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Music – “Flamenco Séquito (Suite) (Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Portugal)” from Tango Fiesta by Gus Flaherty. Released: 1997
In the summer of 1986, I had the privilege of visiting Spain and Portugal. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of food, but I was not disappointed.
The landscape and geography of both countries is spectacular and driving from Portugal into Spain on one winding curve after another, through olive orchards, vineyards and acres of cork trees, was truly breathtaking. So much history, so many stories.
I stayed in “Pousadas”, in Portugal, which are state-owned inns. Most are converted castles, monasteries and mansions and each Pousada reflects the history and personality of the time it was built. In Bucaco, it was The Palace Hotel; The Estalagem do Convento in Obidos, and the Hotel Palacio dos Seteais in Sintra. Each has a unique history. Similar accommodations, “Paradores“, were available in Spain.
The Discoveries Monument in Lisbon (Lisboa), was built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.
The food of Spain and Portugal is rich in seafood, fresh vegetables and fine wines. The best sherry (jerez) in the world is from Spain and it was a pleasure to be able to visit several vintners while I was there, for sampling. In Bucaco, Portugal, I was also able to purchase a bottle of 1943 Oporto to take back to my father, although I’m not sure if he ever drank it.
One cannot visit Portugal without experiencing Fado. “Fado” is a music genre, which has its roots in the early 19th century Portugal and is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor. The songs are, to quote Wikipedia, “… infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia”. Sipping a glass of Fino sherry (jerez) and munching on Deep Fried Green Beans in Batter is the best way to enjoy (endure?) an evening of Fado. It is definitely an acquired taste (the Fado, not the beans). The recipe for Deep Fried Green Beans in Batter (Peixhinos da horta) is taken from “Portuguese Cooking”, by Hilaire Walden, published in 1994.
Deep Fried Green Beans in Batter
1 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 egg, separated
2/3 cup dry white wine (or water)
Olive oil for deep frying
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the seasoning. Make a well in the center and drop in the egg yolk. Pour the wine slowly into the well, stirring in the seasoned flour gradually to make a smooth batter. Leave for 30 – 60 minutes.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry and then fold lightly and carefully into the batter. Heat a saucepan or deep fat fryer half filled with oil to 350 degrees. Dip the beans in the batter to coat well and then deep fry in batches for 3 – 4 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
It would be impossible to talk about all of the wonderful foods of Portugal and Spain, but Spain is well known for its Tapas. “Tapa” originally meant “cover”, and according to Simone & Ines Ortega, in their book “The Book of Tapas”, published in 2010, a small, free “tapa” was served with drinks and was frequently a piece of cheese or sliced cold meat. The “tapas” were used to cover wine glasses to keep the aroma in and to keep flies out.
There are hundreds of “tapas”, both hot and cold, eaten with the fingers or with a fork and served with a piece of bread. Just about anything goes where tapas are concerned, ranging from anchovies to zucchini. There are many good cookbooks on Tapas. “The Book of Tapas”, by the Ortegas is one of the most comprehensive, featuring more than 250 recipes. Buy yourself a Tapas cookbook and throw a Tapas party! Be sure to include the jerez!