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Detox Portuguese style:recipes perfect for eating light after the holidays

The December holidays, which on our side of the world focus mostly on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, are infamous for the amount of food and drinks consumed. Don’t get us wrong: we sure love it! But when January rolls around, we’re typically in need of a little detox, if nothing else so that we can give our body some rest and get it ready for other celebrations which happen during the rest of the year. 


Traditional Portuguese Christmas food isn’t particularly heavy when it comes to main dishes, but we sure go to town when it comes to holiday desserts. Fried dough covered in sugar is the usual profile of our holiday sweet dishes and, after having one too many of those fritters (fritos de Natal), usually paired with a glass or two of Portuguese fortified wine such s Port, it can be a good idea to give preference to lighter meals. 


If you’d like to join us on a little January detox, yet enjoying some bonafide Portuguese flavors, we’d love to share with you some national recipes which may be lighter when it comes to calories, yet are flavorful and have lots of national soul!


These are some of Portugal’s best healthy recipes:



STARTER:



Açorda Alentejana

Alentejo soup with bread and poached egg


​​Açorda is much more than a regular soup. This dish, which could honestly be enjoyed both as a starter or even as a light main meal, mostly consists of broth poured over thick slices of rustic bread, would be closer to a stew than to a typical soup. Açorda has lots of Portuguese personality and a strong Alentejano character. It was developed way back in the day in the Alentejo region to the south of Lisbon, which has one of the most acclaimed Portuguese regional cuisines, deeply rooted in peasant cooking and low waste principles, with notable Moorish influences. 


Not only is açorda extremely comforting on a cold day, it is easy to prepare and, furthermore, it’s a beautiful way of repurposing old bread you may already have at home drying on the counter. It makes good use of the simplest ingredients and it is easily customizable according to your taste or what’s in your pantry.



To make ​​açorda for 4 people, you’ll need:

1.5l water

4 Tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves

A handful of fresh coriander

Coarse salt to taste

400g of rustic bread (a loaf of Alentejano bread would be ideal, but any wheat loaf, such as a good sourdough, would do - make sure it’s a couple of days old)

4 eggs


Let’s prepare ​​açorda Alentejana:

Start by bringing the water to a boil in a pot.

You’re going to make a very simple broth, flavored with coriander and garlic. For this, you must make a rough paste smashing the garlic, coriander and salt. It’s important to use coarse salt versus fine salt, as the salt crystals will help crush the other ingredients. We suggest starting with about 1 tsp of salt and later on you can adjust the seasoning to taste. If you have a mortar and pestle, it would be ideal to do this. Otherwise, chop everything as finely as you can on your chopping board and, with the back of your knife, mash the ingredients as much as possible. Working everything together on a blender or spice grinder could also work, but we like the rusticity of doing this by hand way better.

Pour this aromatic blended mix on a deep bowl, add the olive oil and pour in the boiling water. Our broth is already done! Taste it and make sure it is OK for your taste salt wise. If at this point you’d like to add more salt, make sure it is fine so that it can easily dissolve.

Meanwhile, poach 4 eggs in water with a little vinegar.

Cut the bread into slices: it could either be one big slice per plate, several small slices, or even chunks pulled apart by hand. Make sure there’s a good ratio between bread and broth, but this would also depend on the kind of dish you end up using. Favor a deep plate for soup versus a bowl, as this would give you more bottom space for the bread to sit on. 

To serve, pour the desired amount of broth over the slices of bread, allowing it to soak, and top with a poached egg. If you’d like to, you can decorate with some more chopped fresh coriander.

To turn this starter into a main meal, you could also poach some fish into your ​​açorda. Here in Portugal, salted cod (aka bacalhau) would be the most commonly used fish, but any other white fish filet you can have access to and like could also work!



MAIN DISH:



Bifes de atum com molho vilão do Açores

Tuna steak with vilão sauce from the Azores


We feel that when we write and read about Portuguese food, we’re most of the time focusing on the regional cuisines you’ll find across mainland Portugal. Now it so happens that the Portuguese territory also includes two archipelagos in the Atlantic ocean, the Azores and Madeira. All the islands contained in both archipelagos have extremely rich cuisines and make excellent use of locally grown produce and animal protein, not only pasture fed beef, but also bountiful seafood, as it would be expected when we talk about islands.


The cuisine of Azores is typically simple, making the most of fresh ingredients. Tuna fish caught around here is of the highest quality, and as this is an ingredient you will most likely be able to find wherever you are in the world, we’d love to share with you a fairly light yet deeply flavorful tuna recipe, paired with a typical sauce from the islands, which will take the fish to the next level.



