When Spring arrives in Lisbon the days start to get brighter and the trees start to bloom, spreading color all over the city. Lisbon is full of a tree called Palisander and when they bloom in springtime they transform the city with their abundance of beautiful purple flowers. Then, you start to see a greater variety of vegetables and fruits all over the markets. It is such a good feeling.
As soon as the weather starts to warm up I begin planning outdoor activities, and a picnic is first among them. I love being outside, and I personally need to have that relationship with nature regularly, whether taking a walk or having a meal. Picnicking is the perfect opportunity to share a meal in a peaceful place surrounded by nature. I’m sure that is somehow related with a feeling of freedom that it’s impossible to get indoors.
I invite a few close friends; foodie people with a bit of adventurous spirit, which is important since we’ll be eating on the ground in the middle of nowhere. We pack a basket and head to Sintra, a picturesque village a few kilometers from Lisbon. It’s the perfect little getaway from city life, a place with a special, irresistible touch of drama. We walk into the green hills of a mountain that we call Sintra Mountain. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site known for its 19th century Romantic architectural monuments, monasteries, and palaces. For me what makes this village fantasy-like is the mountain, the parks and gardens that surround it. I love taking long walks in the woods there with my camera.
On this visit, I have company, and I’ve packed a fresh feast to feed them. I wanted it to be simple, comfortable, and relaxing and to make use of the best ingredients the season has to offer, simply and honestly prepared.
New potatoes, asparagus, and peas are among the exciting new arrivals at springtime markets, and they’re all easy to prepare ahead of time and pack up. Instead of a traditional dressing for them, I make a thick dip with Greek yogurt, fresh dill, and smoked mackerel. Mackerel is an oily fish so the acidity of the yogurt helps to soften it a little bit, bringing together a lighter dressing which ends up connecting all the vegetables. Plus, pack a loaf of crusty bread and spread it on that as well. Fish always makes me think of fresh air, the smoked flavor reminds me of a barbecue after a long warm day.
Keeping with that feeling, I like to make shrimp skewers and grill them ahead of time. We use a lot of cilantro in Portugal, especially with seafood. The freshness of the cilantro and the lime brighten up the grilled shrimp. Roasted garlic and chilli add depth of flavor to the dressing. These are just as good warm, fresh from the grill, as they are room temperature or even slightly chilled.
Even if it’s too early in the season for fresh blueberries, frozen ones work perfectly in mini blueberry lemon galettes. Carrying anything like a tart to a picnic is always a challenge, so I make mini galettes rather than an full sized version. I find them easier to fit inside a box or a regular food container, and they can actually survive the trip without cracking!
Pack utensils and accessories to take with you into a basket to help transport everything easily. A good blanket really is essential. Don’t forget the extras, like bread, cheese, fruit, and olives. Marry these with good conversation, laughter, and plenty of refreshing drinks and there’s no more fitting way to gather a group of friends and celebrate springtime.
This story was featured in Spoonful’s Spring ’17 issue, “Air.” For more creative gatherings, party planning guides, seasonal recipes and lush photography in full-color print, become a Spoonful subscriber today!
Photos by Filipe Lucas Frazão