The basis of the Algarve diet is typically Mediterranean, with a heavy incidence of seafood not only in coastal areas but also inland. Meat is a secondary ingredient in the diet, and the most frequently consumed types are pork, poultry, lamb and game.
Bread is served at every meal and is used as a base for many dishes. The most commonly used oil is olive oil and olives are eaten regularly, either as a starter or as a garnish.
Many of the herbs used flourish spontaneously in the region and have an important place in the eating habits of the populations together with some spices and other seasonings. Sweets, made with almonds and figs, are consumed in moderation; desserts mainly consist of fresh fruit. In the Algarve, as is generally the case throughout the Mediterranean, small amounts of wine are normally drunk with meals. The cuisine in these rural areas is very diverse, with vegetables, dried pulses and meats often being combined.
The cuisine in these rural areas is very diverse, with vegetables, dried pulses and meats often being combined. Meats were generally slow-cooked as stews so that the bones could easily be separated from the meat. Pulses and, finally, fresh vegetables would then be mixed into the dish, giving rise to a variety of different types of stews and casseroles.
Such traditional dishes are deeply-rooted in the rural Algarve since they provided the energy needed to work in the fields for long periods at a time, often from dawn till dusk. Snacks between meals would often consist of bread and olives, and small amounts of chorizo sausage.
Pulses, either fresh or dried depending on the time of year, were and still are consumed in large quantities. Broad beans are served with fried fish or chorizo sausage, while peas are normally served with poached eggs.
Pork assumed a position of particular importance since it is highly versatile and an excellent source of nutrients . The annual matança slaughter of the pig was a festive occasion for the entire family, with everyone lending a hand. Timing was important – normally between November and March – because this made it easier to conserve the meat, but the phases of the moon were also taken into account and a number of well-organised rituals would be followed too. Nothing would go to waste: the blood, fresh and salted meat, hams, choriços and other salami-style sausages, bacon and lard, among others, would all be used. The pig, therefore, was effectively the ideal pantry. It would be fed and fattened over the course of the year and would then provide food that would be consumed over the whole of the following year. However, the meat itself was only eaten in small quantities, often serving as a seasoning for dishes in which the main ingredients were vegetables and fresh or dried pulses.
Olive oil is firmly rooted in the diet, alongside onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic. The dried or fresh aromatic herbs, such as oregano, parsley, coriander, pennyroyal, mint and others subtly add aroma and flavour to dishes and also make them healthier since they help keep down the amount of salt added and also serve as an aid to digestion. Dishes made with pork are the most common, but game, which has always been abundant in this area, particularly hare and partridge, is also used regularly.
And then of course there is bacalhau! This dried and salted codfish is being used all over Portugal since ages, and also in the Algarve there exist many recipes with codfish. Christmas is traditionally a time where bacalhau is on the menu.
~~ RECIPES ~~
APETIZERS AND SNACKS
Carapaus alimados (silverside with lemon)
1 kg young carapaus - silverside (max 15 cm) onion, garlic, salt, extra virgim olive oil. Clean and gut the fish; remove the heads and tails; rinse and ... (read the complete recipe)
Caracóis (little snails)
Buy or search for 1 kg of fresh caracóis. The ultimate thing is of course to get up early and walk the countryside yourself in search of the small snails. ..... (read the complete recipe)
Açorda de bacalhau (bread soup with codfish)
Mix pieces of old bread, fresh coriander and fresh garlic in a large bowl. Boil water with salt, olive oil, fish bouillon, a little piri piri. Add pieces of bacalhao en simmer for 5 ...(read the complete recipe)
Chicken piri piri
250ml extra virgin olive oil, 150ml fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons), 4 garlic cloves, crushed 1 tbsp piri piri powder, 5 tsp paprika, 5 tsp ground cumin, 5 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp .... (read the complete recipe)
400 gr fresh, shelled fava beans (not too big!), 100 gr morcela (chourico), 80 gr bacon, mint leaves, parsley or coriander, salt. Put the fava beans into lightly salted boiling water, .... (read the complete recipe)
Perna de borrego na tacho (leg of lamb with garlic)
1 leg of lamb, 6 medium potatoes, 1 whole head of garlic, bay leaf, parsley, ground sweet pimiento, 1 clove, tomato purée, red wine .... (read the complete recipe)
DESSERTS AND CAKES
Figos Recheados or stuffed figs are a true Algarvean invention. Blanch 300 gr almonds in unsalted hot water. Peel off the skin and mix them into a fine grid (not a paste). Put the almonds in a ..... (read the complete recipe)
Bolo do Rei - Portuguese King's Cake
Bolo Rei is a traditional Portuguese sweet bread, with nuts and crystallized (candied) fruit, eaten at Christmas time and especially on 6 January, Kings' Day.....(read the complete recipe)
Folar de Páscoa - traditional Easter cake
The folar is a fancy bread, decorated with 2 or four boiled eggs. 400 gr flour, 15 gr fresh yeast, 45 gr caster sugar, 90 gr butter, 1 large egg, 300 ml milk .... (read the complete recipe)