‘Port’ of history

Recipes for a taste of Portugal anytime.

Shoppers persue fresh produce and foodstuffs at the Coimbra farmers’ market (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
Shoppers persue fresh produce and foodstuffs at the Coimbra farmers’ market
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
Earlier this month a private, tailor-made tour organized by Yaya Food & Travel took us to the very north of Portugal, guiding a family from Florida with strong roots in the area.
We started in the Galicia region of northern Spain and drove down to Coimbra in Portugal, where our base for the six days of the tour was an amazing refurbished palace belonging to the small luxury hotel group Quinta das Lagrimas (www.quintadaslagrimas.pt). It’s in this beautiful hotel that we always have our own kosher kitchen with our own plates and cutlery supervised by Misha, our mashgiah from Lisbon.
I think that the highlights of this tour were visits to the towns of Belmonte and Trancoso, as well as the mikve (ritual bath) of Coimbra.
Belmonte, a town of 3,600, is home to 300 descendants of Jews who survived the long arm of the Inquisition and practiced Judaism in secret. It is really a must to visit when in the north of Portugal.
The mikve in Coimbra was discovered in 2013 by a municipal work crew looking to fix a water leak in the basement of an old building in the central shopping district of Coimbra. It turns out it was built 600 years ago and used secretly to evade the Inquisition.
The meals were prepared daily by Vitor, the hotel’s head chef, and me. As is the norm on all our tours, we offered up authentic regional gourmet fare.
Working for six days with Vitor was like studying at a culinary school. He is extremely well trained and has developed his own unique style of cooking. The recipes I am sharing with you this week are three dishes we prepared together and were very well received by the group.
Serves 12 (as an appetizer)
■ 1 fillet of wild salmon (skin removed)
■ 1 kg. sea salt
■ ½ kg. sugar
■ ½ cup fresh chives, finely chopped
■ 1 liter extra-virgin olive oil
■ 6 whole cloves of garlic
■ 4 bay leaves
■ 25 gr. peppercorns
■ 1 whole lemon
Mix together the salt, sugar and chopped chives. Cover a tray the size of your fillet with half the salt mixture, place your salmon on top of it, and then cover completely with the rest of the salt mix. Set aside for six hours, then rinse the fillet thoroughly.
In a medium-sized plastic container put the olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and half of the lemon. Cut the salmon fillet in half and place it in the container with the olive oil mix (it must be completely covered in olive oil).
Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Serve decorated with a small combination of greens and thinly sliced red onions and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Serves 4
■ 4 rock grouper steaks (2½-cm. thick)
■ 2 garlic cloves, chopped
■ ½ cup rosemary leaves, chopped (you can use the flowers to decorate the dish)
■ 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
■ 1 lemon, quartered
■ Sea salt and black pepper to taste
In a medium-sized tray combine the olive oil, garlic, mustard and rosemary. Then soak the grouper steaks in the olive oil mixture for an hour.
In the meantime get a good charcoal barbecue going (and if possible mix in some pine wood to add a fantastic flavor to the fish). When the barbecue is very hot, grill the grouper steaks for 6 minutes on each side.
Serve immediately, decorated with rosemary flowers and a quarter of lemon.
Serving suggestions: Accompany this dish with baked sweet potato or roasted baby potatoes.
Serves 4
■ 10 baby chicken thighs (I skin at least 5 of them)
■ 15 fresh artichoke hearts (you can use frozen)
■ 100 gr. fresh peas (you can use frozen)
■ 8 pearl onions (the smaller the better)
■ 8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
■ 1 sprig fresh thyme
■ 1 tsp. turmeric
■ 1 tsp. cinnamon
■ 1 glass dry white wine
■ ½ liter chicken stock
■ ½ glass extra-virgin olive oil
■ Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Pour half the olive oil into a medium-sized pot. When it is very hot, place the chicken thighs inside and leave for about 10 minutes while stirring. When nice and brown, remove them and set aside.
Pour the rest of the olive oil into the pot and immediately add the pearl onions, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. Cook for 12 minutes while stirring, and once again when nice and brown, add the wine and the chicken thighs.
Cook for 10 minutes, then add the artichoke hearts, peas, thyme and chicken stock. Allow to simmer for at least 50 minutes. Serve immediately with white balsamic rice or good-quality quinoa.
The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem, and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco). www.jewishheritagetourseurope.com