Portuguese bar snacks
Peckish? Here’s some snack inspiration
Wednesday 02 March 2022
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If you’re vibing off all the Portuguese wine and sunny positivity emanating from this month’s Glug, why not take things a bit further? Have a Portuguese bar snack picky tea!
It’s easier than you might think to prepare a delicious array of petiscos — Portuguese tapas-like snacks that make every bar visit in the country a pleasure and a delight. Little salty, fatty, warmly-spiced snacks that pair beautifully with wine and beer, and are made to be shared. These aren’t big teatime dishes. They are small plates of wonder, to be picked at as you please, while you chat and laugh and sip and smile.
Fish feature heavily, as you might expect. Portugal has a deep love for fresh and preserved fish, and you won’t have to wander far in any Portuguese town to find it. Even inland, there is a connection to the ocean throughout the country that seems to bring the salty waves of the Atlantic closer through local wine, food, music and art.
Vegetables are a Portuguese favourite too — hurray! Vegan options! And if you’re not feeling hot food, you can always serve up a cold plate of local cheeses, cured meats, olives and dips. Are you hungry yet? Let’s get into some menu planning.
Food writer David Leite has a wonderful recipe for an eggless green olive dip on his website “Leite’s Culinaria”. In it, he suggests using whole milk, anchovies, coriander, garlic and whole green olives, which are chopped roughly and stirred into the whipped sauce at the end.
Some recipes call for cream cheese, and you could always leave out the anchovies to make it vegetarian, or use a plant milk of the same consistency as whole milk (perhaps almond milk with a touch of coconut cream) to make it vegan.
Or, if you fancy something a little creamier, Feijão white bean dip is the one for you! Popular in Brazil made with black beans, for a more authentic Portuguese recipe use white beans like butter or cannellini (tinned is fine) and use two cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of parmesan, and a hefty grabful of parsley. Of course, swap out the parmesan for nutritional yeast and a little bit of vegan parm if you like. Literally all you do is blend it all together and put it in the fridge until you want to eat it with bread and a squeeze of lemon. Gostoso!
Traditionally, this mini-meal is a little dish of meaty delights — a serving of a stew made up from various types and cuts of meat, vegetables and pickles.
The Pica-Pau’s base sauce is made from beer, and while it is a tradition to use pork and beef, I really don’t see why you couldn’t use quorn pieces, chunky veg like potatoes and cauliflower, seitan or even tofu. In the 15-1600s, Portugal was enforcing its hold on its spice trade during its wide-reaching colonisation of Asia, and some of the first Europeans to reach China and Japan were Portuguese, influencing food in the country from then on (and we’ll go into a really famous example of that next). So yeah, I say use tofu if you want.
The pickles used in Pica-Pau, by the way, are “molho cru” — a condiment found on the table with almost every main meal in the country. It’s fresh and zingy, and made with onion, coriander, pepper, saffron, parsley, water and vinegar.
Tempura Green Beans
A bar snack fave in Portugal, tempura green beans or peixinhos da horta are moreish, crispy, juicy, salty and everything you need.
Remember when I said Japanese and Portuguese cuisines had a little bit of overlap? Here’s the most well-known example. The Portuguese colonisers and traders were Catholic, and part of the Catholic tradition at that time was to refuse meat on Fridays. Eating vegetables was a lot more interesting when it was deep-fried (what isn’t?) and this cooking technique became a trend in 16th century Japan via Portuguese settlements in Nagasaki.
The name “tempura” literally comes from the word “tempora”; the name of “Ember day” fasting that happens four times a year in the Western Christian church — St Lucy’s Day, the first Sunday in Lent, Pentecost, and Holy Cross Day. Holy moly. Bet you didn’t know that.
Anyway, religion aside, peixinhos da horta are absolutely banging and you should make some.
Salt cod is incredibly important in Portuguese cuisine. These little frittery-croquettey bites of fluffy potato heaven are ideal with salty Vino Verde, and they make an excellent drinking snack to share with friends.
It’s a little difficult but not impossible to snare yourself some bacalhau in the UK — try specialist food retailers or ask your local fishmonger. But if you’re really struggling, nobody will judge you for using fresh cod and adding salt to the recipe, or buying saltfish from the supermarket, which is actually pollock and usually destined for Caribbean recipes. It’ll work fine.
If you manage to find some bacalhau, soak it overnight before you use it. Then, simmer for 20 mins, let it cool a little (so’s you don’t scald your fingers) and remove the bones. Flake it into mashed potato and add chopped parsley and eggs. The mixture should be quite stiff — add milk if you need to. Put it in the fridge to stiffen further and then after half an hour or so, mould little patties or croquettes out of the mixture and deep fry. Congratulations. You are now obsessed with salt cod.
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