A magical Summer soup

September 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

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When we sat down for dinner in the beautiful esplanade of the Arraiolos Pousada, we expected good food and attentive service. We got much more than that. We were served a series of delicious dishes that harmonized perfectly with Alentejo wine and made us feel we were at the right place, at the right time.

The dinner started with two soups, a Summer cucumber soup, followed by a tomato soup with quail egg. We then had “migas” (an Alentejo specialty made with bread) with wild asparagus and lamb grilled with rosemary. The grand finale was a sampling of traditional convent desserts updated with great refinement.

We congratulated the chef, Elizabete Velez, who told us that she learned to cook with her mother and grandmother in a small village in Alentejo. She offered to give us the recipe for her delicious Summer cucumber soup because it is very easy to make. Here it is.

Elizabete Velez’s Summer cucumber soup

Get the very best cucumbers you can find. Peel them (this step is key because the peel is very bitter) and remove their seeds. Dice the cucumbers, season them carefully with salt, pepper, and great olive oil. Puree the mixture in a blender. Pour into small bowls, placing one or two ice cubes in each bowl. Garnish with toasted slivered almonds, small strips of cucumber peel, and Portuguese sausage (preferably from Alentejo!).

Imagine eating this soup in a warm Summer evening, as the sun sets over a grove of olive trees and the stars wait their turn to shine on the Arraiolos castle. It’s magical!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website.

Spending time at the Arraiolos Pousada

September 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Arraiolos CompositWhen you need to rest your body and nurture your soul, there is no place like Alentejo. It is a land of great natural beauty, blessed by the sun and far from the concerns of daily life.

One of our favorite places in Alentejo is the Arraiolos Pousada, a 16th century monastery that was converted into a wonderful hotel.

There’s a lot to do in the vicinity of the Pousada. You can take horseback-riding lessons, visit wineries, shop for the famous Arraiolos rugs, or do some sightseeing. But it is also great to relax in the spacious balconies that overlook the countryside or to seat by the pool, enjoying the view of the perfectly-round Arraiolos castle.

When we first arrived at the Pousada, we walked to our room through a sequence of hallways of different sizes that took us from light to shade and then back to light. This walk felt like an initiation rite. And indeed it was. Our stay at Arraiolos was an introduction to the art of enjoying the passage of time. We now need to return to continue our apprenticeship.

Click here for the Pousadas’ website.

Adega Mayor

August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Adega Mayor

If you’re a wine lover traveling in Alentejo, don’t miss the chance to visit a wonderful winery called Adega Mayor. It is located in Campo Maior, a region on Portugal’s border with Spain that was once the stage of fierce battles between the two countries.

Adega Mayor was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect who received the Pritzker prize. He is famous for his ability to create buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings. At Adega Mayor, he succeeded brilliantly. The winery is a subtle white accent on the Alentejo landscape, toped by a terrace with amazing vistas. It is extraordinary to sit on the terrace at sunset and watch the Alentejo sky painted with colors others skies can only dream of.

The wines of Adega Mayor are produced with immense skill and care. But they offer much more than technical perfection. They carry in them the soul of Alentejo.

We left Adega Mayor with a warm feeling of optimism. We saw ancient battle fields turned into peaceful vineyards that produce extraordinary wines.

Click here for Adega Mayor’s website.

Our favorite restaurant in Évora

August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

BotequimdaMouraria-Edit©

Our favorite restaurant in Évora, Botequim da Mouraria, seats only eight people and takes no reservations. There are no tables, everybody eats at the counter. Domingos Canelas, the restaurant’s owner, recites the menu, an endless list of delicacies that includes wild asparagus, eggs from blissful chicken, incredible prosciutto from Alentejo, luscious figs, briny clams, succulent fish and meat. In the kitchen, his wife Florbela cooks these ingredients with great skill and refinement. When Domingos brings the food he smiles, anticipating our enjoyment.

We asked him to select a wine from the restaurant’s amazing list. Instead of choosing an expensive bottle, he decided to impress us with a perfectly chilled white wine from Herdade Grande. “In Portugal,” he said, “you don’t need to spend much money to drink great wine.” And we agreed, marveling at the perfect harmony between the wine and the food.

During our leisurely lunch, many customers came to the door and left because there were no seats available. And yet, Domingos didn’t  try to rush us. “You need time to enjoy the food of Alentejo,” he said.

We asked whether he planed to expand the size of the restaurant. He answered without hesitation: “I can only maintain this quality if I stay small.” At Botequim da Mouraria small is wonderful.

Botequim da Mouraria is at Rua da Mouraria, 16-A in Evora, tel. 266-746-775, email: botequim.mouraria@sapo.pt.

Amazing produce

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Older people often complain that food doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Are they right or it is just that everything tastes better when we’re young? We can answer this question thanks to Herdade do Freixo do Meio, an Alentejo estate.

In 2001, the Herdade adopted organic production methods and planted old varieties of fruits and vegetables that were left behind by the industrialization of agriculture. They also started to raise black pigs, Barrosa cows, Alentejo turkeys, and other animals, letting them roam free. You can see and taste the amazing results by visiting their store in Lisbon’s Ribeira market.

When you try their products, you quickly realize that older people are right: food used to taste much better. The good news is that Herdade do Freixo is bringing that taste back!

Click here for the Herdade do Freixo do Meio web site.

Memories of a lost cheese

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Marcel Proust could vividly recall the taste and smell of his aunt’s madeleines. Those memories inspired his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.

Joana Garcia remembered the taste and smell of the cheese she ate as a child with her grandmother in Alentejo. Those memories inspired her to recreate that long-lost flavor. She quit her job as a lawyer, moved to Alentejo and bought 500 sheep. After trying endless combinations of milk, salt and cardoon, she found the taste of her youth. Garcia’s masterpiece is called Queijo Monte da Vinha. It is a delicious, soft, buttery cheese with the precious taste of a distant past.

You can try Queijo Monte da Vinha at the wonderful Tasca da Esquina restaurant in Lisbon. You can buy it at Mercearia Creativa, a gourmet grocery store where you’ll find many other great Portuguese products (Av. Guerra Junqueiro, 4A, Lisbon, tel. 218-485-198). Click here for the Monte da Vinha website.

A place of serenity

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

You can have an unforgettable vacation at Casas da Areia, a beautiful retreat on the margins of the Sado river, one hour south of Lisbon. Here, you can rent one of four fisherman huts built from local materials. They have striking African-inspired thatched roofs and impeccable minimalist design.

There are many pristine beaches close by. But, once you settle at Casas da Areia, you’ll probably just want to enjoy the magnificent vistas and bike around the gorgeous Sado estuary. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself talking to Christian Louboutin about the serenity of this place; he has a house nearby.

After staying at Casas de Areia, it’s hard to stop asking your friends “did I tell you about my unforgettable vacation in Portugal?”

You can find more information about Casas na Areia here.

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