The Best Bean Clams – Portuguese Travel Cookbook

Readers, epicureans, random people who discovered this blog in the first place, I am proud to present to you an awesome book about portuguese food. Not much has been published as such in the past, specially in english and in a down to earth way. It was, and still is, the foodie adventure Nelson Carvalheiro (writer) and Emanuel Siracusa (photographer) took on through our edible hidden treasures and rustic paths. Remember, it’s no longer about being the typical mass tourist, it’s about learning about a different heritage, an uncommon lifestyle, to return home with memories such as flavors, textures. And our country has it. It has it all!

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After reading most of the book, and finally reaching the last chapter about the Algarve, I came upon my favorite recipe, about Bean Clams.

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Nelson describes the fact that these clams can be searched for on the beach, it’s a very common things for locals to do (although it’s not legal). I myself used to pick them up and stuff them in my hat as a child, during the long lasting sunsets and warm breezes that would keep me searching the sands, so we could have some for dinner.

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Tho whom doesn’t know what they are, they are gorgeous. You MUST eat them. Now, a little bit about this animal: here we eat them seasonally, and by this I mean we cook them during months that have the letter R. That’s right, except for the months of May, June, July and August, this delicacy is an essential part of our foodie gatherings, a relaxation, conversation, commensality induced dish to enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon (or any other day of the week if I might add).

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Recipe (credit: Nelson Carvalheiro)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg bean clams
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Lemon wedges

Instructions:

  1. Make sure to buy fresh live bean clams. This is quite obvious, but still, I’m sure some crazy person will go looking for the frozen stuff (don’t. Just, don’t). I acquired these at our local Lota (place where the boats come in with fresh fish, where they provide sea water to clean the shelfish at home. Although they have already been previously depurated (so we don’t get sick with toxins), further cleaning in your own kitchen is easy and tasty (less residual sand). Wash the clams with the sea water, and let them set at least 1/2 an hour so they spit out all the gunk (cover with plastic wrap otherwise you will have a sprinkler party in your kitchen).
  2. Slither the garlic, fry it in olive oil in a pan, without burning. Add the bean clams, lower the heat and let them open slowly.
  3. Add the wine and cover so the vapor can help the uniform cooking, without overcooking.
  4. Top with freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped cilantro and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Serve with extra lemon wedges, some bread for sauce dipping and a refreshing glass of white wine.

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The Portuguese Travel Cookbook will soon be available in English. Check out Nelson Carvalheiros website for more info about his foodie travels, and the website about the book.

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Algarvian Carrots

Here’s a vegetarian nibble, nonetheless a very Portuguese one, specific to the Algarve, the southern part of the country.

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Our tidbits, or petiscos as we call them, are a reason to mingle and an excuse to have a drink or two. Unlike the spanish tapas, which were born out of necessity, traditionally seen as a slice of bread used to cover glasses of wine to keep the flies away (I have always wondered if there is any truth in this – I would suppose that flies would be more attracted to food than to booze, but the concept does make sense as the verb tapar literally means to cover something).

The Algarve was only conquered in 1249 and considered as a separate part of the country for centuries. Given the fact that Portugal was occupied by diverse cultures for so long and is vastly known for being the main entrance to Europe, the Algarve in particular prospered into a very unique region. Boasting grand monuments like Moorish castles, places named with the “Al” prefix and special ingredients, this region is characterized by its predominant Arab influence – such as the recipe I share with you today.

In restaurants and taverns through this southern part of our country, you will find this simple marinated carrot preserve, made with cumin – one of the many ingredients that has become part of our traditional food.

I posted this recipe on the Portugal Resident a month ago, but I am now posting it on my personal blog in honor of the Rota do Petisco (the Tidbit Route), that has been going on since the beginning of September, and only has one week left. Basically it’s a route where various restaurants and food & beverage establishments have a specific petisco + beverage for only 3€ (sweet and coffe or regional liquor goes for 2€). You adquire a passport for 1€ (money goes towards social programs) that allows you to check out every participant, where it is, what you can eat and till what time the place is open. The specific areas that have been a part of this long lasting gastronomic event in the Barlavento side of the Algarve is Portimão (three areas), Alvor, Ferragudo, Mexilhoeira Grande, Silves and Monchique. Hurry up and be a part of this edible rally until de 10th of October, very well organized and set up by Teia d’Impulsos – next year, expand to Lagos please!

