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.

fig picking

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!

Alqueva Part 2 – The Food

I am not a travel writer, I am a cook and a food enthusiast. Nevertheless, I think I might start sharing my adventures around a few places, but I assure you it will always include food. If I’ve never been down this road before it’s because of:

A) Up till last year I was a mear culinary student (students don’t usually have much resources to travel – well, me at least).

B) Being from the Algarve, my only time off (summer) was spent working.

C) Surely, through any spare time I could find, I would cook and photograph and plan how to write a blog.

Anyhow, a year has passed, I gained (some) professional experience, saved up (some) money and decided to, instead of enrolling into a masters degree or something that would pin me down (financially and geographically), take interesting short-term courses to enrich my mind, body and soul (oh, and don’t forget, my belly) – I will surely post these whenever I start my adventures through wherever I go. You will find out soon enough! For now, here goes take 1.

This year, my parents were so kind I was actually invited to go on a four day trip to Alqueva. Check out my intro, aka Part 1 – The Trip!

I was bewildered (because they usually travel without the kid) yet grateful for the opportunity. Grabbed my bikini, Anthony Bourdain’s – A Cook’s Tour, my camera and hasta la vista world, here goes Mel to enjoy some silence, on a boat, in Alentejo.

I blame my mother for getting me into this post in the first place (in a good way obviously): besides introducing me to great travel writer such as Bill Bryson and handy Lonely Planet books, I think she knew I knew I had what it took to write an interesting point of view about our adventures on a boat through this unique place in Portugal. Heck, the world! She is also the best travel planner I have ever known. She does it at least twice a year and already has a first-name basis relationship with international airports and airlines (just kidding – but, if this were true, I wouldn’t be the least surprised).

Before you start mouthwatering on the other side of the screen, let me give you some basic info you might find useful:

  1. Amieira Marina is where you rent the boat. They provide a map, a big one. If you lose it, there is one stapled to the inside of the boat. Plus, GPS system is easy to get used to. Big big plus side? You don’t even need a boat license! You get a two hour tops lesson on how to drive it, float it right and, eventually, not sink it.                                            IMG_6923
  2. They provide elevator trolleys so you don’t have to carry heavy baggage. Yes, this means take as much food and booze as you possibly can.
  3. Kitchen completely equipped – even a BBQ you can set up! Stove and oven are gas run. Portable water and separate dam water taps (non consumable). Good sized fridge and regular freezer, plenty of cute plates and bowls, tea towels and table cloths, complementary basket with an Alentejano bread loaf and cured goat cheese. Now this is quality of life people! The only thing I could complain about was the amount of time the fridge took to cool my drinks (very hot, can’t blame floating technology) and the lack of sharp knives. I suppose my cooker self should have anticipated such a fact. Now I know never to travel without my kit again.
  4. PET FRIENDLY! Yes, for a small fee of 40€ you can take your dog. Make sure you buy a float jacket ahead of time and spend your peaceful moments teaching him how to fetch the tennis ball into the vast waters. Just tell him it’s a big pool – it worked for us!

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So, as you can imagine, I was the private chef on the boat! I basically cooked and served whatever my dear mother thought we needed most. I can assure you, we could of survived another week, easily and comfortably, without starving. Here you have it:

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Petisco lunch: veggies from our farm (cherry tomato, cucumber, green pepper, onion and cilantro with a balsamic + red wine vinegar combination), assorted deli such as Presunto, honey roasted ham, Queijo de Azeitão, healthy seedy crackers, bread, tinned preserved fish and, of course, beer! A 15 minute gathering of ingredients so we could make the best of our first day, with little hassle.

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Do you like my smoked mackerel cracker bruschetta?

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Waking up to this? Could get used to it, easily.

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Breakfast with a view! Eggs, cheese, portuguese bread and butter. Some preserved asparagus – ovinhos com espargos is a very traditional Alentejano tidbit.

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Stopped in Campinho on our second day where we found a park with tables, benches and embedded BBQ’s through the so called park. Plenty of friendly families who shared their burning coals so we could make a grilled veggie salad and some chicken breast marinated with pimentão doce (paprika), bay leaf, olive oil, salt, pepper and white wine.

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Once we arrived at Monsaraz, so much art and unique features. First of all, if you want to go here, talk to Amieira Marina. They know a guy who knows a guy that owns a B&B who will gladly pick you up at the nautical club (where you will have to park your boat) in his private car so you can have a nice meal, a stroll and will even take you back. For half the price that a regular taxi would charge, this is the best solution as taxi’s will usually come from far away and will rip you off with a 60€ trip (even if it’s 20 min back and forth).

Dinner at Templários Restaurant:

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Charcuterie plate with top notch cured pork.
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Cabrito assado com batatas – young goat roasted in the oven till tender, with likewise accompanied potatoes.

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Octopus with olive oil and cilantro.

