World of Flavor and Portuguese Stew

by Jacqueline Church on March 15, 2012 · 2 comments

When you think about what Portugal has contributed to the world of gastronomic pleasure, we really do – all of us, owe them a debt of gratitude.

I was thrilled to receive David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table (ahem) a while ago. As I do, I have spent months reading it and imagining making each recipe that catches my eye, imagining traveling to the town where the author first enjoyed it, or resting for a spell on the island from which it hails.

Yes, I do this with menus as well, so you never want to go out to eat with me if you’re very hungry. “Oh look at this, what an interesting combination of flavors.” “So you’re having that?” “No, I was thinking of this instead, but it’s really interesting to imagine that flavor profile. I wonder where the chef got her inspiration?” Yes, this how I approach almost every menu. It is part of the case for my husband’s ascension sainthood. He – prone to low blood sugar crashes – has to remind me too often, I fear, that he’s HUNGRY, NOW and can we JUST PICK SOMETHING AND ORDER PLEASE? Sorry, sometimes a girl just gets lost.

Lust and Lusophilia

I have been a Lusophile (Lusitania was the region of ancient times that corresponds to Portugal and Western Spain) myself since college. I learned a bit through customers in the wine shop about their visits, their love for the Fado sung with such passion in the cafés. Their descriptions of the pousadas (old mansions and castles, now inns for tourists) was so romantic, I openly wished and planned for a visit one day.

More recently, I learned about Madeira and Port and the wonderful wines of Esporão (and fantastic olive oil) at this tasting with my buddy Rich. I was thrilled to meet Marco Montez of New Bedford’s own Travessia Winery and I’ll be heading to see you soon Marco (what a great video intro to your winery!)

If you know anything about Portuguese history – you know it is, in a sense, a world history. The early Portuguese were such travelers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a country or a cuisine that did not reflect some influence or contact with Portuguese. In my native Japan we have Tempura (from Portuguese) and we call bread “pan” which is a Japanese pronunciation of the Portuguese ”Pão”.

Back to Portugal and Fall River. And Lamb stew.

Foodies among my readers will know David as the publisher of Leite’s Culinaria – a beautiful and well-loved site dishing up “Hot Food. Dry Wit” (every time I read that I wish I’d thought of it first!) I know David through IACP (we were *this close* to doing a panel together for this year’s conference.) He is a wonderful, accessible and down-to-earth guy who is always willing to share time, advice and insights, whether it’s in a webinar for other cookbook authors and wanna-be publishers, or during an interview in the middle of alternate side of the street parking negotiation.

So my confession is two-fold: first, this is my first actual recipe I’ve cooked from the book (I think) and second, I didn’t do the recipe straight. Don’t hate me – I can explain!

Recently, we feasted for a week on Indian food lovingly prepared by our friend’s visiting Mother. With the Indian spice palette lingering in my memory (and on my palate – please take note word-manglers out there – these are two different words), I turned to my beautiful boneless leg of lamb and to David’s New Portuguese Table.

Lo and behold, a gorgeous recipe using many of the same warm spices we had been enjoying all week. Cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cloves, ginger and garlic. White beans and carrots are the called for vegetables in Borrego Ensopado com Feijão Bronco, and they appeared in our stew, too. I also had some fingerling potatoes leftover from a bag half-used in another dish, so in they went.

We enjoyed it over rice and I had my leftovers served atop grits I simmered in homemade vegetable stock. I told myself that these little divergences would be forgiven and possibly not uncommon in a true Portuguese kitchen. I think or imagine at least, that many of these kitchens are like those of my ancestors where nothing gets wasted. So the dish may have ended up a little different from its original but then, isn’t that the beauty of the multicultural world we live in today? And frugality? Hardly new, but new again, and much in evidence around here.

One of the things I love about this book is the way you are welcomed into a Portuguese kitchen. You can easily imagine sharing a coffee with a slice of Bolo de Laranja (Orange Cake, p 220) as he tells you stories, of his family in Fall River, Massachusetts or his time in Lisbon, or the traditions of this town or that. You just want to sit for hours and eat and drink and laugh.

This cake – coming soon to a kitchen near you ~ posting the recipe next.

That, my friends is what I encourage you to do – share a meal. Pick up this book, dream and travel the globe through it. Imagine the warm and lusty flavors of the Azores, the seafood, the salty cured olives or sausages. Then enjoy some hot food and dry wit with your friends or family. Or just on your own. Any way you do it, you really must just enjoy it. To help you ~ I’m offering a free copy to one of the lucky commenters here.

An Invitation ~ Convite

Share with us your connection to Portugal. Have you been? Where do you wish to go?

What flavors does your native cuisine share or borrow from Portugal? Been to an Azorean restaurant?

If you have a favorite fish curry from Goa ~ or have a hankering for Vindhaloo – you’re longing for the flavors of Portuguese food. Love those little custard tarts in Chinese bakeries? “Po-tat” or “Dan-tat” (Pastéis de Nata, p 217) are said to have Portuguese origins coming to Hong Kong via Macau. Japanese tempura, bacalhao, enjoy a nice glass of Port or Madeira or Vinho Verde? Well, you get my drift.

So drop a comment and enter to win a copy of this gorgeous book. Just don’t blame me if you also become a Lusophile. There’s always room for one more at our table, no matter where in the world you hail from we’ve got you covered. And fed.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Leite June 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm

What a wonderful post, thank you. I appreciate the love–and I do forgive you your transgressions. You’re right: Nothing is ever wasted in a Portuguese kitchen, so tossing in extra vegetables or serving the stew over polenta is what my avó (grandmother) would do.

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Jacqueline Church June 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm

David I have a fantasy brewing that you will one day lead a culinary tour for a lucky cadre of devotees…can it be a reality? I feel saudade (sp?) is a word that speaks to me. We must go!

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