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Portugal in a Pot


by Robin Benzle


It was late in the day, we were tired and hungry, and there Eric and I were - driving around Northern Portugal in the Douro Valley, up grass green mountains neatly terraced with vineyards, and down along the riverbank - past scatterings of red-tiled houses and one-street villages.  With no reservations.  So, we pulled up alongside a Portuguese man by the side of the road with a beret and walking stick and said, “Quarto (room)?”  


“Ah,” he acknowledged, “Cinco kilometers.”


So we drove five kilometers but there was no inn.  Just a few houses and a man with a beret and a walking stick.  “Quarto?”, we asked.  He pointed further down the narrow road and told us cinco kilometers.  We drove.  No inn.  Ran into another man with a beret and a walking stick.  Did the quarto bit.  He did the cinco kilometer bit.  We drove.  Nothing.  Man.  Beret.  Walking stick.  Five.  Zip.  Ditto. Twice.  I’m not kidding.


It became blatently obvious that the Portuguese were playing a joke on the Benzles and all those capped men had cell phones and were calling each other, giggling and saying, “Those Americans should be rounding the bend any minute.  Keep telling them five kilometers!”


But, as it turned out, we didn’t have to sleep in a compact car and eat breath mints for dinner.  We ended up at a chalet-like inn built into the side of a mountain (for twenty-five bucks).  Our room had big wooden shutters that opened up to a view that looked like an expensive oil painting; endless lush mountains, fragrant blossoming almond trees,  and the river sparkling like stars below us.  An evening mist was rolling in through the valley when we headed downstairs to the small wooden bar with its own wine cellar.  We drank wine from a bottle with no label and feasted on the best meal in the entire world.  Or at least within cinco kilometers.



(Portuguese Bread Soup)


6 - 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

     2 tablespoons olive oil

     6 cups good chicken stock

  1/4 cup white wine vinegar

  1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

  1/2 cup fresh cilantro (Italian parsley), coarsely


     4 thick slices light European seedless rye bread

    (sour dough may be substituted)

     4 poached eggs


In a large saucepan, sauté garlic in olive oil two minutes.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, add vinegar and salt and pepper and simmer 20 minutes, partially covered.  (This is a good time to make poached eggs.)  Stir in cilantro and cook 5 minutes more.  For each serving:  Tear bread slice into bite sized pieces in soup bowl.  Ladle soup over and top with a poached egg.  Serves 4.



(Pork with Cumin)


2/3 cup flour

  3 tablespoons ground cumin

  1 teaspoon ground white pepper

  2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup olive oil

  2 large onions, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 - 3 lb. boneless pork roast, cut into 1” cubes

  2 cups dry white wine


In large bowl, mix together flour, cumin, pepper and salt.  Set aside.


In a large skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onions until golden.  With slotted spoon, remove to a dish.  Dredge pork pieces in flour mixture and in same skillet, brown lightly, turning to cook evenly.  Add wine and cooked onions and bring to a boil.  Simmer, covered, one hour.  Serve with boiled potatoes or rice, and maybe some fresh tomatoes or nice green vegetables.  Serves 4 - 6.



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