As I do in nearly every country, I signed up to take a cooking class here in Portugal. It’s no secret how much I love to cook especially using local, fresh ingredients – and how much I love to eat too!
Here in Lagos it was a special day to be able to visit the New Forest Lodge with my son Erik. He also enjoys cooking and together we spent the day about 30 minutes drive outside of Lagos in the hills above the city.
One of the things I find most interesting about these classes I take is meeting local people and often meeting them in their own homes. At the New Forest Lodge we spent the day with Frances a transplant from England and her son-in-law Milton a Portuguese. Their family began offering cooking classes about 8 years ago and also have three rooms available at the lodge. Additionally they offer horseback rides throughout the region.
Well I am not a horse person, but I definitely like to cook, so a day in the kitchen and in front of the wood burning oven was enjoyable, despite the 85 degree Portuguese summer temperatures.
We started with a trip to the small Mercado in Aljezur, about a 15 minute drive. The fish and produce here were beautiful. However the only item we purchased was fresh sardines. The rest of our produce would come from the New Forest Lodge gardens.
Back in the kitchens Milton had the wood burning oven at optimal heat and we began by creating four different kinds of breads; breadsticks, pumpkin bread, chorizo wrapped crescents and olive and sundried tomato wheat bread.
Midday we took a break and ate the breadsticks with a delicious and healthy dip made from sweet potato, chilies, lime and garlic.
We spent the rest of the day preparing and cooking a delicious layered dish with the Portuguese favored bacalhau (salt Cod) that included onions, peppers, potatoes and cream and nutmeg then cooked in the wood burning oven. We then prepped and cooked prawns, and a prawn stock, both of which went into the Arroz de Camarao.
We also made Paneer cheese (yes like you would have in an Indian restaurant) which was very simply made just from milk and lemon juice then hung in cheesecloth to drip all the moisture out.
The beautiful sardines we got at the market were salted and left to sit for about an hour. The salt makes it so the skin can be easily removed after cooking. Then the sardines were grilled over an open flame – this ended up being Erik’s job with the help of Milton (Note Milton’s Seattle t-shirt he bought at a flea market).
While Erik was at the grill fellow student Emma was making the rice and I was prepping a tomato salad with some of the loveliest tomatoes I’ve ever seen. We finished the tomato salad by crumbling the finished paneer over it and dousing with olive oil.
We took a stroll around the garden where many beautiful and familiar items were flourishing like peppers, zucchini, pumpkins and tomatoes in addition to some items I wasn’t familiar with. The cute little cucamelon tastes like a cucumber and looks like a tiny watermelon. Cho Cho looks like a green gourd and tastes like a cucumber and Lovage looks like dill and tastes like celery.
The fruits of our labor were enjoyed at the end of the day with a spectacular feast, lots of vino verde (a delicious local summer wine) and finishing with Tarte da Nata a light and fluffy famous Portuguese dessert made simply from cream, condensed milk and a cookie crust similar to graham crackers
We enjoyed cooking with our new friends Maureen and Emma from South Africa and spending the day with Francine and Milton on the family unique little homestead. I recommend the day of cooking course at New Forest Lodge if you are in Lagos. If you are a horse lover, that part of the business looked fun too.
And by the way I learned two really cool facts during this excursion- Portugal used to be a major producer of wine corks. We saw how cork trees grow and how cork is harvested. With the advent of artificial corks and screw tops the world e cork market took a dive. Today Portuguese cork production has diversified into shoes, handbags and trivets . In addition I learned how pine nuts come from a specific low growing rounded pine tree, that is both cultivated and grows wild here in southern Portugal. The pine cones are heated to open them and release the valuable little nut inside, so that you can have your lovely pesto!
So my day was very educational. I’m ready to head to the local fish monger now, because I’m pretty sure the preparation we used on the sardines could be done on many different fish. And I definitely need to make the bacalhau dish. I loved that.
So once again it was a great day and worth every penny. It ticked all the boxes that are important to me: meet locals, meet other traveling foodies, learn local culture, eat and cook fresh and local ingredients.
A fabulous day!