"How well can you tackle a classic dish from another culture? We're bypassing the French and Italian standards in favor of more challenging cuisines."
Being given practically the whole world to choose from is a tough decision. Of course, I'm quite familiar with various Asian cuisines, so I tried to stay away from the obvious. I thought about doing an African country, possibly Ethiopia, but wasn't quite sold. Then I went to Europe, and with already ruling out France and Italy, I wasn't left with anything that tickled my fancy. So then comes the Caribbean and North & South America... "there's potential there," I thought.
So desperately searching for inspiration to hit me, I turned to the Travel Channel website. More specifically, the No Reservations section. Who knows world food and culture better than the great Anthony Bourdain? Not many, that's for sure. So perusing around, I saw a little blip-it for an upcoming episode on the Azores. Okay... so raise your hand if you've heard of that part of the world. :::looking around::: Okay, not so many. Well, I'm in the same boat. I don't think I've ever heard of the Azores before, and what better reason to go out of my comfort zone and choose them?! And so a decision was made... well sort of. I had a culture, but now what to make?
Well what and where are the Azores?
Just a little bit of background: The Azores are a former territory of Portugal, so the cuisine and culture is highly influenced by Portuguese customs. They are made up of 9 different islands, pictured above. The Azores are also in very close proximity to North America (only a 4 hour flight from Boston!) so it has recently gained more popularity due it's amazing natural beauty (some believe that the Azores are the last remnant of the lost continent of Atlantis).
photo from http://toptraveldestinations.co.uk/
I could look at pictures of the Azorean islands all day, but we're here to talk about the food, right? And from what I gather, the food is just as amazing as the natural beauty of the islands. Described as more of a peasant-type food, the Azores use their natural bounty of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy from local cattle, and vast amounts of fish from the Sargasso Sea. Early settlers brought a huge bounty of produce to the islands such as fava beans, kale, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, yams, citrus, pineapples, etc.
One big tradition in the Azores and many other Portuguese-influenced countries, is the Portuguese Festa, or Portuguese Holy Spirit Festival. The festival is based on the popular belief that a visit from the Holy Spirit is what enabled Queen Isabel of Portugal to relieve her people's suffering and is the subject of several miraculous legends; according to one, the queen, smuggling food to the poor in midwinter, produced live roses from her robes when her husband, King Diniz, demanded to see what she was concealing.
A popular dish that is served for free (in honor of Queen Isabel's charitable spirit) during the Festa is sopas e carne (or beef soup). It's a humble dish that combines flavors of cinnamon, paprika, bay leaf, onions, and red wine to produce an amazing meal. Understanding the meaning of the sopas to the Azores and Portuguese culture is what made this the perfect choice for me and this challenge!
Adapted from this recipe
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 cinnamon stick
10 cups water
3 lb. chuck roast
3/4 cup red wine (I used a Shiraz)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 hot pepper, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 loaf of French bread, sliced
fresh mint sprigs
Bring the 10 cups of water to a boil in a large stockpot.
Place pickling spice and cinnamon stick in a cheesecloth and tie up. (I didn't have any cheesecloth available, and I was short on time to go running all over town to find some, so I improvised and used a coffee filter, and it worked out just fine!) Drop into boiling water and add chuck roast, wine, onion, hot pepper, and tomato sauce.
Bring mixture back to a boil and then lower heat to a steady simmer. Cover and let simmer for about 3 hours, or until meat is nice and tender. Season mixture with salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove spices in cheesecloth (or coffee filter!) from mixture. Remove chuck roast and place on cutting board, tenting the meat with aluminum foil. Let meat rest for about 5-10 minutes.
In a large serving bowl, place the french bread slices in an even layer. Place a couple sprigs of mint on top of bread and ladle in broth from soup over bread.
Thickly slice the meat and serve along with soup.
This meal is meant to be enjoyed family-style, experiencing the joy of sharing a meal with the ones you love!
As an added bonus, there is also a traditional custard tart that is usually served after many Azorean dinners. I just couldn't resist including it! You can find the recipe here. I pretty much followed it right on and the tarts turned out great!
I hope you enjoyed my rendition of a small culinary tour of the Azores! And if you liked it, I would be delighted if you would vote for me to advance in Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog! (link on the right also!) Thanks for reading and again, thanks for your support!