Although it was only in the beginning of March, the evening was warm but exceptionally pleasant. We (group of eleven people) were gathering in the front of a high-rise building, where we were going to have dinner at a supper club runs by a Macanese lady, Maria Couto at her home in the old part of Macau city, not far from my parent’s apartment where I grew up. She is a native Macanese whose mother is Cantonese and father is Portuguese. She is a home cook specialises in traditional Macanese cooking. Karen and my other sister Lily had been to Maria’s private dinner and they both impressed by her cooking. So they thought it would be special for us to enjoy some ‘home cooking’ instead of going to a restaurant as usual. Like many other who heard of Maria, who was also featured in editorial in several local newspapers and magazines regarding her supper club, would reserve an evening there, dining privately with splendid homemade Macanese food.
Mixed feelings flooded in when I stepped into that very building where I used to frequent as a teen because one of my friends from school lived there at the time. We often hang out after school and at weekends, we would go swimming together in the communal pool inside the complex. We walked pass a poorly lit semi outdoor space to the reception area where we were greeted by a middle-aged porter in his uniform. It sounded fancy but it is quite usual to have a porter for high-rise residence in Macau. We arrived at the 28th floor and a lady with her grey hair neatly tight into a pony tail opened the door when we rang the bell. The smell of rich tomato stew, roasted meat and olive oil escaped through the open door, the somewhat familiar smell made me instantly feeling even hungrier. I didn’t know the menu beforehand, but by the smell of the cooking, I knew it would be amazing. Maria in her black apron greeted us with gracious smile; she is small but sturdy, confident but yet humble. She exchanged a few words with us and then hurried back to the kitchen again. We were all trying to make ourselves comfortable in the apartment. The living room was well lit by two large glass chandeliers and a hidden light behind the top of a wall length cabinet where Maria displays her Chinese porcelain ornaments: plates, buddha statues, vases; a collection of clay teapots and cups, and some photo frames with photos of young Maria and her family. A laminated magazine article about her supper club and her view on Macanese food was also proudly standing among the ornaments. Maria came out with a large bowl of sangria and encouraged us to help ourselves while she continued with the cooking. So we gladly ladled the drink into our wine glasses and carried on with our family conversations. I went to the balcony and enjoyed the nostalgic view of the Macau skyline, hearing the traffic on the street, sounds of football being struck and cheering at the football field right across the road. I felt distance to this city but yet somewhat comforting. As my curiosity about Maria’s cooking was growing stronger than my nostalgia, I asked if I could have a look inside the kitchen.
With more than 6 courses to prepare, Maria was working diligently in her tiny otherwise well equipped kitchen when I paid my visit. She looked happy and welcoming when I talked to her, she was just about to slice up some chorizo which was still steeped in olive oil in an open can, the smell of the olive oil reminded me desperately of my childhood. I thought it would have been inappropriate to ask her any question while she was busy cooking for us, so I politely left the kitchen and hungrily anticipating the food that we were about to savor.
Maria brought to our table seared king prawns in shells with oozy rich homemade tomato sauce, my mother used to make this a lot. Although Maria’s one tasted a bit more european with olive oil and parsley. Stewed pork with chorizo topped with finely chopped parsley, and served with roasted potatoes, the pork was tender and full of flavour, a nice contrast to the smoky chorizo. Then roasted beef filet steak wrapped in bacon served with peach slices, beef was cooked to perfection, the bacon kept the filet moist and soft, just the right saltiness which paired surprisingly well with the sweetness of the peach. Bacalhau (salted cod) fritters, one of my childhood favorites, Maria had her own version of the fritters, pan-fry rather than deep-fry with the shape of pancake as oppose to the traditional shape of rugby ball, but her version was still delicious, crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. The last savory course was sautéed mixed vegetables with dried herbs, Maria stated that it was a necessary dish to clean our palates before eating the dessert. When the dessert came, we were already quite full. But we couldn’t finish our dinner without dessert. Leite Creme (Portuguese Egg Custard topped with caramel) was one of Maria’s strongest dishes, it was creamy and rich, just the spot on consistence with the crispy sweet caramel on top. It was indeed the perfect end to this enchanting evening. We thanked and said goodbye to the tired but satisfying Maria, still in her black apron, waved at us as she closed her door. The whole family gave each other hugs and said goodbye in front of the building, before we took our own journey home.
Notes: As for this week’s recipe, I didn’t intend to recreate the food that I had at Maria’s, but rather, something seasonal with a little bit of a Portuguese influence. Since chorizo and lemon are two of the most popular ingredients in Portuguese kitchen, I decided to create something new and wonderful with them – Roasted Asparagus with Lemon, Chorizo and Feta Cheese. I ate it as it was as a light lunch, but it will go amazingly well with quinoa as a topping, or as a filling for baked sweet potato; in wraps, or with mixed green salad. Eat everything including the lemon, when lemon is roasted, its acidity turns into this sweet and sour taste that compliments brilliantly with the smokiness of the chorizo and the saltines of the feta cheese. So there you have it – the taste and the texture, marvelous!
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon, Chorizo and Feta Cheese
Serves 2 (can be easily double)
- 600g Asparagus, snap off the woody ends (save for stock if you like) and peel the end of the stems (optional)
- 1 un-waxed lemon, thinly sliced
- 8-10 slices of chorizo
- 50g feta cheese
- A handful of whole raw almond
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Fresh mint leaves (optional)
- on its own
- on top of grains like quinoa or millet
- filling for baked sweet potato (or potato)
- in wraps
- on sourdough
- with mixed leafy salad
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees celsius.
Arrange the asparagus (in one layer) on a baking tray or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Give a good few twists of pepper. Lay the lemon slices on the asparagus and then drizzle a good glug of olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (depends on the size of your asparagus, if they are those thin ones, minus 5 minutes roasting time), then add the chorizo slices, bake in the oven for another 5 to 8 minutes or until the sausages turn crispy.
While the asparagus is roasting, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan on low heat until they are lightly toasted and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts on a chopping board and roughly chopped.
When the chorizo is nice and crispy, remove the tray from the oven. If you are serving it straight from the tray then crumble feta cheese on top and sprinkle the chopped almond. Season with salt if needed. Alternatively, transfer the asparagus, lemon and chorizo on a serving platter (or individual plate) before adding the cheese and nuts. Served immediately.
For a photo step-by-step recipe, click here to KitchenBowl.com