Week 31 – Portugal – 13 September 2015
In my last week of Europe for Eat the World, I landed in the continent’s Western most country: Portugal. After being flooded with choices for the likes of France, Italy and Spain, I was surprised to struggle with options presented to me this week. Kale and broad beans seemed mighty popular – no thanks. Seafood was another big choice, but as much as I would have loved a cataplana, I didn’t have any of the equipment. Even the obvious choice of piri piri chicken didn’t grab me, with recipes seeming all too easy and lacking.
I eventually realised that I could recreate something I never thought I would: Porto’s famous sandwich, the Francesinha! This is a beast of a meal native to the country’s northern city. Having heard a lot about them, I hunted one down in Porto and quite enjoyed it. I even wrote about it on this here blog.
The Francesinha is a monster. It’s a multi-bread layer sandwich involving steak, sausage and ham, covered entirely with melted cheese, topped with a fried egg and ladled with tomato sauce. Except it goes one better – the tomato sauce is made with beer! Completed with potato chips, you do not leave the table hungry, believe me.
Having looked at a couple of options for inspiration, I pulled together my own sauce for this guy. So I present my own recipe for Porto’s prize:
Bread + Steak + Bread + Fried chorizo + Ham + Bread + Cheese melted over the top + Fried egg on top.
To make the sauce, I cooked a chopped onion and two chopped cloves of garlic until soft, added a splash of fortified wine, a scoop of tomato paste (maybe ¼ cup) and about 150-200ml beer. I let that cook and reduce a little, then blended to a soup consistency, ready to pour over the top.
As something a little less specific than a Porto sandwich, I also decided to make some of Portugal’s famed pasteis de nata, or Portuguese tarts. After searching around and finding several variants, I settled on this recipe.
I found that the custard worked very well, and came to a really nice consistency once it cooled down. The pastry, made from puff, didn’t seem quite right, though. The method only allowed for quite shallow tarts, with very thin pastry. As a result, while the custard worked a treat, the pastry didn’t end up quite like the champion, flaky, genuine article. All in all, it still tasted pretty tops, but I would stress the instruction to eat these on the day of cooking.
Week 32 – Morocco – 20 September 2015
My first week in Africa and I decided to use up the one country on the continent I had any idea about food-wise: Morocco. Like India way back in week 15, Morocco is famed for its abundant spices and generous use of such, along with cooked meats and cous cous.
My recipe was for a lamb stew that combined lamb and vegetables, crushed spices, chilli, tomatoes and apricots. Cooked over a moderate time (about 1.5 hours), the dish had time to develop some great flavours as the ingredients – layered when they went into the oven – sank into one another.
What I liked about the stew was that it transitioned in texture and flavour as you ate it. The lamb pulled apart, the veges were soft and the stock thin but rich, while the flavour was instantly sweet and deceptively spicy (it kicked in late with some surprise). I too often forget about using dried apricots and along with some middle eastern examples, this one has re-sparked my interest.
The recipe is available here.
Week 33 – Algeria – 27 September 2015
As far as African food goes, I really have little idea what to make. I went to a bookshop to visit the cookbook section, and while there were plenty of books on Moroccan cuisine, there was little going for the rest of the continent. In addition to this hurdle, many of the exciting recipes I managed to locate online contained ingredients I could hardly get my hands on.
For Algeria, I decided to go with a northern African staple: the tagine. By definition, I was unable to make a tagine as I didn’t have the “conical earthenware”, but I managed to stay true to the process and flavours at least.
This was a vegetarian number, featuring whole okra and diced potatoes in a thick sauce of onion, tomato and spices. I concocted a variation of an African ras el hanout spice mix, which included cinnamon, ground ginger, turmeric, pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and allspice. This, along with a generous amount of minced coriander and parsley, gave the dish a great flavour. It was really a celebration of the spiced sauce, with the vegetables there to bulk things out.
There are a couple of things to look out for if using the recipe I did. The first is that some water or stock should be added to ensure the potatoes cook through. I did this and it didn’t dilute the flavours. The other point is that the okra could go in a little while after the potatoes so it doesn’t turn too soft. All in all this was a tasty addition to my global menu.
The recipe is available here.
Week 34 – Egypt – 4 October 2015
Making my way across the north of Africa, this week Eat the World brought me to Egypt, and with it a variety of simple recipes with distinct character. Having not really known much about African cuisine a month ago, I seem to be developing a picture of how popular stews and the like might be, with this week’s recipe making it three from three.
While the recipe list has far less requirements than Morocco two weeks back, I decided on this lamb stew because of its secondary ingredient: taro. I have never used taro, but have long been curious about it. It’s a root vegetable that looks like a bulbous, rough and ugly tree stump, with thin twisting veins running through its white centre. Along with the taro came a vegetable I know all about, and normally avoid: silverbeet.
The recipe for this stew is here and it is very straightforward. The only changes I made were spicing the lamb with salt, pepper and ground coriander before initially cooking, and using less water to begin with (adding a little at a time if needed), so the end product wasn’t overly watery.
The abundance of garlic added serious punch to this dish, while texturally it maintained interest with tender lamb, wilted greens and the taro, which was creamy, starchy and kind of sweet. A simple meal, but a good introduction.