How Portugal's greens changed Japanese cuisine
Portugal the Cookbook tells a surprising tale about tempura
In Portugal: The Cookbook chef and author Leandro Carreira not only records some of his nation’s greatest recipes; he also offers a little insight into the ways in which various dishes and techniques first took root in this outward looking nation on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula.
Consider the practice of cooking with oil. Olive oil use predates the arrival of the Phoenicians in Portugal, about 3,000 years ago. However, Phoenicians did introduce the active cultivation of olive trees and other uses for olive oil.
Arabian invaders conquered Spain and Portugal during the early 700s, bringing new foods. As Carreira writes, “the Moorish technique of dredging in flour and deep-frying in oil was perfect for preparing red mullet, sardines, mackerel and small eels, a practice that persists to this day.”
Islamic rule in Portugal ended in the thirteenth century, but that combination of flour and oil remained. In particular, Portuguese Catholics favoured battered, fried vegetables, which were often eaten during fasting periods, when meat was forbidden.
As Portuguese trading routes fanned out across the globe, so did the nation’s culinary techniques, and as Carreira writes, battered foods, now referred to as tempura, "were actually introduced to the Japanese in the 16th century, when three Portuguese merchants were the first Europeans to arrive in Japan. It has been a staple of Japan’s cuisine ever since.” He goes on, “The word ‘tempura’ comes from the Latin word ‘tempora’, referring to times of fasting.”
Today, in Porgtugal, a dish of battered, fried green beans is called peixinhos da horta, or ‘little fish of the garden’, and is served as an appetizer in both family restaurants and in Portuguese homes; it is no longer restricted to fasting days, but remains a reminder of the county’s far reaching food ways. You can get the full recipe, which involves first blanching the beans in boiling water for 30 seconds, before cooling them in ice water, covering them in a milk-and-flour batter, and deep frying them in sunflower oil, in Portugal: The Cookbook. To find out more and order your copy go here.