Now about this algarvian petisco:

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Ingredients:
– 1 kg peeled carrots
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 teaspoon caster sugar
– 3 cloves of minced garlic
– 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and cilantro
– Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:
Boil the peeled carrots for 15-20 minutes, with the bay leaf and teaspoon of sugar. They are not meant to be overcooked.

Cut the carrots into large slithers, big enough to be eaten with a toothpick.

Mix in the remaining ingredients except the cumin, which has a special technique associated with it.

By slightly heating the seeds in a non stick frying pan, they become more aromatic. Just make sure not to burn them!

Don’t throw away all of the cooked broth; keep at least half a cup for the marinated concoction and the remaining can be used for a soup or to make some tasty vitamin-rich rice.

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I also made this cheese twisted peanut pesto bread (future recipe to post), in the meantime you can check out one of my oldest posts with the peanut pesto post, special edition made with purple basil.

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For one of those lazy afternoons, I enjoyed the marinated carrots, the cheese pesto bread and some extra virgin olive oil with droplets of homemade balsamic glaze infused with orange zest and rosemary.

This is a great recipe for a nibble evening with friends, or to make a different salad.

Any leftovers? Make a tasty tuna sandwich for lunch, with this veggie as an extra filling.

Fig Cake

Fig picking is coming close to an end here in Portugal, and after a few weeks of eating way too many of them, necessity plus a little out of the box thinking just makes you cook wonderful things. Like this cake.

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fig above

Figs are a big part of Portugal, the south in particular, where you can find a peculiar sweet treat called Queijo de Figo, which literally means fig cheese. It’s like dried fig paste with a mix of nuts and condiments, condensed into a cheese format and texture. Cabrita Neto has developed some tasty concoctions with outstanding ingredients, almonds and cardamom. They even have individual bars, that you can eat as a on-the-go snack. Because, come on, who doesn’t want to eat a tasty piece of fig cheese while walking to work or on a stroll by the coast?

Considering the overflow of this fruit through our lands, plus our cute habit of stopping the car by any road side to pick, we acquired a knack of showing you guys all the ways we love to eat, breath and speak fig.

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In my home town, at the top near the castle wall close to a garden, there is at least five trees. As soon as summer hits, the fruity smell wonders through the air, and people pop by a branch ever so often to see if any figs are ripe enough to eat. After a few weeks of hot summer heat, beachside adventures and tourist drenched streets, you will find the locals around the trees, with huge poles, that have a sort of tweezer-ish character about it, so they can reach the high branches and pick the out-of-reach fruit. It’s traditionally beautiful.

Not every tree is the same. My grandmother’s tree starts mid August, my backyard trees all sort of begin in September, and a few are still not ready to eat yet.

So, about this cake: it’s a great recipe to add any sort of fruit you wish, and it keeps quite a while considering how moist it is. The lack of dairy provides a sweet treat for a huge group of special dietary people. The original recipe called for only oil, but I have combined half olive oil, so the health benefits are present, without the overwhelming flavor some might not enjoy much in sweets. What sort of olive oil should you use? I prefer to save the extra virgin for salads and bread dipping, use the virgin one for baking as flavor wise it will just combine with the remaining ingredients plus, it will also be cheaper to concoct.

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Ingredients:

  • 250 grams brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 ml virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml cooking oil
  • Lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225 grams all purpose flour (whole grain for you health nuts)
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 7 grams baking soda
  • 2 grams sea salt
  • 300 grams figs
  • 4 tablespoons Tawny Port wine
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (ghee for lactose intolerants)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (water for lactose intolerants)

Instructions:

  1. Roast the figs, whole, in port wine and a drizzle of honey. No need to add too much sweet, the figs speak for themselves. Let cool and save the sticky port wine syrup. This will be the base for the glaze. sem título-1079
  2. Beat the eggs sugar, oils and lemon zest for 5 minutes on medium, until a smooth paste os formed.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarb + baking powder, and add to the previous mix.
  4. Add the salt, the roasted cooled figs (cut in quarters).
  5. Place in a cake pan with parchment paper and bake at 165ºC for at least one hour.
  6. Cool the cake, remove from the pan and gently remove the parchment paper. It is suppose to look fairly rustic.
  7. Make the glaze with the roast fig + port wine syrup, softened butter/ghee, lemon zest and milk/water.glazing cake
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  9. Eat.

