bread, cheese or jam, accompanied with coffee, milk, tea or hot chocolate. A small espresso coffee (sometimes called a bica after the spout of the coffee machine) is a very popular breakfast beverage.
Lunch, often lasting over an hour, is served between noon and 2 o’clock or between 1 and 3 o’clock, and dinner is generally served late, around 8 o’clock in the evening. There are usually three main courses for lunch and dinner. Soup is usually the first course. A well-known Portuguese soup is caldo verde, which is made with potato, shredded cabbage and chunks of chouriço (a spicy Portuguese sausage) There are a wide variety of cheeses, usually made from the milk of sheep, goats or cows. The most famous are queijo da serra from the region of Serra da Estrela, Queijo São Jorge from the Portuguese island of São Jorge and Requeijão.
Portugal is a seafaring nation with a well-developed fishing industry and this is reflected in the amount of fish and seafood eaten. The country has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita. Fish is served grilled, boiled, poached, simmered, fried, stewed (often in clay pot), roasted or steamed. Cod is almost always used dried and salted because the Portuguese fishing tradition in the North Atlantic was developed before the invention of refrigeration. Simpler fish dishes are often flavored with extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Eating meat and poultry on a daily basis was historically a privilege of the upper classes and meat was not often on the Portuguese table. When meat is eaten it is often in a dish with other ingredients. A typical way Portuguese eat meat is in a dish is called cozido à portuguesa, which somewhat parallels the French pot au feu or the New England boiled dinner.
Typical desserts include arroz doce (rice pudding decorated with cinnamon) and caramel custard.
Some Traditional Portuguese Dishes
COZIDO A PORTUGUESA
Portuguese stew is the perfect example of the importance of using all the meat an animal can provide. This stew can include beef, pork, chicken and a variety of pork derivatives such as blood sausages and smoked pork parts.
The most traditional of Portuguese soups is simply: onions, potatoes and kale or cabbage, cooked with garlic and olive oil in a clay pot. This soup would normally be served with a slice of “linguica” ( smoked pork sausage) and cornbread (broa).
BOLINHOS DE BACALHAU
These codfish fritters can be eaten as a starter or snack or along with rice and salad as a main dish. The fritters are made of shredded codfish, potatoes, eggs and parsley and cooked until crispy.
ALHEIRA DE MIRANDELA
Alheira is a type of Portuguese sausage made from meats that may include veal, chicken, duck and rabbit, compacted together with bread. If you have “alheira de caça” it means that it will only have game meat. This unusual sausage was created by the Jewish residents in Portugal when they were forced to convert to Christianity. Their religion wouldn’t allow them to eat pork but by preparing this sausage looking dish, they could easily fool others. The dish has become traditional throughout Portugal.
Charcoal-grilled sardines are the most typical dish served in Lisbon. You can eat it in restaurants or from a street vendor during the Santo António festivities in June. They are most often served on top of a slice of cornbread, or with a roasted pepper salad or boiled vegetables.
Cook Portuguese Style Recipes At Home
Caldeirada (Portuguese Fish Stew)
2 onions, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced (red or green)
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 laurel leaf (bay leaf)
2 lbs (1 kg) fish ( chose from various kinds, mackerel, swordfish, tuna, skate, sea bass, monkfish, hake, haddock, etc.)
6 large potatoes, sliced
4-5 saffron threads
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
In a large pot put layers of onions, tomatoes, fish, peppers and potatoes.
Continue to make layers until all the ingredients are used. Place the parsley, laurel leaf, saffron and salt on top.
Add the wine, water and olive oil.
Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook for about 45 minutes. Shake the pan once in a while.
DO NOT STIR, just shake the pan.
Clams With Chouriço (Portuguese Sausage)
3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
7 ounces chouriço sausage, sliced
1 sliced leeks or onion
1 chili pepper, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon slice, for garnish
In a large pan heat the oil and fry the chouriço until lightly browned.
Add the leeks, chili, bay leaf and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.
Add the wine, diced tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
Add the clams cover the pan and steam for 5 minutes until all the clams are opened.
Throw out any that do not open. Garnish with lemons and parsley.
Serve with bread to soak up the juices.
Portuguese Cornbread (Broa)
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (1/4 ounce) packages dry yeast
1 ½ – 2 cups bread flour
Grind cornmeal to a powder in a food processor. You may skip this step, but the bread will not be as smooth.
Mix 1 cup of powdered cornmeal, salt and water until smooth.
Add olive oil and cool to lukewarm.
Blend in the yeast. Gradually add the remaining cornmeal and 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, mixing constantly.
Add more flour if the dough is still sticky. Knead until firm.
Let rise in a greased bowl until double in volume.
Shape into round loaf and let rise until double.
Bake at 350 degree Fs for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Grilled Red Snapper with Parsley Sauce
1 whole red snapper (2.2 lb or 1 kg), cleaned, trimmed
2 garlic cloves, mince
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea or coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (125 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
4 tbsp (60 mL) minced red onion
½ cup (125 mL) chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) capers
1 garlic clove, chopped
Preheat a barbecue or broiler until hot.
Make the parsley sauce in a bowl by whisking together the oil, vinegar, onion, parsley, capers and garlic. Set aside.
Season the fish with garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and brush or drizzle with oil.
Grill or broil the fish for five minutes on each side. Transfer to a heated platter, spread with parsley sauce and serve.
Portuguese Rice Pudding, Arroz Doce
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peel of one lemon cut into long strips (avoid as much of the white pith as possible)
1 cup short-grain rice (arborio is a good choice)
2 cups hot milk (you can substitute some of this with cream, if you like, for a richer consistency and flavor)
Ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top
Place the water, salt and lemon peel into a medium pan and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and allow the water to simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes.
Remove the lemon peel from the water with a slotted spoon and discard.
Add the rice to the water and bring it back up to a boil.
Then reduce it to a simmer and allow the rice to absorb all of the water (about 10 minutes).
Slowly add the hot milk, about 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture. After each addition, allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next batch of milk.
Stir frequently and keep the heat at low, so that the rice does not burn at the bottom of the pan. This should take about 25 to 30 minutes.
Pour the rice into a serving dish. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon.
Chill before serving.