11 February 2009

Food, Fado and New Fans

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish Proverb

A fellow singer asked me the other day if I were Portuguese. She overheard me regaling my friend Jeanette with the details of the fado appreciation dinner she had missed. No, dear readers, I am not Portuguese. But as you know, I love fado. And I love to cook. It is a marriage made in heaven. And one which brings great rejoicing to my friends.

Introducing more of my friends to fado has been on my to do list for over a year now. Since the last Mariza concert, actually. But I did not want to simply play fado for them, or even tell them the history behind the genre. Such passionate and soulful music calls for a proper setting. And I could think of no better setting than to cook a (somewhat) traditional Portuguese meal. This meant doing a lot of gastronomic research.

The first thing I learned was that no matter what else I cooked, I must cook caldo verde, a staple of Portuguese cuisine. It means, quite literally, green soup and although I found several variations, the basic ingredients are potatoes, onions and kale. Sometimes cabbage is also included, but the recipe I chose did not include it. Several cooks suggested making the soup the night before to allow the flavors to seep into each other. The recipe calls for pouring the cooled soup into a food processor, but I have had two mishaps with a potato-base soup turning into glue that way, so I used a Cuisinart hand-held mixer and it was fantastic. I did everything but add the kale ~ which I left to do the next day before serving the soup. Two changes I would suggest to this recipe: one, add more salt. Two, saute or steam the kale in a little olive oil or butter before adding it to the soup. It came out a little too raw for my taste.

For the main course I came across a couple of schools of thought as well. More traditional Portuguese dinners consist of three main entrees ~ usually fish, pork or chicken and meat. In the interest of time and maintaining the sanity of the cook, I decided to make two entrees. This proved to be a wise decision ~ as I barely held on to sanity with just two!

So much of Portugal's identity is wrapped up in its coastline. It is still the economic lifeline for many Portuguese ~ as it has been for their great-great grandfathers. Portuguese tradition says that there are 365 ways to prepare cod, which is so plentiful it is practically the national fish of Portugal! So in deference to the Portuguese fishermen who are inextricably linked to pathos of fado, I made a gratin called Sailors Bacalhau Gratin. I used fresh cod (instead of salt cod) from the local fishmonger. If you make this recipe with fresh cod as I did, I suggest adding copious amounts of salt.

Both pork loin and chicken breasts were on sale, so I bought both. But I found a recipe for Chicken with Port Raisin Sauce that sounded absolutely wonderul, so I used that instead of the pork. It turned out to be incredible and the star of the table. To save time and sanity, brown the chicken the night before and then cook it the rest of the way about half an hour before serving. Chicken is so delicate ~ it can so easily become dry. This recipe did not dry out the chicken at all and the port-soaked raisins complemented the mushrooms. My friend Penafort even asked for thirds!

Coming up with a well executed dessert proved to be a challenge. There were some desserts with awesome names, like barriga de freiras (nun's belly) and papos de anjo’ (angel's cheeks). But as I was making this for the first time for my guests, I wanted to keep it simple, but still interesting. So I chose to make filhozes, Portuguese Cinnammon Doughnuts. Unfortunately, I cannot remember which recipe I used, but the one I have linked to has a dozen eggs, which is what my recipe called for as well. I had not made doughnuts since I was a Brownie in second-grade! I had forgotten how much fun that was. I think that my guests had as much fun watching me make them as I had frying them up. The oil may have been too hot as my doughnuts came out looking more like bear claws than little round puffs. But they tasted exactly like the recipe promised: solid but tasting like an eclair. I still have half a pitcher of batter left over and have been using it to make crepes, pancakes and the occasional doughnut.

While we all enjoyed either a twelve year single malt Scotch or a very smooth Reserve Porto, we watched the live concert Mariza did in Lisbon a couple of years ago. I have seen her three times in concert now, but it was a moving experience to see her perform for her countrymen. They understood not only her language but her heart. And it communicated itself to my friends watching. At the end of the evening, I had converted ten more fans.


Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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