Portuguese Fava Feast

By / Food / August 21st, 2012 / 3

Round about the time that Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter was enthusiastically dining on a census taker’s liver with “some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” I was sucking up fava bean lore from an affable Portuguese gardener called Miguel, who preferred to pair his beans with gentler fare.

Miguel, his wife Maria, other Miguels, Manuels, Marias and I, were part of a complement of a hundred or so amateurs and professionals who grew favas, other vegetables, and a flurry of flowers in a community allotment garden in the southeast corner of Richmond, BC. We grew fare to feed our families, and flowers to adorn our homes. And the growing of these things, in the rich soil of the Fraser River delta, was also food for the soul.

If you’ve ever lived in a strata title development, you will know of the challenges that close-proximity living can bring. Allotment gardens are the same, except that in these earthen “condos without walls,” you learn to love your gardening neighbours — or you pick up your shovel, go home, and buy your veggies at the supermarket.

For no other reason than they were wonderful people who knew an awful lot about growing things, I loved my garden neighbours, attempted to emulate their skills, and over the seasons, welcomed them into my life as friends.


Almost all my neighbours were Portuguese. Not from mainland Portugal, that western snout of Europe, but from the Azores, a fascinating group of islands that pokes up from the depths of the Atlantic, some 1500 km west of the mainland. Whether it was from memories born of centuries fishing for Grand Banks cod — another 4000 km to the west! — or simply because they have always been people who sought wider horizons, the Portuguese have often found new homes in Canada. You may know some where you live, tasted their food, and been captivated by their generous personalities.

The Manuels and Miguels grew favas, and other beans that climbed up tall, expertly constructed towers. They grew potatoes and brassicas that, like the favas, over-wintered in the allotment, and were harvested the following year. The essential tool of the Azorians was a broad blade affixed to a short handle. It is amazingly versatile, and most effective for just about anything that needs doing. They “double dug” the garden rows, seeming always to create easy order from nature’s seasonal chaos. And when the time came, their harvests were huge — barrowloads of beans to take home for drying and cooking all winter long. The same for spuds, cabbage, kale and vine-ripened tomatoes, all veggies they would have grown back in the Azores.

Between crops we would talk of tongue-tingling peri peri chilli, killer garlic, soups, stews, and all the seafood that is so much part of the healthy Portuguese diet. And when nobody was looking, we would share drafts of homemade red wine from a four-litre bottle, listen to the red-wing blackbirds, and praise nature’s generosity.

chouriço kale soup
Serves 6
Long-time friend Mary was born in Portugal, lives in Toronto, and for years has administered the marketing for a very successful Canadian restaurant company. These days, she doesn’t cook a lot of home-country food, but says that cod dishes, green soup, corn bread, custards and coconut cake quickly come to mind. Her green soup recipe, she says, is “fairly standard.” The chouriço, or chorizo, in combination with the greens, makes it different and special. Thank you Mary!

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
10 oz chouriço, diced
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups cold water
1 lb collard greens or kale, cut very fine julienne style
Salt and pepper, to taste

  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent.
  • Add the garlic and half the chouriço, and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes, cover everything with the water, bring to a boil and lower the heat, simmering until the potatoes are almost done, about 15 minutes.
  • When the soup is cool enough to handle — and if you like it a little chunky — gently mash the potatoes. If you prefer no lumps, purée it in a food processor and return to the pot.
  • Add the collard greens, bring everything back to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and garnish with the remaining cubes of chouriço. Serve with slices of corn bread.


fava beans with a portuguese-style sauce
Serves 6
No credit to Hannibal Lecter on this one. I found John Pacheco’s recipe at allrecipes.com, where you may wish to spend some web time.

5 tbsp olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 cups hot water
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 cans fava beans (19 oz)

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until golden brown.
  • Stir in red pepper flakes, tomato sauce, hot water, parsley, salt, pepper and paprika.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Gently stir in fava beans.
  • Remove from heat and let stand for several minutes to allow flavours to meld.

Dare we suggest a nice Chianti?

portuguese paella
Serves 4 to 6
With the bounty of the Atlantic out there to the west and south, it was a natural for the Portuguese to be seafood-eating people. Not from just around their shores, but (years ago) from as far away as the Grand Banks, where cod was caught and salted for the journey home. Combine seafood with chicken and other tastes from the land, it’s paella. I snaffled this recipe from food.com. A great mélange of flavours, one of which is the earthy and gorgeous saffron.

6 skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lb)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
3/4 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp canola oil
1 link Portuguese chouriço, sliced in rounds
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice or 1 1/2 cups other medium grain rice
1/2 cup diced plum tomatoes
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup asparagus, cut diagonally
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

  • Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  • Sprinkle chicken with rosemary, 1/2 tsp salt, and black pepper. Heat oil in a large ovenproof nonstick skillet or paella pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add chicken; cook for 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.
  • Remove chicken from pan; cover and keep warm. Add chouriço and cook until lightly browned. Add onion and bell pepper; cook for 7 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add rice, tomato, paprika, saffron and garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Return chicken to pan. Add broth and 1/4 tsp of salt; bring to boil. Wrap handle of pan with foil, cover pan, bake at 400°F for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in shrimp, asparagus, and peas. Cover and bake an additional 5 minutes or until shrimp are no longer translucent.

portuguese custard tarts
No matter where you go in Portugal, you’ll find these delectable little darlings. Rich? Any recipe that includes six egg yolks is rich. But you’ll only be eating one or two at a time of the dozen that you bake. One of the Marias at the allotment garden used to bring her custard tarts to the garden. We’d have them with tea from a thermos.

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup milk
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup white sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks

  • Preheat oven to 375˚F.
  • Lightly grease 12 muffin cups and line bottom and sides with puff pastry.
  • In a saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla bean. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Place egg yolks in a medium bowl.
  • Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of hot milk mixture into egg yolks. Gradually add egg yolk mixture back to remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly.
  • Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Remove vanilla bean.
  • Fill pastry-lined muffin cups with mixture and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is lightly browned on top.
  • It may not be totally Portuguese, but on occasion, I have sprinkled brown sugar onto the tarts when they have cooled, then melted it under the broiler.

Fortify your tart experience with a sip or two of Port!


Our West Coast wordsmith Duncan Holmes likes to cook all parts of the meal—hot and cold apps for the eyes; big, generous mains, where timing, color and taste come together on sparkling, white plates—and there’s always enough for seconds. But it’s at dessert time when he really shines. Not with precious fancy dancy, but with a melt-in-your-mouth-pastry apple pie. Granny Smiths, of course, and French vanilla ice cream.

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