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Any leftovers? Eat it for breakfast, lunch, snack, whenever. It’s just that sort of cake. Goes well with everything and everyone, if you’re wondering.

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My dog also enjoyed gazing at the cake.

Mackerel & Garbanzo Bean Hummus 

Fish is a big part of our gastronomic heritage. Not only the fresh seafood available at local markets and fisherman, but one of our most characterized feature, as a country, is our preserved version of ocean goodness.

Considering our hot climate and the lack of refrigerators in the past, our ancestor’s only solution was to produce canned goods. In fact, the Algarve was vastly known for it’s intensive production. Historical facts and mouth to mouth info passed through generations of algarvian families has it that, in the beginning of our food industry activities, women used to be the ones who prepared the fish and layed each filet in a overloaded, yet organized manner in tins. They would to go to work as soon as a bell rang, and whoever arrived last would risk not being able to find a spot to work, and go home empty handed without a day’s pay. They were also searched every day’s end, as to confirm nobody was smuggling precious eggs (ovas in pt) – a delicacy and the most expensive part of the fish.

This was the way we had to use up ingredients preventing them to go bad, nor having to throw away. People used to starve and they had to adapt available resources to climate and financial conditions.

Nowadays, portuguese preserved fish is the new trend – in restaurants like Can the Can, Sol e Pesca or Pratos com Latas in Lisbon, Maria do Mar in Portimão and there is even a place in London – Tincan –  that has built it’s concept around this – you order the can of your choosing and nibble it with bread.

Putting these curiosities aside and making room for the next best innovation I have seen in quite a while, I am proud to announce that this has been going on in the Algarve (of all places in the country, it’s where few entrepreneurs are seen in action.) Hungry people, epicurieans, pt foodies – I introduce you to Saboreal – jarred preserved fish delicacies. The idea is just amazing, specially the fact that these guys aren’t joking about being unique – besides using jars and an autoclave to prepare the products, they use local fish and sustainable activities to support their business. I salute them, and so should you.

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We have a saying that is “que nem sardinha em lata” which translates to “like a sardine in a can” – this literally means it is a tight space for too many sardines (will also apply to people related circumstances). Now you can buy a jar of artesanal fish, comfortably floating fillets, reuse the vessel instead of trowing away pieces of tin, plus, acknowledge a beautiful presentation in which you can actually see what it is that you are about to eat.

Main differences that I recognized in the products? The texture of the fish is delicious, the fillets don’t shrink dramatically like the canned versions, plus you don’t have to dirty any Tupperware’s in storing away any leftovers – you just screw the lid back on!

I have a series of their products I will test and share with you during the following months – this is take one.

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Besides the fish fillets, they also have a mix of ingredients, like a rustic paté you can just spread on bread and/or cracker. Or just eat it directly out of the jar, like myself.

So I used Cavala – which according to google translation is mackerel – but in my opinion it has always been horse mackerel (because cavala is feminine for horse – makes sense right?). Anyway, I have researched this so many times that horse mackerel seems to be carapau – a fish from the mackerel family. A bit confusing hey? I am not the best with translations, but I do try (at least google it). If anybody has more accurate information about this, please share in the comment section below!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 jar of Saboreal Preserved Mackerel (olive oil included)
  • Green roasted peppers
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Drain the garbanzo beans and marinate them with salt, pepper, paprika, minced garlic, olive oil that has been used to preserve the fish (use it for it’s flavor, no need to use untainted olive oil, and surely no need to waste the jared one away) and baking soda for at least one hour. If you would like to do this overnight – even best. The baking soda is meant to help break down the beans which results in an even smoother puré.
  2. Puré the garbanzo beans (save 3 tablespoons of intact beans for texture and presentation purposes) in a blender until smooth. Be sure to add at least 5 tablespoons of the remaining fishy olive oil so it becomes extra smooth and flavorful.
  3. Plate the hummus in a bowl, top with the intact garbanzo beans, roasted peppers, deboned and separated filets of mackerel and a squeeze of lemon juice. Decorate with some “sun” dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and more olive oil to shine it up!
  4. Cut some slices of bread (I went healthy this day and bought a malt seed rich loaf at the local german bakery).       sem título-500
  5. Eat, dip and nibble til your heart is content.

