Tuna muxama: That’s tuna which is prepared in exactly the same way as smoked ham. It’s traditional from this region and very expensive as nowadays there’s only one guy in the Algarve producing it
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2015
Friends are coming over for a drink (and secretly expect to be fed as well). You’re hungry, it’s 4pm and dinner doesn’t start till 8. Turkey for Christmas is just so 2014; this year it’s all about back to basic with bread. Desperately needed: something nice to soak up that wine. As you can see, we had reasons enough to try making tibornas this month.
‘Spanish tapas? Uh, nope, we’re in the Algarve. Cataplana in mini portions? Way too complicated. Quiche? Takes too much time. Fried mozzarella? Too fattening. Carrot sticks? Not fattening enough. Popcorn? Burned, again. A bag of crisps? Can’t really get away with that one. Can I? No, really can’t. I know: home baked chocolate brownies! Oh, no, other people don’t consider chocolate an appetizer. Sorry guys, a bag of crisps it is. I’ll put it in a nice bowl though.’
Described above is what I think when friends are coming over for some drinks and nibbles. It’s about time (read: long overdue) for me to learn to make a new type of finger food, and, of course, one that’s typical Portuguese. It seems 11 da Villa is the place to acquire these skills. You’ll find the relatively new restaurant which opened just over a year ago, in November 2014, in the old town of Loulé. Every week they hold a different workshop, ranging from cold soups and Mediterranean salads to Algarve style tapas. This week it’s tiborna time.
Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated
“In its most simple form, tiborna is a slice of good quality roasted bread with garlic and olive oil. Those last two are the most important things; without it it’s not a tiborna,” explains João Apolónia (34), co-owner of 11 da villa. “Bruschetta, for example, is a sort of tiborna. However, in Portugal people were very poor and couldn’t afford to put extra things such as tomatoes on top. As a result, they just ate the bread with garlic and olive oil.” Aha. Well, that sounds, a bit, uh, boring.
Chef Sílvia Miranda (23) laughs. “Don’t worry, today we’ll upgrade the traditional tiborna with all kind of nice stuff.” However, she does warn me not to expect a complicated recipe with 48 different ingredients and the need for a degree in flambéing. “Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. The things you learn in this workshop are easy enough to make back at home. We use high quality ingredients and try to keep them in a natural state as much as possible. For me, good food is all about tradition and freshness.”
I won’t go for second best quality
All ingredients have been bought at Loulé’s market earlier that day. Although she is a young chef, Sílvia has plenty of experience picking the right produce: she’s been doing it for as long as she can remember. “At home, we always used to have grilled fish for lunch on Saturday. This meant I had to go to the market with my dad to get it fresh at 9am. The advantage: I now know all the salesmen and know exactly how to spot the best quality produce.” This shows in the restaurant’s menu, which is written on a blackboard with chalk and thus highly subject to change. “If I’m planning on making tuna with sesame seeds and soy sauce, but I can’t find very good tuna on the market, I won’t go for second best quality. Instead, I’ll just change my plans and buy salmon, cod or whatever type if fish is great that day instead,” Sílvia explains.
No need for a professional kitchen: these dishes can easily be recreated at home
Today’s fresh produce is stalled out in a room which looks like a living room (well, if you had a fancy nicely decorated living room with Moroccan tiles on the wall). In a tiny electric oven bread is already toasting – about 10 minutes on 200˚C. I was expecting a professional kitchen and thus almost took the wrong turn in the restaurant, but Sílvia reminds me that the goal is to teach people dishes that they can easily recreate at home. She’s right; most of us probably don’t have a professional kitchen in our house.
When the bread is toasted, we take it out of the oven, rub it with garlic and sprinkle on some olive oil (extra virgin of course. And not the stuff you can buy in the supermarket either. It comes from 11 da Villa’s own deli shop, conveniently located in Loulé’s Mercado.) On the basic tiborna then comes a slice of fresh cheese. Next: a small slice of tuna muxama. That’s tuna which is prepared in exactly the same way as smoked ham. It’s traditional from this region and very expensive as nowadays there’s only one guy in the Algarve producing it. And done. Already? Yes. It’s probably the quickest I’ve ever made a dish, but when tasting I am pleasantly surprised. This is minimum effort with maximum result.
Don’t crush the fish with your fingers, but treat it soft and gently
Also the next tiborna is one that can easily be repeated at home. It’s about as much work as getting a pizza from the freezer, taking it out of its cardboard box, unwrapping the plastic foil, putting it in the oven and keeping track of the time. Instead you chop four cherry tomatoes into quarters, cut some basil leaves into small pieces, mix it with olive oil, salt and pepper and put this on top of the bread that’s already rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil. Ready in the same time, but tastes 20 times better.
The salmon one is my favourite. It involves chopping up red onion and lime (including the peel) into tiny pieces. Looking at Sílvia’s rapid movements I ask her for the secret to cut like a superfast professional chef and still have all your ten fingers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a shortcut (pun intended) for this skill. “Years and years of practice,” is her answer. She does, however, give some tips for how to properly cut the raw salmon into small dice. “Don’t crush the fish with your fingers, but treat it soft and gently. This is very important as otherwise the tiborna will taste like soggy bread. You want to keep the texture of the fish.” With her help I succeed in not crushing the salmon and together with the onion and lime, some salt, pepper and olive oil this tiborna is another huge success, light and fresh. We finish off with a tiborna topped with a mixture of mozzarella, black olives, honey, oregano and olive oil.
Turns out less is more, also in the kitchen
The advantage of using so little ingredients is that one can taste all different flavours. If the ingredients are of a high quality, apparently there’s no need to add complicated sauces or other dressing. I hadn’t expected preparing good food was possible with this little effort or ingredients, but the discovery is a very pleasant one.
There have been many times I wanted to try out a new recipe, looked at it properly, but figured it’d cost about 50 euros to buy all the ingredients (I don’t know about you, but my kitchen doesn’t standard contain Indian saffron or truffle oil). Plus 3.5 hours to prepare the dish in 17 steps. Naturally this meant I gave up before even starting and just ate chocolate instead. Not anymore! Toasting with Sílvia to a successful workshop, I’m heading home with some easy and useful ideas. Turns out less is more, also in the kitchen. Next time friends come over I’m making the nibbles – and this time it won’t be a bag of crisps! Who’s hungry?
When to go?
Workshops are held every Saturday and start at 4.30pm. Reservation is necessary. The tibornas workshop is only held once a month; the other weeks you’ll either learn how to make cold soups, Mediterranean salads or Algarve style tapas. Do contact 11 da Villa in advance to see what workshop will be on.
A minimum of 4 participants is needed. The maximum number of people that can participate in the workshop is 8. It’s usually busier in the summer months.
People who want to learn about the traditional Algarve cuisine and hobby chefs. Actually, this activity is for everyone who wants to be able to quickly make something fresh and tasty with just a few ingredients.
Because you’ll be working with sharp knifes, the workshop isn’t that suitable for younger kids. Previous cooking experience isn’t necessary and all materials are provided: the only thing you should bring is an appetite!
If you’re with a group of between 4 and 8 people it might also be possible to book the workshop on a weekday (contact them beforehand to ask). Also, if you come early you’ll be able to join Sílvia on her shopping trip to the market and pick up some tips.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2015