It was my first trip to Lisbon in over 30 years and I was thrilled to be traveling back to one of my favorite cities with great food and excellent chocolate. No time for planning. The phone call came in, arrangements were made within two days, and then I was off.
I sort of remember Lisbon being a smaller, sleepy, more romantic city, but I was in for a surprise. Lisbon is the vibrant capital and the largest city in Portugal, with a bustling population of around 2.8 million inhabitants. Greater Lisbon is the wealthiest region in Portugal whose GDP is well above that of the European Union, producing 37% of the Portuguese national GDP. It is also the political center of the country as seat of government. It is an exciting place to be.
There is a lot of history to discover in Lisbon; it is everywhere you look. It was under Roman rule from 205 BC, when it was already a 1000-year old town. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. The area was ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century until captured by Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders re-conquered the city for the Christians. Since that time, it has been a major political, economic and cultural center of Portugal.
I love the foods of Lisbon because they are inspired by the sea and so many of the dishes contain fish, especially, a national favorite salted cod. A lot of the food is just the simple fare of fishermen and farmers. In my four-day visit, I managed to enjoy fish, meat, rice and potatoes (usually fried) combined with olive oil, wine and plenty of warm hospitality and friendship—the older the better, as the Portuguese proverb goes. I was surprised that Portuguese food, especially in the capital, is generally inexpensive and served in large quantities, with €8 buying a hearty meal in an outdoor café and under €25 in most of the upper end restaurants in Lisbon.
What I truly loved was starting my day at breakfast which I enjoyed at a café or pastelaria (pastry shop) located across the street from my hotel where hot croissants and other such pastries were freshly-baked and served along with a cup of espresso to wash it down. I am not a big strong coffee drinker, but I did discovery um galão—Portuguese Coffee, which is a milky coffee beverage served in a glass. I topped my cup each morning with broken pieces of dark chocolate, making it mocha-style.
As always, I packed in as many tastes and flavors as I possibly could. For lunches I sampled various soups, such as the caldo verde (a thick vegetable soup) or sopa à alentejana (a garlic and bread soup with a poached egg in it). I also tried a great rice, fish and shellfish soup. I rediscovered that the fish and shellfish dishes are unsurpassed in Portuguese cooking. I tried anything and everything offered from crabs, clams, barnacles, prawns or crayfish to mullet, tuna and the ubiquitous bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Portuguese bacalhau can be cooked in many different ways and is much tastier than it might sound, particularly when cooked as bacalhau à Gomes de Sá with potatoes, onions, olives and hard-boiled eggs. I usually don’t care for the types of sardines (sardinhas) found in the United States, but I found that they are close behind bacalhau in popularity. They don’t come packed in a can but are grilled or barbequed. There is great local soup, arroz de marisco, which is a bit like a seafood risotto crossed with a soup.
Most meat entrees I sampled were served with piri-piri sauce, a sizzling chili concoction very popular in both Portugal and in many South American countries. No churrasco (barbequed chicken) was so very popular there were whole restaurants dedicated to preparing it. Pork in Portugal is from unique, pot-belly pigs whose extended stomach can touch the ground (kind of like me at the end of this trip). The meat from pork is rich, tender and flavorful. I tried it cooked with clams (porco à alentejana) and simply grilled—both great.
So what about chocolate you ask?
The largest food retailer in Portugal, Jerónimo Martins, created the Hussel candy stores which I found to be a real chocolate temptation. They offer over 300 permanent and 200 seasonal items. Everything from gumdrops, fruit drops and lollipops, gourmet chocolate truffles (packed in fancy boxes), chocolate-coated almonds chocolate bars and chocolate cookies.
There is a wonderful two-week long annual international chocolate festival in the Portuguese city Óbidos, located about 40 miles (70k) to the north of Lisbon. It is usually the first and second week of February just in time for Valentine’s Day. The festival is both exciting and entertaining for both adults and children. After all, the world’s most popular food is dark, sweet, rich and delicious—it’s chocolate, of course. There are chocolate sculptures, fashion shows, recipe contests and lots of chocolate eating. So, whether you like deep dark, velvety milk, rich semi-sweet, deep bittersweet or creamy white, you can fill that gap of indulgence and then some with chocolate treats from all over the Portugal.