Ingredients for 4 servings of tuna steak:

4 tuna steaks

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 Tbsp olive oil (just enough to coat your grill or skillet)



Ingredients for vilão sauce:

2 medium onions

2 garlic cloves

10 Tbsp olive oil 

5 Tbsp white wine vinegar

1 large bunch of parsley

Optional: 2 Tbsp pickles (such as gherkins)


As molho vilão translates into villain sauce, one would almost assume it is going to be spicy. This is a strongly flavored condiment indeed, but it isn't hot. It is garlicky, herby and pungent, and thus perfect to pour atop grilled fish, such as tuna, but not only. To prepare vilão sauce you simply have to very finely chop all of the above ingredients and mix them together. The amount of oil and vinegar will help preserve the freshness of the sauce, which you can easily make in advance and store in the fridge for at least a few days. In fact, it is advised to make it at least a couple of hours before you plan to use it, to allow for the flavors to develop.


When the right time comes, grilling fresh tuna couldn’t be easier! We recommend lightly grilling it on both sides, versus cooking it all the way through until the brightly read meat turns gray all the way in. By not overcooking the tuna, you’ll get to enjoy a much more flavorful and succulent steak.


Season the tuna steaks with salt and pepper to taste on each side.


Preheat your skillet or grill until it is really hot - the least amount of time the fish spends on the grill the better, as this will result in juicer steaks. Once hot enough, place the steaks on the heat, about a couple of minutes per side, or less, depending on how well you tolerate and like medium raw fish. If you are a fan of sushi, remember you can simply char these for a minute or less on each side, but the amount of time would also depend on the thickness of the cuts you are using.


Once both the fish and the sauce are ready, serve the tuna, pour the room temperature sauce over your grilled steaks and bring the extra sauce to the table so that everyone can dig in for more if they like it - and we sure hope they do!


We recommend serving the tuna steaks with boiled potatoes and steamed vegetables of choice or, for a more Azorean flavor, with boiled sweet potatoes or yam instead.


Tip: if you don’t have access to fresh tuna steaks, molho vilão is wonderful for other types of fish too and it can even elevate a simple can of tuna to the next level - try it and let us know via Instagram how you liked it!



DESSERT:



Requeijão com doce de abóbora e nozes

Cottage cheese with pumpkin jam and walnuts


Requeijão is a Portuguese type of cottage cheese, very similar to ricotta. It isn’t generally too salty, and thus makes it a perfect choice of dairy creamy product to use in many typical desserts in our country, such as queijadas, one of the most iconic pastries from Sintra.


This is one of Portugal’s go-to desserts, which we can normally easily prepare at home with ingredients which we already have in the fridge and the pantry, when we crave a little something sweet. You may not exactly have access to Portuguese requeijão, but any other soft and not overly salty fresh cheese would do. You simply have to cut a portion which matches your hunger or, better yet, cravings, and pour a delicious but not too sugary pumpkin jam on top. 


Ingredients to make about 500g of Portuguese style pumpkin jam:

350 fresh pumpkin

200 granulated sugar

30g fresh orange juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove


How to make doce de abóbora:


Peel the pumpkin and remove the seeds and filaments on the inside. Cut it into small pieces, rinse it with water and place in a pan.


Add the orange juice, sugar and cinnamon stick and cook on low flame uncovered. Stir every now and then, to make sure nothing is sticking. 


When the jam starts to crystallize, add the clove and stir constantly until it reaches the desired point. You will know when it has the typical consistency of a jam, yet with some nice chunks for texture. These will be noticeable but should obviously be tender enough to be enjoyable.


Turn off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick and clove from the jam, and allow it to cool down. Once at room temperature, you can use it for this dessert of requeijão com doce de abóbora, but the amount which this recipe yields is certainly more than what you’ll want to use for a few servings of this dessert. Store it in the fridge as it is for about a week or, if you’d like to keep it for longer, you can also preserve it inside sterilized dry jars.


Assemble this dessert by platting some cheese, serving it with some pumpkin jam on top, and some crushed walnuts for a little crunch. If you prefer, some toasted unsalted almonds, preferably slivered, would also work well. This is a very versatile dessert and, even though it does contain sugar, it is way healthier and nutritionally more interesting than most other desserts. So… enjoy!




What kinds of dishes are you preparing this January? If you’re looking to learn more typical Portuguese recipes, join our cooking classes in Lisbon and follow us on Instagram for regular kitchen and food culture tips! #cookinglisbon 


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COOKING LISBON

Cooking Lisbon

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​1150-068 Lisboa, Portugal

(+351) 916 047 883

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