Marilha, my Portuguese neighbor and walking companion, and a great cook, thinks that in Portugal, good food is at the heart of every kitchen, the kitchen is at the heart of every house and in Portuguese villages time is still taken to cook. I must admit that the fundamentals of Portuguese cuisine were unknown to me before moving to Portugal. I knew that fish, of course, and great fresh produce, due to the mild Mediterranean climate, are abundant. And the weekly markets have become favorite haunts, especially the organic farmers market in Cascais on Saturday mornings in the beautiful Marquis de Guimaraes park .
The process of turning our new home into an eco-guesthouse has not allowed me the time to take Portuguese cooking classes. But new found Portuguese friends have shared recipes and recommended cookbooks. Portugal cuisine is simple, enlivened by a vast array of regional dishes. Most popular, throughout the country, is the dried salt cod: Bacalhau. Bacalhau lovers have told us that there are over 500 recipes with Bacalhau as the main ingredient. And then there are fresh sardines which seem to become everyones favorite summer food. Sardines are in season from late May to about September. They are usually served grilled with boiled potatoes and a simple green salad. Portuguese love grilling sardines, seasoned with some coarse sea salt, outdoors. (Sardines are vegetarinans, so they are not as likely to be contaminated with heavy metals etc as larger fish. They are an omega rich food)
Since my Portuguese is still rudimentary, cookbooks written in English are the source for creating Portuguese meals. The New Portuguese Table by David Leite ( his food/cooking blog is www.leiteculinaria.com) and The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson (www.jeanandersoncooks.com) are often referred to. My absolute favorite is Piripiri Starfish – Portugal Found – by Tessa Kiros. (Love the “Potugal found” bit.) I´ve been collecting Tessa´s cookbooks for years. Her cookbook, Twelve, which dwells on Italian treats for every month of the year, inspires our dinner menus several times a week. Tessa is dedicated to the idea that food is the basis of a country´s identity. So Piripiri Starfish is a journal of her impressions while traveling about Portugal as much as it is a wonderful cookbook exploring Portuguese fare and traditions. The book is beautifully adorned with photos depicting Portugal, its art, landscape, people and food.