Like all Iberian food, Portuguese cooking is basically simple and a food of the people, yet spices and herbs are more widely used than in Spanish cooking. Taste combinations that would be astonishing to most Spanish palates are common in Portugal.
One of the interesting herbs used fresh is coriander, along with fresh mint and parsley. Fresh lemon juice is used liberally, often squeezed on various metals. Preserved foods are used, too; one in particular is salt-dried codfish, called bacalhau.
Fresh fish is also predominant, including all varieties of shellfish, sardines, and other seafood such as barnacles, crabs, and other underutilized fish we might find unusual.
Early Portuguese explorers brought back the spices from the Indies and introduced rice, which is now a staple at every meal and prepared in many ways.
Since Portuguese land is not suited for raising cattle, meats in this cuisine are kid, goat, poultry, turkey, and pork. The pork dishes are superb. Beef of course is also available.
Portugal reflects touches of Spanish and Italian influences in the use of garlic and olive oil, which are basics. Black and green Portuguese olives are used in many dishes and are often served fresh.
Like other Mediterranean people, the Portuguese use onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppers, peppercorns, lemon, and paprika in their cooking, although with a light hand.
Fresh and dried figs, nuts, rice, egg yolks, vanilla, and even curry are used throughout the country.
More noticeable is the way these ingredients are used for the diversity of taste combinations. This is what makes Portuguese cooking most special.
One of the famous dishes is a green broth called Caldo Verde. This soup is to Portugal what onion soup is to France. It has become a kind of national food.
Wherever you go in the country, any time of day, you see women dressed in black, seated and standing, shredding kale for Caldo Verde. The deep green, strongly flavored Portuguese kale is different from the vegetable grown in other countries, but ours is certainly a good substitute.
Not only is kale superb in Portugal, but ask anyone from this country and you will learn that all vegetables grown there seem stronger in color, leafier, and bigger than anywhere else.
Caldo Verde is simple to make, and there are many variations, especially from Portuguese-Americans. Some have a bit of cabbage, others a few red beans, some are made with beef stock, but most have kale, potatoes, and the spicy Portuguese sausage linguica or chorizo.
In Portugal, first the native potatoes are boiled and lightly mashed, then put back into the cooking water with olive oil and strips of kale shredded so uniformly thin they appear to be machine-made.
One or two slices of garlic pork sausage, linguica or chorizo are placed at the bottom of a bowl and the steaming soup is poured over them.
Slightly thick in texture, whitish-green in color, with darker strips of kale floating in the surface and dark purple sausage slices underneath, Caldo Verde has a delicately edged, rich taste. Served with the yellow country cornbread or typical Portuguese white bread, it makes a hearty soup for winter and good dish for after swimming or a dainy day in summer.
Sardines are also one of the typical foods of Portugal, and they are often cooked over a grill. After a bullfight fiesta, families set their picnic fare out on long tables in shaded pavillions. Those who come unprepared use charcoal grills to cook fresh sardines, which are eaten between slices of country bread.
Portuguese bullfighting is family entertainment. A gentler sport than in other countries, it is mainly a display of grace and adeptness. They do not kill the bulls.
Salt cod is another favorite Portuguese food, which comes to the table baked, poached, broiled or fried, seasoned or sauced in many ways or in the form of codfish cakes.
One way is to season the shredded codfish with coriander, mint, and parsley then add bread crumbs, shaping and frying it in garlic-olive oil. Finished cakes are topped with freshly poached eggs. Caldo Verde (Potato and Kale Soup) 1/2 pound fresh kale or collard greens 4 ounces linguica or 4 ounces chorizo or any other garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage 4 medium potatoes (about 1 pound) peeled, sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds 6 cups water 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 teaspoon fresly ground black pepper
Wash greens and trim leaves from stems. Bunch leaves together and shred as fine as possible. Prick sausages in several places, cover with water, and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Drain, slice in rounds.
Combine potatoes, water, and salt in a 4-to 5-quart saucepan, bring to a boil , reduce to moderate heat, and cook uncovered 15 minutes or until soft when tested. Drain, mash with a fork, return to liquid in the pan, stir in olive oil and pepper, and bring to boil over high heat. Add greens and boil uncovered 3 or 4 minutes. Add sausages and simmer a minute or two to heat through. Serve at once. Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Codfish Cakes with Coriander, Mint, and Parsley) 1 pound salt cod 2 cups crumbled French or Italian stale bread crumbs 3/4 cup olive oil 3/4 cup chopped fresh coriander 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint 2 tablespoons paprika 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved 6 parsley sprigs 6 freshly poached eggs, optional
Soak codfish a day ahead in a glass, enamel, or stainless-steel pan or bowl. Cover with cold water and soak at least 12 hours, changing water 3 or 4 times.
Drain, rinse in cold water, add fresh water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, or until fish flakes easily when tested.
In large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups bread and 1/2 cup oil. Beat and mash together until bread has absorved all oil. Drain cod thoroughly. When cool remove any skin or bones, then shred fish finely with your hands.
Add coriander, parsley, mint, paprika, salt, pepper, and rest of bread and beat vigorously with a large spoon until mixed well.
Moisten hands and shape mixture into 6 flat, round cakes, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick.
In heavy, 12-inch skillet, heat remaining oil over moderate heat until haze forms above it. Add garlic and, stirring, cook for 2 or 3 minutes until golden, then discard.
Pan-fry codfish cakes, cooking about 3 minutes a side, turning with spatula. When golden, serve at once with parsley sprigs. Top with poached egg to be authentic.