My recent trip to Portugal’s Algarve was a magical experience and now my favorite all-time vacation destination. The coastline is stunning, the villages drip with European charm, the pace is slow and relaxed, and the people and the FOOD are amazing.
First, the people are so friendly and helpful. During our week’s visit, my husband, Sean and prima(cousin), Eva drove over 1200 kilometers and let us say Google and Apple maps aren’t very reliable and well we ended up a little lost more than once. I speak Spanish and just a tiny bit of Portuguese. We walked into numerous businesses asking for directions and not only did people tell us where to go they left their butcher shops, bakeries, etc. to step outside and point the way. Some of them walked with us to ensure that we found what we were looking for, now that’s kindness!
When I was planning our trip to Portugal, I had a crazy idea that it would be amazing to cook with local chefs. I researched the local culinary scene by using Instagram and connecting with a few chefs whose feed inspired and awed me. I had the good fortune of finding Sara & Riccardo owners of Algarve Chefs. My husband was a little suspect of me connecting with complete strangers on Instagram and inviting them to our vacation rental, so he stayed nearby.
Eva is an accomplished pastry chef and was eager to join me in our big Portuguese cooking adventure. We set up my video equipment and lights and patiently awaited our special guests.
Sara and Ricardo arrived right on time with boxes of fresh ingredients, equipment, and big smiles. Within a few minutes, Eva and I knew these were kindred food spirits; chefs who love to cook! Sara and Ricardo are classically trained accomplished chefs that are modest about their many accomplishments and display a passion for food and their culture that would rival my mother's love of cooking and sharing beloved recipes.
They first taught us how to make a delicious, family favorite, Caldo Verde Recipe (Portuguese Kale Soup). The key ingredients are chorizo and galena cabbage. From making the soup base to mixing in julienned greens, Sara explained the recipes history and cultural significance of this authentic dish! We also learned that it’s a must treatment for a hangover, and best made by your mama when recovering from a little too much Portuguese wine.
Next was Bacalhau com Natas (baked codfish with potatoes, bechamel sauce, and cream). We began by learning how to rehydrate dried salted cod, and then all the needed steps to perfect this creamy, delicious holiday dish. While we were chopping, shredding and frying, Sara shared how the cod is salted, dried, stored, tips on what to buy and the long Portuguese tradition of consuming dried salted cod.
Then came Feijoada(traditional bean stew with chorizo, bacon, pork belly, linguica, pork ribs, wine, garlic, onions, bay leaves, tomatoes, carrots and dried chiles) or as I like to refer to them, the best beans I’ve ever eaten in my life! The pork ribs were cooked in a pressure cooker, and they were so tender that the meat literally fell off the bone. He also taught me how to thicken the beans by placing some in a separate bowl, pureeing them with a hand mixer and then returning them to the stew and thus making them a thick, rich stew, magic! A handy trick that I will be using in other bean dishes.
After taking my first bite, I felt my eyes well up with tears. The taste had a distingue flavor that my heart recognized from my late Portuguese grandma’s beans that I had been trying to duplicate for decades. I had tried brown sugar, white sugar, molasses, honey and thus it was wine! Sara solved the mystery for me.
And finally, we made a Cataplana de Mariscos or seafood heaven! I’d never seen a cataplana, and I must say it was love at first site. It’s a gorgeous copper pot shaped like two clamshells hinged at one end and able to be sealed using a clamp on the other. Ricardo and Sara instructed us to fill it with onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, wine, mussels, clams, prawns and left it to create shellfish gastronomical magic! I had leftovers the next morning for breakfast; it was that delicious. And of course, Eva and I both bought our very own cataplanas and will be exploring new recipes soon.
After six hours of cooking, sharing stories and laughing we sat down at our dining room table with our new friends, and my husband and joyfully enjoyed our Portuguese feast! It was by far the best meal I had during my European vacation and the most memorable. It was evident that these talented chefs filled their recipes with love. I will cherish this remarkable day forever! And I’m looking forward to cooking with these exceptional chefs again!
To learn how to make these recipes go to my YouTube channel.
Connect with Sara and Ricardo via Instagram @algarvechefs