I'm still in Brazil and what inspired this piece is the fact that, within minutes of sitting at the table for lunch and being identified as Portuguese, I was asked if I would like a plate of lupin beans (or lupini beans, as they are also known). Slightly taken aback, I accepted and tried to explain to my friend Luciano Hortêncio, who was having lunch with me at the time, a little about the lupin bean tradition in Portugal. We had gone to have cod for lunch at the Marquês de Varjota in Fortaleza. And this is one of my favourite places to eat the most emblematic examples of Portuguese cuisine. Rest assured cod lovers; this is a good place to eat this beloved fish.

After talking about the tradition of serving lupin beans with a beer, especially in beer houses, I remembered the time I went to Panjim, in Goa, and my friend Jorge Fernandes sent a message asking me to bring him lupin beans because he couldn’t find any in India. Then, I recounted the legend starting with the usual question: Do you know that lupin beans have no flavour if they are unsalted? And why is that? Then I told the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to prevent the killing of Jesus after the declaration that all infants should be put to the sword after the birth of the new King of the Jews had been announced. On their journey they had to cross fields of lupins and because these made so much noise, God cursed lupin beans and took away their flavour ...!

I've always heard this story told as a legend. And everyone takes what suits us them best from legends. I’ve tried eating lupin beans without salt. What a disappointment! I try to avoid salt but it’s a must for lupin beans. What’s interesting is walking in a field of lupin beans. In fact, the continuous noise that comes from the lupins feels like a sometimes shrill whistle that only nature can produce. Raw lupin beans are inedible for humans because they contain a natural amino acid that is a neurotoxin.

To make them safe for human consumption, lupin beans should be boiled in water and then, after cooling, the cold water should be changed for several days until they lose their characteristically bitter flavour and all the alkaloids are eliminated.

After a warm roll reminiscent of Portugal (here, the bread is one of the main causes of homesickness), we ate the lupin beans, followed by a correct “Bacalhau à Brás” cod dish. I call it ‘correct’ because abroad it’s not clear that the dish matches its tradition or origin.

Recently, I happened to ask for cod à Zé do Pipo because the friend who I was having dinner with was telling the waiter that the cod she liked the most was one that looked like a "sort of meringue," with that "covering"… The waiter confirmed that it was cod à Zé do Pipo and because I like to try a bit of everything, I ended up ordering it. As it was taking a long time, I asked the waiter about the delay and he explained that this dish took forty to fifty minutes because it was done to order and finished in the oven. To my astonishment, a few minutes later, a porcelain boat of a dish was brought to our table in which we could only see the top, which was the “meringue”, whose edges were slightly toasted, which confirmed its time in the oven.

What we were served was a kind of Zé do Pipo in which beaten egg whites substituted the mayonnaise, which was more to do with decoration than something that added anything to culinary tradition. This is not the first time that I’ve railed against the transformation of a well-established recipe. If you don’t like mayonnaise, call the dish "inspired by Zé do Pipo." Poor Zé do Pipo, the name of the owner of an eating establishment in Porto and the man who gave us this excellent recipe. Call it variation, call it ...

The quality of what we ate is not the issue here. But that is not the name of the dish that came to the table.

And don’t forget, cod tastes better if accompanied by a good wine.

© Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes