The Portuguese concept of salad has very little to do with greens. When you go out to eat out in Lisbon or anywhere else in the country, you may come across side salads which are pretty standard, mixing some lettuce, tomatoes, onions and, at the most, shredded carrots or a couple of olives as garnish. Taking this into consideration, while observing that most of the typical Portuguese meals revolve around fish or meat with a generous amount of carbs, one may think that the Portuguese eat a very small amount of vegetables overall. That isn't particularly true, it's just that we tend to eat most of our veggies in the shape of a soup, a very common appetizer for lunch, which can also constitute a full meal for dinner, along with bread, maybe some cheese or cold cuts and little else.
Back to salads: we sure love them here in the country, but it just so happens that our most beloved and widespread salads are more about legumes and animal protein, mostly fish, than they are about the greens or vegetables. One exception to that would be salada de pimentos (pictured above), which is a cold salad made with assorted bell peppers, which are first roasted, then peeled and marinated, in some cases mixed with slivered onions. This is one of the most typical side dishes served with grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas), one of the most quintessential meals of Lisbon, and it never constitutes a meal per se. Salada de cenouras à algarvia, or simply cenouras à algarvia (see the image below), that is, carrot salad Algarve style, referring to the southernmost province of Portugal, is another welcome vegetarian salad, which involves straightforward boiled carrots, cooked until done but not too tender, in a marinade of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, paprika and fresh parsley.
Overall, for the Portuguese, it’s almost like traditional salads refer to cold dishes, often with a mix of ingredients and a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. If you want to learn how to make more complex traditional Portuguese recipes, we can’t wait to welcome you at Cooking Lisbon, where we teach the essentials of Portuguese cuisine, yet breaking down the recipes into easy steps even novice cooks can follow to achieve delicious results while, even more importantly, also having great fun in the process!
If for now you can’t visit us in Lisbon, or you are reminiscing about your trip to our country and would like to feed your nostalgia with some food perfect for summer, we have 3 typical Portuguese salad recipes you can comfortably make at home:
Meia desfeita de bacalhau | shredded salt cod and chickpea salad
We make it a point to translate the name of this Portuguese salad including the word shredded salt cod and not just salt cod, because the name in Portuguese means “half undone”, referring to the mess you are supposed to make when you toss the ingredients together. We're not talking about a mess in the kitchen, because this is a fairly straightforward recipe, but the ingredients aren’t supposed to be neatly arranged on the plate, but rather mixed in a rustic manner.
You can find meia desfeita de bacalhau a little all over the country, sometimes with the names salada de grão com bacalhau, or chickpea and salt cod salad, and even punheta de bacalhau, that is, salt cod hand job - yes, that hand job! But meia desfeita, as it’s colloquially referred to, is a typical dish from Lisbon, and it was already served in the city’s first taverns in the past century. It probably came about as a cold adaptation of a popular dish which brings together on a plate salad cod, chickpeas, potatoes, boiled eggs and lots of olive oil.
Grab these ingredients to turn your home into a proper Lisbon tavern, and invite 4 friends (or multiply accordingly):
800g of dry salted cod
400g (usually a can) of cooked chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
4 boiled eggs
Olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste
A handful of fresh parsley
Optional: 2 boiled potatoes and black olives
Meia desfeita de bacalhau recipe:
Cooking salt cod is a skill which the Portuguese have elevated to an art form. It’s not that it’s particularly complicated, but there are some techniques you should keep in mind in order to achieve fish that has the right texture and the correct levels of salt. Sat cod, as the name implies, is cured with salt. Prior to cooking it, you must desalt it and re-hydrate it, something that should always be done with the skin of the fish facing upward, as if you were to place a piece of cod in water with the skin on the lower side, this would prevent the salt from escaping the flesh and the water from going in. Some folks may even soak the cod in milk to achieve a smoother texture for this recipe, but we’re perfectly happy to do it with water, at least 2 days before making the actual recipe. You should change the water every 8 hours or so and, for the last round of soaking, you could then use milk without having to waste a lot of it. In Portugal, you can buy pre-soaked cod (bacalhau demolhado), which you’ll find in the frozen alleys of supermarkets.
Once desalted, boil your salt cod pieces. Boil as well the other ingredients you’ll need, namely the chickpeas (or used canned ones) and the eggs, as you will make use of all of these ingredients once they are cold. When the fish is cold, shred it carefully, removing skins and bones - you will end up with white fleshy flakes which will work beautifully once tossed with the other ingredients and the marinade.
Heat up some olive oil in a pan, and saute your slivered onion and chopped garlic. Once they have browned slightly, add in the shreds of cod and allow these flakes to become slightly golden around the edges.
Some people will finalize this dish as such, eating this cod salad warm, but as we want it as a summer treat, we will make sure everything cools down before adding the final touches - both variations are typical, so go down your preferred route depending on the day and mood.
To make the mess that meia desfeita calls for, mix in a big bowl you sauteed onions with the codfish, and season with a generous amount of olive oil, white wine vinegar (apple cider would also work, even if it’s not the traditionally used ingredient), salt, pepper and plenty of chopped fresh parsley. Cut up your boiled eggs into quarters, and top the salad with them. Alternatively, you can also roughly chop the eggs and mix them with the other ingredients.