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Back in Aldeia da Luz, our final day. This town was completely rebuilt somewhere else – they even moved the cemetery and respective carcases. Otherwise, the town council wouldn’t have agreed with the move. Check out their museum for some historical facts.

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Traditional Bakery Sign. Got there just in time (before 1pm as it shuts for lunch till 3pm) to buy a loaf and some almond and egg cream pastries.

Translation: The bakery belonged to the parents of the current owner, who still baked bread in a traditional brick oven. When he inherited the bakery, he continued to bake bread in the traditional way, only ceasing to do so when the family moved to the new village. Here you can find regional Alentejo bread and cakes. The bakery owners are Albertina and Manuel Godinho.

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Alentejano excursionists arguing what they were going to have for lunch. Out of both options shared through what seemed to me loud roars of hangry (for more info about this human state, click here) they stood for at least 10 minutes discussing the pros and cons of choosing:

  •  carne de alguidar: when we make chouriço, we put everything in a bucket, season it well with salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaf and paprika, but instead of stuffing the chouriço we can also make a meal out of it. It actually goes by the name of bucket meat.
  • Churrasco – our grilled meat, you can call it our barbecue but without the american sauce. Simple is best with a tad of lemon juice topped after being grilled, to cut the strong flavor of the fat and smoke drenched meat.

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Our last evening on the boat.

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Preparing some roast veggie salad and local chouriço to put on the grill for our last floating meal.

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Once back home, I couldn’t help myself by making a friendly petisco with my edible souvenirs. I brought three cheeses:

Cured sheep milk cheese – Sapata from Reguengos de Monsaraz

Cured sheep milk cheese – Lactobelavista from Rio dos Moinhos

Mixed sheep and cow milk cheese – Belqueijo from Nisa

I also brought back a black pig chouriço. Let’s just say it was too damn yummi, it didn’t survive before the photoshoot.

All in all – one of the best trips ever. Four days isn’t enough to cover the amount of territory you can explore. The people, the food, the peace and quiet, the warm still waters and the everlasting floating. After two days, I would step on land and feel like I hadn’t stopped floating – this is normal and a pretty cool thing to experience!

Alqueva Part 1 – The Trip!

My very first “alentejano” experience was twenty years ago – I was a mear four year old waking up to the godawful sound of a pig being murdered. I hated every bit of it: the sqwelling, the blood, the smell of burnt hair, the guts held in buckets through the hallway floors. The years passed by and I learned to appreciate it. After all, it always ended up in a fiest (literally speaking).
Returning to Alentejo brought back those memories, and while I read Anthony’s experience, I couldn’t help but laugh and be thankful that my nanny dragged me along during her weekend visits to Odemira. Childhood trauma apart, it just made me become a little more portuguese than I already was about to become. This time, I didn’t see swine torture, but I was introduced to something much more mind blowing about this part of the country.
Just to get you started, Alentejo in the summer is known for it’s hotness, the umberable kind that will make you want to look for shade and never think about sun bathing again. It is just that hot. After being in the Algarve for most of my life, being hot never seemed to be a problem – you have the sea, the fresh breeze, the not so hot heat. In the countryside you won’t find salted water, maybe a river now and then. But now Alqueva has Europe’s biggest artificial lake. For more info about historical facts and why the dam was constructed, consult wikipedia’s wise knowledge here.
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The most peaceful sunset I have seen in all my existence.
So this was the trip – renting a boat, sailing what once was vast pastured land. The most peaceful experience I have ever had since I could remember. Ghostly territory, non urbunized islands, stranded trees, slightly sloped bays and plenty of still waters.
This was such a cool idea, I just have to tell the world about it and recommend it to everyone.
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Getting to know small villages, local living, plus, far away from busy civilization and mass tourism confusion – this is what this trip was all about. This one is Estrela – no restaurants, one simple café and you can’t find packaged orange juice anywhere. When I asked what this was all about, while I had been shopping for it because my mother needs it more than she needs coffee in the morning, a lady simply answered “If we want orange juice, we will squeeze oranges”. True wise words, natural is best!
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Monsaraz view from this quaint B&B. Amazing and unusual town – I highly recommend visiting this unique spot.
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Aldeia da Luz scenario – One of the villages that had to be reconstructed because of the increase in water altitude.
While we were wondering the hot and haunted roads of this recent location, we found a table to sit down and have a refreshing mini (a small sized beer – 25cl to be precise). Checking out the inside of the so resembled tavern, I realized that for snacks, men were standing around the counter, with peeled boiled potatoes, some slices of fresh tomato, a few peanuts and each one of them had their own pocket knife to nibble. Wow, I need to get one myself! Astonished yet lights flickered in my mind as I started to understand what Alentejo’s lifestyle is all about – simplicity, at best, and humble practices gained by generations of getting by with whatever was available.
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When my dog found a stray goat, and followed him just to watch.
Next – Part 2 – The Food!

