Tuesday, February 1
Maria's Sopa de Cenoura
One of the perks of travelling relatively often to the Algarve is that we get to sample some excellent Portuguese food. With more than 40% of the mainland's borders consisting of Atlantic coastline, the quality of seafood in Portugal is outstanding. When they say ‘fresh fish’ in the Algarve, they don’t mean that it was in a freezer truck for a week being brought to the city – they mean it was caught earlier that day, maybe even by someone the restaurant owner or chef knows by name, and brought straight to the kitchen. The fish is then grilled with the magical Mediterranean ingredients of olive oil and garlic. In what I’ve seen of Europe so far, Portugal has to be the place where I’ve had the best fish. The only other country in the world that can compete is Japan, but that’s almost 6,000 miles away…
Although I’m particularly fond of the seafood – probably because of my own coastal heritage – there are other much-loved dishes. One of my favourites is Arroz de Pato, a melting duck rice with almost-caramelized slices of chorizo. This is made by cooking the duck in a broth with vegetables, herbs and spices. The cooked duck is shredded, while the broth (with all the essence of the vegetables and the duck fat) is used to cook the rice. The rice and shredded duck are then layered in earthenware and finished in the oven, with slices of chorizo on top. I’m minded to try making this sometime. If I do, I’ll share a recipe.
Until then, though, I thought I’d have a go at something simpler (and far less calorific). Portuguese soups are another delight discovered on travels, and I picked up a recipe on my most recent visit. Most of the soups that I’ve come across feature some key ingredient with a base of potato, to give that cream textured finish: for example, green cabbage or kale for the famous Caldo Verde, and carrot for Sopa de Cenoura. This Sopa de Cenoura recipe is from Maria, a lady who joined my sister’s household last year to help look after the most-recently-arrived cherub. Maria told me the ingredients in Portuguese, so I hope I managed to catch everything!
3 cloves garlic
Some olive oil
1. Simply prepare and chop all the vegetables roughly, and boil them in water until tender. (Update: after a few tries, I've decided that best results are obtained by boiling in chicken stock, the salted variety or with salt added.)
2. Add a few good glugs of olive oil and boil for another 5 minutes.
3. Blend with a hand blender.
4. Season to taste.
That’s it. I realized, after making this at the weekend, that the quality of vegetables in the Algarve is pretty outstanding too – my supermarket vegetables couldn’t compete with the flavour that was coaxed out of the Portuguese ones. If your source of vegetables is like mine, I’d recommend adding a little bit of a stock cube or some bouillon powder at step 1. (I’d be interested to hear of the results if any of you tries this recipe with quality organic vegetables, sans bouillon.)
Serve with some toasted sourdough bread. For a true Algarvio experience, follow up with grilled fish, then a Bolo de Iogurte (yoghurt cake) with coffee.
To all our Portuguese friends and friends of Portugal out there, I'd love to have some recommendations of your favourite dishes to try on my next trip!