There are other optional ingredients which would not be a sin to add to meia desfeita de bacalhau, namely boiled potatoes which help bulk up the salad and make it a more filling meal, or olives as garnish. Follow your heart, or your taste preferences, and enjoy!
Salada de feijão frade com atum | black-eyed peas and tuna salad
Even though this may not seem like the most typical Portuguese salad at a first glance, the truth is that it is a true staple in our country! Ask anyone around in the country, and chances are they'll confirm that this is indeed one of those go-to week-day meals which you can easily whip up with pantry staples, and which is particularly appreciated during the warmer months.
For sure, this black-eyed peas and tuna salad is a more modern Portuguese recipe, thanks to the abundance of canned goods on supermarket shelves. This one is a recipe you will very, very easily be able to make at home and, as long as you dress the ingredients as we would traditionally do here in Portugal, you’ll still be able to enjoy a bonafide Portuguese taste.
Make salada de feijão frade com atum for 4 people by first gathering:
400g (usually a can) of cooked black-eyes peas
350g of canned tuna
1 white onion
2 boiled eggs
A handful of fresh parsley
Olive oil, a little white wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice), salt and and pepper to taste
Make black-eyed peas and tuna salad Portuguese stye:
It couldn’t be simpler than this, really! Start by boiling the eggs and, once firm, allow them to cool down. Proceed to peel them.
In a bowl, toss together the boiled black-eyes peas and the shredded tuna.
The most manual labor you’ll have to do to prepare this recipe is to chop your onion and fresh parsley, which you should do into tiny pieces. Once this is done, you can add these ingredients into the bowl with the black-eyed peas and the tuna.
Season with olive oil, a little acid from lemon juice or white wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar would also work, if that’s what you already have at home), salt and pepper to taste.
Top with sliced or quartered boiled eggs (or you can chop them and mix them with every other ingredient, just like we optionally recommend doing with the salted cod salad above) and it's ready! This is a great meal to pack for a picnic or a day out at the beach.
Salada de polvo | octopus salad
If the recipes above consisted of a mix of a legume and a type of fish, this one now is all about the seafood! Salada de polvo, that is, chilled octopus salad, is one of the stereotypical appetizers you’ll often be suggested when sitting down to eat at a marisqueira, that is, a seafood dedicated Portuguese restaurant.
If you are unsure about the texture of octopus, or you have been unlucky to have been served tough octopus before, and that most likely did not happen in Portugal as this is an ingredient we care a lot about, trust us when we say octopus is not chewy. Properly cooked octopus is rather soft and fleshy, and you will be able to taste it when you prepare this octopus salad at home.
To make salada de polvo for 4, you will need the following ingredients:
1 octopus of about 1 Kg (aprox. 2 lbs), or 6 to 8 tentacles
1 bay leaf
50 ml (a little less than 1/4 cup) olive oil
50 ml (a little less than 1/4 cup) white wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
A handful of fresh parsley or coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Portuguese octopus salad recipe:
Boil the entire octopus or the tentacles until tender. You can do this in a pressure cooker for about 20 or so minutes, or in a regular pot with water, the bay leaf, an entire peeled onion and a drizzle of olive oil and salt, until fork tender. The octopus will lose a lot of water and shrink - this is normal. Keep an attentive eye on it as it will go from tough to tender from one moment to the next and, if you don't remove it from the heat then, it may again become tough. To increase your chances of a soft texture, we recommend using frozen octopus. You can buy it already frozen or purchase it fresh and freeze it at home yourself. Either way, once you have removed the octopus from the pot, drain it well and allow it to cool down.
Once the octopus is at room temperature, you may proceed to chop it into tiny pieces. As tiny or as big as you fancy, but use the photo of the final salad above as reference.
Wash your peppers and cup them into little cubes, about the same size that should be applied to the onion that is left.
Chop the fresh parsley (or, if you prefer, coriander) and the fresh garlic cloves, and mix these with all of the above ingredients in a big salad bowl.
Season with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled, really chilled, even better if you do so with some Portuguese vinho verde which will make for a scrumptious and refreshing meal!
If we have caught your attention to some of Portugal's most typical salads we would also love to awaken your curiosity for some of our more unusual yet very typical salads, which some would be quick to label as bizarre. We are talking about salads prepared with ingredients you won’t offen see featured in the mainstream cuisines of other countries.
Still within the realms of seafood, we would recommend for you to try salada de ovas (image above), that is, fish roe salad. Even though the species won’t normally be specified, we know that, generally speaking, it would involve hake roe. The roe sacs are boiled, chopped up, and marinated with the most usual of Portuguese condiments, olive oil and vinegar, along with some garlic, fresh herbs and, only in some cases, tiny little pieces of colorful red peppers too.
Because not every Portuguese salad could focus on fish, allow us to introduce you to salada de orelha (pictured above), which translates simply as ear salad. It refers to pig’s ears and it consists of the ears boiled until very soft, cut into tiny pieces and marinated with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. The cartilaginous feel of ears won’t be everyone's cup of tea, but those who are open to different textures, will find this one a treat. In fact, if you like salada de orelha, you may also want to try pézinhos de coentrada, which consists of a very similar recipe, which makes use of pork trotters instead of ears.
These are both old time appetizers which you will only find today in the most traditional of establishments, locally known as tascas.