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.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the west and north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. I will be writing about the Mediterranean countries and their cuisines during the next year. I will start with Portugal on the west side and work around the map to include all the countries on the Mediterranean Sea.
This region is rich in a wide variety of ingredients and spices that give ordinary food lots of flavor. The food of the Mediterranean region is prepared with fresh, healthy ingredients that are actually good for you.
The concept of a Mediterranean diet was developed to reflect food patterns typical of Crete, Greece and southern Italy in the early 1960s. Although this diet was first publicized in 1975 by the American biologist, Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret Keys (his wife and collaborator), the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s. Objective data, showing that the Mediterranean diet is healthy, originated from results of studies in Naples and Madrid and later confirmed by the Seven Countries Study, with its first publication in 1970.
The essentials of the Mediterranean kitchen include extra virgin olive oil, several different kinds of beans, both dried and canned, long-grain and short-grain rice, cornmeal for polenta and flour for bread, pasta in a variety of shapes, canned tomatoes and condiments like dried mushrooms and herbs.
For me the best source on how to switch to a Mediterranean style of eating is Nancy Harmon Jenkins, in her well-known book,
Use olive oil as your go to fat for cooking. Use more whole grains. Even though Mediterranean cooks seldom use whole wheat pasta or brown rice, they still get plenty of whole grains through dishes like tabbouleh and bulgur pilaf. Also bread throughout the Mediterranean is often made with unrefined wheat and barley flours.
Begin each meal with a salad. Make it from crisp greens and whatever vegetables are in season—tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, scallions, carrots, fennel, celery, chicory and beans. Add dark green leaf lettuces like oak leaf and romaine. Make your own salad dressing made with olive oil.
Every day try to get in at least one serving each of cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables—broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and mustard greens—and bright-colored vegetables and fruits that are rich in antioxidants. Also carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and yellow squash, as well as fruits, like apricots and cantaloupe. Experiment with different vegetables, ones that may not be familiar—artichokes, leeks, fava beans, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), celery root and a variety of greens.
Vegetables don’t have to be served separately—vegetable combinations, vegetables cooked in a sauce for pasta, vegetables served cut up in a soup, are all ways to increase the quantity consumed.
Cut down on the amount of meat consumed. One easy way to cut meat consumption is with stews that feature meat as an incidental to lots and lots of vegetables. Or make a hearty soup the main course, with bread, a little cheese and salad to accompany it.
Here are some basic dishes that are found across the Mediterranean table. They are great for tapas dishes, or on an antipasto, as a condiment or side dish.
1½ cups mixed black and green olives, a combination of Sicilian green olives, Greek Kalamata olives and Spanish green olives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary,
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
Remove the needles from the rosemary sprig. Discard the stem and chop the needles.
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove the olives from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving to allow them to come to room temperature. Store any leftover olives in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.
Red Pepper Hummus
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
15 oz canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)—rinsed and drained
½ cup tahini
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup jarred or homemade roasted red peppers, chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally. Pour into a serving bowl and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.
1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill or mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Scrape the seeds out of the cucumber halves using the pointy end of a teaspoon and discard.
Grate the cucumber flesh into a bowl then squeeze out any excess moisture using your hands,(a small handful at a time.
Place the grated cucumber into a large bowl and add the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, dill, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.
Place the tzatziki in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (and preferably overnight) to let the flavors blend.
2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
½ clove garlic, grated
¼ teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shake together all the ingredients in a jar until well combined.
Tapenade can be used to season grilled fish or chicken. It is also delicious spread on toasted baguette slices and topped with chopped tomatoes or simply serve it with crackers or crusty bread and vegetable crudités for dipping.
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 anchovy fillets
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Serve at room temperature.
Peppers and Onions
6 bell peppers, a variety of colors
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
1 thinly sliced medium onion
1 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
To blister the peppers, place them on a hot grill or under the broiler. Turn on all sides until the skins are completely blackened.
Immediately transfer to a large resealable plastic bag or place in a large bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap to seal. Let sit for 30 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
Working with one pepper at a time, transfer to a work surface. Remove the skin, stem, and seeds.
Cut the peppers into 2-inch strips.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan (over medium-high heat).
Add the sliced onions and sauté until the onions soften. Reduce heat to low heat and add the garlic and the sliced peppers. Add the salt and black pepper
Cover the pan and let the mixture stew together for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a storage bowl.
Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours to allow the flavors to develop.
Toss with the olive oil, vinegar and parsley just before serving.
3 lbs fresh greens, stems removed and washed in several changes of water
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice.
Place the greens with the washing water still clinging to the leaves in a large pot.Cook on low until completely wilted and tender, depending on the type of greens used.
Drain and cut the leaves into smaller pieces.
Place the olive oil, garlic and chili in the empty pot and heat over low until the garlic is tender but not brown.
Add the drained greens and cook just until hot. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt to taste and the lemon juice.