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Before Tom and I went on the Douro river cruise that I wrote about here last week, we spent two days in Lisbon; the first time there for me. It provided only the briefest taste of the city, but we made the most of it – especially gastronomically.

We had two delightful lunches there that were the very essence of serendipity. At the end of the first morning’s strolling, we happened upon a little street entirely filled with tables set for lunch.

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Checking out the establishments along the route, we stopped at one called Bebedouro, which had a chalkboard menu posted on the wall.
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The list of tapas was irresistible. We didn’t even look inside the door; just grabbed one of the little tables on the street. Not sure how big the modestly priced dishes would be, we started by ordering just two. A good thing that was, because they were large: what the Spanish would call not tapas but racions. Both were fabulous.
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Octopus in confit of peppers

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Potatoes fused with cheese and mushrooms

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The wine list featured flights of three wines for €16. We chose one of the red flights and received generous-sized pours, all from the Douro region and all new to us.
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They graduated quite interestingly from light and fruity to bigger and more complex and made interesting matches with the food. (Tom has written more about the wines we drank in Portugal on his blog.)

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That perfect little meal made us so happy that we returned to Bebeduro for lunch the next day. We chose from the fish tapas this time, both of which were just as delicious as the previous ones.
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Roasted tuna in tomato sauce with hummus

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Sardines in olive oil

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This time we tried one of the flights of white wines – again, all from the Douro. They varied from each other and matched with the tapas just as interestingly as the reds had done.
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The four dishes we had at those lunches were so good that I’m determined to try recreating some of them in my own kitchen. The only one that I could do immediately was the sardines. That’s because we were so impressed by the quality of the Portuguese sardines available in their home territory that we brought back five cans of a recommended brand.

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So here is the tapas plate I made with them just the other day. Not as pretty as Bebedouro’s, but definitely in the ballpark for tastiness.
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Even the olive oil from the sardine can was so good we slathered it all over our bread. (I brought home three bottles of olive oil, too.) Next I’ll be trying the potato, cheese, and mushroom dish because I’ve found a recipe online that looks as if it would work. After that, on to tackle the octopus!

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P.S. Though we had no idea of this at the time, I’ve learned from my back-home Web research that Bebedouro is very well known for both food and wine. It seems to be listed in at least one major guidebook and has an enormously enthusiastic online following. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Lucking Out in Lisbon.”

 

 

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Some simple classics are too good to try to improve on. The bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. Pizza margherita. And salade niçoise. I’ve been making the same version of salade niçoise every summer for more than 40 years, since publication of the first volume in the Time-Life Foods of the World series, The Cooking of Provincial France, with author/consultant credits to M.F.K. Fisher, Michael Field, and Julia Child.

Sure, you can make a tasty summer vegetable salad with anything you like: peppers, radishes, cucumbers, onions, corn, beets, artichokes, broccoli . . . . I have no problem with those, as long as you use a good vinaigrette dressing. But I don’t call those salade niçoise. When I want that lovely dish, I go for the basics: tuna, tomatoes, potato salad, green beans, hardboiled eggs, anchovies, olives, and lettuce. What more does anyone need?!

The key for me is to use the best ingredients available. Those tomatoes are an heirloom variety from my greenmarket. The potatoes and flat Roman beans are also fresh from the greenmarket. The tuna is ventresca. By the way, if you don’t happen to know this Spanish or Italian import, it’s well worth looking for. Ventresca is the Rolls Royce of tunafish. It’s belly flesh – velvety textured, richly flavored, always packed in olive oil.

There are purists who say a true niçoise should have no cooked vegetables at all, which would rule out my potatoes and green beans. But I stoutly stick up for those two vegetables. I’ve even been known to use potato salad made with mayonnaise, which isn’t canonical (but good).

However, this week I faithfully followed the book’s recipe. I first sliced and then boiled the potatoes (usually I do it the other way around), tossed the slices very gently with some chicken stock, left them to absorb it, tossed them again with dry mustard and salt dissolved in wine vinegar, let that be absorbed, and finished the potatoes with extra virgin olive oil and parsley.

I boiled the green beans until just barely done and also boiled the eggs (evidently acceptable even to purists because though cooked they aren’t vegetables). Then I just assembled them on a base of Bibb lettuce, with the tomatoes, the ventresca, Moroccan oil-cured black olives, rinsed salt-packed anchovies, and a mildly mustardy vinaigrette.

For Tom and me, with a crusty baguette and a good bottle of wine (a lovely white Ravello from Marisa Cuomo, a fine small estate on the Amalfi coast), that was paradise enow.

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