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|September 3 - 9, 2009
• Don’t worry, be Happy Family
Lee Yuan is Chinese-American fare at its finest
by Clay Fong
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
An evolving cuisine
New tastes of Portugal
by Maricel E. Presilla
Stretching from the Minho River on its mountainous northern frontier with Galicia to the dry Algarve in the south, Portugal occupies most of the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula. And though it once ruled half of the world, it has enjoyed far less of the culinary limelight than its neighbor, Spain.
It’s a pity, as Portugal is home to a diverse, soulful cuisine anchored in its austere peninsular past and seasoned by its centuries as a colonial power. Between the 15th and the 19th centuries, missionaries, sailors and settlers carried Portuguese cooking techniques to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and parts of India, China, Malaysia and Japan. There they mingled with local ingredients to create dishes bursting with flavor, like the coconut milk-enriched moquecas of Bahia and the rich curries of Goa.
To their credit, contemporary Portuguese cooks have readily incorporated the spices and hot peppers of the former colonies into their food. David Leite, creator of the influential website www.leitesculinaria.com, tells the story of this evolving cuisine in his first book, The New Portuguese Table.
The son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands who settled in Massachusetts, Leite gives us the fresh perspective of an unwilling insider who becomes smitten as an adult by the cuisine of his family.
As a child, he writes, he wished to be “blond and blue-eyed ... with a last name of Fitzgerald or Abernathy.” After his grandmother died in 1992, however, he realized that many of her Portuguese dishes had died with her, and began to document his mother’s cooking: “I fervently jotted down whatever she did, because the last thing I wanted, as she likes to put it, was for any deathbed recipe-dictation sessions to be cut short by the big guy upstairs.”
The turning point in his growing culinary fascination was a trip to Portugal and its islands, Madeira and the Azores, where he found much more complex cuisines than he had imagined. “Discovering the similarities and differences between classic and contemporary dishes obsessed me,” he writes.
It is this quest that informs his book. Beautifully illustrated, The New Portuguese Table is a smart, delicious and highly personal travelogue through both memory and terrain.
For me, the proof of a good cookbook is the feeling that I must start cooking from it as I read. Leite’s book sent me to the kitchen after just a few pages to try his fried stuffed olives, a dish I came to love at a Portuguese-run hotel in Salvador da Bahia.
Then it was on to Alentejan-Style Pork with Clams (carne de porco a alentejana), a classic combination of pork, clams and potatoes in a cilantro-flavored broth. Grilled Chicken Breasts with Spicy Coconut Sauce, Leite’s version of a Mozambiquan dish spiced with devilish piri-piri peppers, was terrific, too.
For dessert I had to try his pasteis de nata, a well-known Portuguese sweet, and was grateful for the clear instructions and the tip on finding the right molds. I buy these golden baked custard tarts in Ironbound, the Portuguese community along Ferry Street in Newark, N.J., and enjoyed them warm from the oven in Macau, the former Portuguese colony in southern China.
In Leite’s book, you will not only find recipes that will whet your appetite but an endearing story of self-discovery that will send you to the kitchen — and perhaps to Lisbon to learn more about the new world of Portuguese cooking that we have been missing.
—Miami Herald, MCT
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