Stuffed Azeitão Cheese Rind

This post is about cheese, the portuguese kind that if you don’t already know about, you should search for on the internet and order some right away. Besides me talking you into trying some of our greatest delicacies, there will be a recipe, with simple ingredients none the less. Even if your cheese purveyor is not a portuguese fan (which he/she should be), you can adapt and create as you wish, with any other similar cheese you can get your hands on.

cheese tosat side

So, Azeitão cheese has a lovely story behind it, like most interesting cheeses do. One day, this guy (Gaspar Henriques de Paiva) who used to live in Serra da Estrela (highest range of mountains in continental Portugal, which produces a creamy scoopadilic cheese) decided to live elsewhere. He therefore moved to somewhere, called Azeitão, and decided to mimic his beloved iguary. So, that’s how the Azeitão cheese was borne (I am now wishing for more synonyms for the word cheese – which is impossible – so bare with me). It is made from unpasteurized sheep milk, and is coagulated with cardoon (Cynara cardunculus, L – related to thistle and artichoke), an abundantly found herb around the area, which has an enzyme that is responsible for the coagulation of the milk (that only works with goat or sheep’s milk). Later on cured in special conditions for 20 days, so that delicious flavor can maturate, consistency set and rind be developed. This precise way of production, also the breed of the sheep and the geographical location (Serra da Arrábida – District of Setúbal), makes this cheese a DOP product (Protected of Designation of Origin), with a runny spreadable consistency known by every portuguese person on the planet. Marvelous.

rind

creamy goodness

I will warn you now – I eat too much bread. That’s just how the portuguese roll. Bread with everything. I don’t really have a tendency of eating it with a main course (although most PT’s do), unless it is a picky, or there is plenty of dipping sauce, or the bread itself is the meal – with picky snacks. Now, another warning, we don’t appreciate you calling our eating habits tapas, if you ever say that in front of a portuguese, you will get the hatred stare.  We eat and adore petiscos. In every possible way. And that always includes bread. So don’t think I’m obsessed with it or anything, it’s just a part of who I grew up to be. It is obviously a part of this vittle.

So, here is the “recipe” – it is more an idea than a recipe:

First get an Azeitão cheese. Spread that amazing gooeyness on anything you like. But, don’t do it while at fridge temperature – you must let it set at room temperature for a while before it becomes spreadable. Now, to all you health safety freaks out there, this can be a microbiological hazard, as it does have unpasteurized sheep’s milk. So don’t do this too often, as huge temperature discrepancies will increase the risk of a possible upset tummy. Although many studies have shown that raw milk cheese is a safer option, because of the natural flora (which interferes with pathogen survival), you should always store your goods in proper conditions and avoid huge temperature differences.

When you get to that point where you look at your cheese and think “not enough to spread on many crackers, but still plenty not to waste”, then that is when you should think about using that last bit and stuff the rind.

mushrooms and parsley

Now, choose your filling. I decided on mushrooms, parsley, fennel and smoked trout. The idea of fish with cheese never amused me much, but this is smoked trout from a can, which goes well with the mushrooms and combines perfectly with the delicate yet strong Azeitão.

truta pacote

le trout trout inside The mushrooms should be sautéed beforehand, otherwise they will release too much moisture and ruin the cheese. A slight maillard reaction also gives flavor and lets the rest of the ingredients to caramelize a bit. So, add a bit of olive oil to a pan, fry a bay leaf (yes, fry it a bit – it’s just like those indian spices which render best when heated in grease) crush a few cloves of garlic, add mushrooms and let them release all the water, then add chopped up fennel. Refresh with some dry sherry, and finish off with chopped parsley. mushrooms and trout 2

For the trout – this is already cooked, so just add it in with the mushrooms when finished.

Best to scrape all the remaining cheese out of the rind, before filling. Save that last bundle of happiness to scrape on one last cracker, and put the rest aside to top off the filling, so it gently melts in the oven. And top with whatever you have left of the cover (mine broke a bit, but it worked just as well).

ready oven 2

ready oven 1

I advise you to bake it on top of some parchment paper, as to move it will be a non profitable challenge – just cut around the excess paper and move it to a plate to serve (with the help of the parchment paper), so it won’t be destroyed.

The remaining bay leafe and parsley was used to decorate the concoction.

To bake it – 180ºC oven for about 5 minutes, it should end up looking like this:

cheese done outside

top off cheese

cheese and spoon

two toasts cheese back

toast hand

Serve it right away, with thinly sliced bread of your choice. Surrender to the meltiness of the cheese!

I used whole wheat with plenty of healthy seeds, just to make it a little bit healthier (though all the mushrooms, parsley, fennel and garlic already provide so many vitamins, not to mention the trout which is rich in Omega 3 – mega healthy treat).