One of the dishes that I fell in love with was a Portuguese Chocolate Tartlet which had been one of the festival prize winners. I love finding a national treasure recipe and enjoy sharing my discoveries with our readers. These chocolate tartlets can be a great change from a traditional Thanksgiving Apple, Pecan or Pumpkin Pie. They are quick and remarkably easy to make. I think these are the most wonderful tasting chocolate tartlets I have ever tasted. They are fantastic served with ice cream, whipped cream or crème anglaise.
Makes 8 Tartlets
Ingredients for the Tartlet Pastry
Flour for Dusting
5 Ounces Frozen Puff Pastry
1 Egg Yolk
1/8 Teaspoon Allspice Seasoning
2 Tablespoons Fresh Orange Zest
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Cinnamon
Ingredients for the Chocolate Filling
5 1/2 Ounces Heavy or Whipping Cream
1 Tablespoon of Strong Black Coffee
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Stick Unsalted Butter, Softened
8 Ounces Choclatique Private Reserve Dark Chocolate (64%), Chopped
1 1/2 Ounces Whole Milk
2 Tablespoons Choclatique Red Cocoa Powder, Unsweetened, for Dusting
Make the Tartlet Pastry:
1. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out your pastry to a bit bigger than an 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet of paper.
2. Brush with the egg yolk and scatter the rest of the ingredients over the dough. Roll the pastry up tightly like a jelly roll to make a long tube. With a sharp knife cut across the pastry into 1 inch pieces. Set 8 pieces aside, and freeze the rest of the pastry for another day. It should keep frozen for about 3 months.
3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Turn all the pieces of pastry swirl side up and flatten them slightly. Dust the surface of your pastry with flour, then, roll each piece out into a thin circle around the size of a teacup saucer.
4. Then place the dough into tartlet pans. Place beans in pans and blind bake on a baking sheet until crisp and golden around 15 minutes.
5. Allow to cool and carefully remove the tartlet shells from the pans. Fill the tartlet shells with the chocolate filling.
Make the Chocolate Filling:
1. Place the cream, coffee, sugar and salt in a sauce pan and bring to the boil.
2. As soon as the mixture has boiled remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Stir until it has completely melted and allow the mixture to cool slightly stirring in the cold milk until smooth and shiny. Sometimes this mixture looks like it has broken. Allow the mixture to cool down a bit more and whisk in a little extra cold milk until smooth.
3. Portion the Chocolate mixture into the baked tartlet shells. Gently shake to even them out allowing them to cool for 1 to 2 hours, until it is at room temperature. Dust the Portuguese Chocolate Tartlets with the cocoa powder.
4. Do not refrigerate.
The tartlet pastry should be short and crisp and the filling should be smooth and should have the texture of butter.
Try out this recipe for Maladassas, Portuguese Doughnuts, as well.
Malassadas have been passed down generation to generation, for over 200 years. There are several variations to this Portuguese doughnut, depending on the island you come from. This particular recipe originates from the island of Madeira; people from the island of Azores make it a little differently: rather than using the cinnamon-lemon syrup, they roll the warm malassadas in granulated sugar.
Makes 8 to 10 Servings
Ingredients for the Dough:
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Package Active Dry Yeast (7 grams)
1 Cup, Plus 2 Tablespoons Water
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
Vegetable Oil For Frying
Ingredients for the Syrup:
1 Cup Water
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
Peel From 2 Lemons
1 Cinnamon Stick
Make the Dough:
1. Measure all ingredients and have at your side.
2. Combine all ingredients for the dough, except vegetable oil, and mix well.
3. Allow the dough to rest until it doubles.
4. Heat oil to 350ºF.
5. Drop spoonfuls of the dough into the oil and deep fry until golden brown.
Make the Syrup:
1. In a saucepot, combine ingredients for the syrup and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
1. Place the malassadas in a bowl and pour the syrup over them.