Clams Claim Christmas

By Habeeb Salloum

One of the most exciting aspects of my trip to Portugal’s Algarve province was the opportunity to indulge in the fantastic seafood dishes for which the region is known. This was a far cry from my Saskatchewan farm years when fish was rarely on the menu. It just wasn’t available where we lived. Those odd times that it was, mother always created a great dish from it based on the ‘old country’s’ traditional recipes. 

It was only when I reached my teen years that I was exposed to the bounties of the sea as I began to travel across the country in search
of employment and education. Later, when I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, England provided me with the proverbial ‘Fish & Chips’.  In the ensuing years, my travels introduced me to the wonders of seafood dishes.

One of these dishes that I enjoyed while I was in Portugal, a dish named Cataplana, is said to have been discovered by a Moorish alchemist who was renowned for his experiments. 

When I returned home I made my version of this dish, which I prepare on holiday and feast days such as Christmas.

Serves about 8

4 tablespoons olive oil

1-pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2-pound chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)

1 cup white grape juice

2 cans clams (5 oz 142 g each), drained

2 medium sweet red bell peppers, thinly sliced

3 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a large frying pan, then stir-fry over medium heat beef or lamb and chicken until they begin to brown.  Stir in onion and garlic, then sauté until onion becomes limp.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, coriander leaves and grape juice then simmer for a few minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Spread clams on the bottom of a casserole, then spread frying pan contents overtop.  Top with the sliced pepper and tomatoes.  Cover and bake for 1 hour or until the meat is tender, then sprinkle with lemon juice.  Allow to bake for a further 5 minutes uncovered then serve hot.