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Healthy nosh with the right sort of carbohydrates, the best proteins and plenty of healthy fat from the olive oil and juicy fish.

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Bom petisco!

Portugal and it’s Food – Post Foodie Congress Thoughts

After two days full of experiences at the first national congress about food and tourism, organized by APTECE in Figueira da Foz, I am shocked, to say the least.

First of all, I just might of found my calling (yet another one), besides wanting to show the world everything about Portugal and it’s cultural richness. I am never going to give up on enhancing Algarve’s potential as a foodie paradise. With a limited size, Portugal and it’s humans should, by now, be a complete encyclopedia about everything tuga related. I was surprised, well maybe not that surprised, at what most know (or don’t) and share about the south. Yes, we are a seasonal region, why of course we get flooded with tourists in August, but – we have so much more going on besides that. All of the food festivals, always an excuse to go eat a typical cataplana; the beaches and the grotto trips in a random fisherman’s boats; some outstanding unknown and undervalued wines; some of the best recipes with almonds; the fig trees growing in every corner, even in the middle of the city; our oranges that are to die for; carob’s growing potential and superb sweet flavor; the mountainside like Monchique and it’s typical grilled chicken; Espinhaço de Cão‘s great chouriço; potentially the best honey you will ever taste can be found in every saturday morning market (artisanal production); that tasty Folar de Olhão with it’s cinnamon twirlly goodness. Oh, and the tuna! So much to say about the tuna. Our muxama (salted tuna belly and dried for 12 days) is unique and it is only produced in Vila Real de Santo António.

medronho

This is arbutus berry. We make a strong liquor with it called Medronho, the same name of the fruit in portuguese. I have also been experimenting with it’s version of jam.

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Here is carob I picked from my tree. Some people will still break a pod in half and chew it, because of it’s sweet flavor.

The downside to the Algarve, and maybe a bit all over Portugal is, some people don’t care. I might just sugar coat it a bit by saying that, they should care more. Also, the competition between regions is beyond ridiculous, and extremely unnecessary. You might have the best cheese, but I certainly make the best marmelada! It’s just that sort of thing a proud regional portuguese has to deal with – that is when he/she is a cultural interacting type of person.

Cooperation is important, and getting people to realize how amazing cultural heritage is can become a challenge, specially when lack of communication between small producers, tourists, travel agents, hotels and the outside world is an everlasting problem. We forget that we are a community, that we are able to help each other and build something new, something big, and still enhance a thousand years of historical quirks that make us who we are today.

Going down south once again, and mass tourism aside, we are authentic. We have good resources, lovely beaches, fields rich with agriculture, seasonal markets, fresh fish everywhere. People, we have Food! Whoever hasn’t tried some of the typical regional cuisine, should travel to the Algarve just to do so. Obviously we will have pizzerias, hamburgers, barbecued meat and french fries, to content the not so foodie travelers, and all their kids (man do they eat poorly nowadays).

Basically, if you are reading this at the moment from a foreign country, right down on your bucket list to pay Portugal a visit, and if ever in the Algarve don’t hesitate to contact me for the authentic southern portuguese foodie experience. Mark my words people, readers, bloggers, I am going to change the way the Algarve is perceived by outsiders, and do so much more besides some good weather on a beach for the regular sunbathing tourists.

I have been away for the past weeks, busy visiting family in the US, trying to find and sort out a job, involved in an amazing project (spoilers await) and working on a few posts I so dearly want to share with you. I shall write again very soon, with a yummy recipe with lots of portuguese influence.

Ta ta for now people, keep on rocking in the kitchen xox