Portugal is generally known for its piri-piri chicken, fresh seafood and pastel da nata. All considered to be ‘soul food’ of the country - and for good reason. If you find the right chicken shop, seafood restaurant or local bakery you can experience local chefs and bakers putting their passion into their food.
I had the pleasure of catering for this year’s run of Soul & Surf Pop-ups in Portugal.
As a chef and as someone who, in general, is obsessed with food, I felt like I wanted to offer a different perspective on what could be considered ‘Soul Food’ and how there can be something incredibly special about connecting with the origin of your food.
When I entered Soul & Surf villa, I was immediately drawn to the fruit trees in the garden. Lemons, oranges, avocados and loquat (also known as a Japanese plum) all growing at their own pace and pleasure. It reminded me that being able to pick and eat fruit straight from the tree is potentially quite a rare thing to experience in the world we live in today.
Wherever I am in the world I try to cook and create from the local produce I’m surrounded by. For me there is so much more joy in eating fruit and vegetables that are in their prime and grown in the country you are standing in. I think we can all agree coconut water tastes ten times better sipping it out of the fresh shell bought from your local coconut stall in India in comparison to pouring a glass from a tetra-pak carton in the UK. For me, the same applies for all edible plants and regardless of where you are in the world; eating locally and seasonally is the best way to enjoy fruit and vegetables.
What I love about Portugal is that there’s a real honoring of the seasons. It’s easy to notice the abundance of local Portuguese produce in the supermarket aisles, and the changes throughout the year: July brought cherries; in September, watermelon, peaches and pomegranates; November it was persimmons, apples and oranges and January will bring avocados and lemons.
I thought I would give you a typical day on one of the Soul & Surf Portugal pop-ups, with some of the food I prepared for our guests and team.
Because the surf in Portugal is dependent on the tides, we served breakfast before heading to the beach. I wanted to provide a filling but simple meal to start the day; something to give a boost of energy and protein to sustain the next few hours of paddling and popping up.
Bircher Muesli with pumpkin & chia seeds served with seasonal fresh fruit salad.
Warm freshly made Portuguese bread from the local bakery with homemade berry jam.
I made raw energy balls to bring to the beach to keep that surf buzz going. Guest favourites included Lemon Coconut, Peanut Butter Chocolate or Date & Tahini. Depending on the time of year, I also brought fresh oranges from the garden trees.
Then it’s back to the villa for lunch. I liked to provide the guests with a colourful spread that would satisfy that post-surf hunger without being too heavy - so we weren’t too sleepy for the yoga class later.
Herby Baked Falafel, Pea & Mint Hummus, Pickled Red Cabbage, Buckwheat Tabbouleh,
Green Leaves with Mixed Seeds, and a Tahini Cream.
After a yoga class and a dip in the pool, it’s dinner time. In true Soul & Surf style we had our own pizza night, making stone-baked pizza in the villa’s outdoor oven. I’d put out a few big bowls of salads which could be plated up with our stone-baked garlic bread and a variety of pizzas straight from the oven, allowing everyone to dig in and share.
Variety of Stone-Baked Pizzas
Stone-Baked Garlic Bread
Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower, Flaked Almonds, Pomegranate and Parsley
Green Leaves with Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumber & Lemon Dressing
To finish the day, dessert of course! During the summer, I would make Homemade Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream and Chocolate Cookies and in the darker months of October and November, Warm Apple Pastries with Custard seemed more suitable.
I loved being part of this season of Portugal pop-ups: being part of someone’s holiday and providing food that helped them feel healthy, happy and fuelled to dive into a full-on week of surfing and yoga. In day to day life, it’s so easy to neglect what you eat and often we end up just eating for survival or out of convenience. It’s great to offer people a chance to reconnect with what is on their plate and let them notice how good they feel when they eat nutritious, wholesome, soulful, seasonal food.
To follow Mhairi's adventures with food all over the world, catch her on Instagram at Rooted.ByNature