Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beaks, Bacalhau, and Bread

Portugal is Spain's neighbor on the Iberian Peninsula. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is the most western country in Europe. It also had the longest colonial empire that spanned over almost 600 years. Portugal made the first ever global empire in history when Ceuta was taken in 1415. (Ceuta is a city located in Africa that is now part of Spain.) Up until 2002 Portugal had claim over East Timor. Although Portugal is small, it has had a big influence over the entire world. There are over 250 million Portuguese speakers today, making it the sixth most common first language. I was shocked to learn that almost half of the babies born in Portugal in 2014 had mothers who were not married. Only 1.5 children are born to each woman, so the Portuguese population has been declining like a lot of other western European countries. There are quite a few immigrants that come to Portugal from mainly Brazil, India, and China. As the Portuguese population declines, the foreign-born population continues to increase. I really hope to have the chance to visit Portugal some day to experience their deep culture firsthand. Here in Spain I am so close, but I could not figure out a good way to get over there. I have heard that the medieval castles, landscape, churches, and palaces.

I never thought I would have the chance to pull the beak out of a squid and gut it, but cooking Portugal gave me the unique opportunity to do so. Thank you Portugal. The Portuguese schedule is similar to Spain's with a long lunch at 2 and a later dinner served after 8. Meals almost always consist of a soup, salad, and main dish of seafood or pork. Bread or rice are almost always on the table. Depending on which part of the country you are in, you will find different types of bread. In the north the bread is made of corn flour and is called "broa". Whole wheat or rye breads with a nice crust are served in the south to mop up stews or soups. I had a thick slice of rye bread along with my stew and it was perfect for getting the last bits out of the bottom of the bowl. Delicious!

Kale or collard greens, potatoes, and chorizo are the primary components to famous Portuguese soup called "caldo verde".  It's a common meal for celebrations and weddings, especially during the festival of Saint John in June. (We celebrated Saint John's Day here in Alicante, but figs and tuna pastries replaced the soup as the typical fare.)
Caldo Verde
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups chicken broth
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound kale or collard greens, thinly sliced
4 ounces chorizo, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Cook the onions and garlic until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the broth and potatoes, and bring the soup to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove the potatoes and mash them together with ½ cup of the broth. Add the potatoes back to the pot and stir well. Stir in the kale and chorizo. Simmer for about 20 more minutes until the kale has wilted. Season to taste and serve.

The Portuguese love their bacalhau, or salt cod. There are a ton of different variations of preparing it. (The Portuguese claim that there are 365; one for every day of the year.) After the discovery of Newfoundland, there was a massive increase of cod available. The Portuguese utilized the surplus of cod by drying it out so that it would stay preserved longer. This quick salad is easily thrown together to make a delicious side or even main.

Salada de Bacalhau com Grao
1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
8 ounces desalted salt cod
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil with the chickpeas. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the chickpeas are tender, adding more water as needed. Meanwhile, broil the garlic for about 5 minutes or until the skin is easily peeled off. Mash it up and combine it with the onion. Drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Bring another pot of water to a boil and cook the salt cod for 10 minutes. Allow the salt cod to cool before shredding it up. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix, and serve chilled or at room temperature.
Squid, or "lulas" in Portuguese, are often served a grilled, as kebabs, fried, or in stews. I was happy to find that there are other uses for squid other than fried calamari rings. Potatoes and tomatoes, two of Portugual's favorite vegetables, are served up with the squids to make a wonderful stew. Sorry that my picture does not look 100% like yours will if you follow my recipe. I always have to substitute bell peppers for tomatoes because of my allergy.
Caldeirada de Lulas
1 pound fresh squids, gutted and skinned (make sure to remove the beaks)
4 tomatoes, chopped (I had to substitute bell peppers. That's why my picture looks a bit off.)
2 potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼” slices
1 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup white wine
2 bay leaves
dash of paprika
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium. Cook the onion and garlic until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the squid, tomatoes, bay leaves, water, and wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and let the stew cook for 30 minutes. Mash the tomatoes up and add in the paprika and potatoes. (Pour in more water if needed.) Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender. Season to taste and serve topped with parsley.


Other than the traumatic event of debeaking the squids, both cooking and eating Portugal proved to be a lovely experience. The soup was thick and creamy with tons of added nutrients from all those leafy greens. The chickpea and salt cod salad was surprisingly delightful. The salty bacalao went well with the chickpeas, herbs, and onion. Yum! It was definitely my favorite part. I was lucky enough to find presoaked and desalted salt cod here in Spain because it is such a common ingredient here. I would have struggled to have even found salt cod in the US. Lastly, the squid stew had a really good flavor, but there was some element to it that made it kind of grainy. I don't know if I didn't properly clean the squid or what, but the graininess kind of threw me off. I still liked it ok, though. It wasn't inedible or anything. I just enjoyed my Mauritian octopus stew better. Overall I give Portugal a thumbs up. I am now craving that salt cod salad... Maybe one day I can head over to Portugal to try it out for myself!

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