Last week, I had the privilege to have dinner in the home of chef Kei de Freitas, who runs Kei’s Veggie Kitchen, and his wife, artist Hoeyyn. Kei runs pop-ups and private dining events in Edinburgh and London. Born in Porto in Portugal, he retains a passion for the food he grew up with but also the flavours of Malaysia and the other countries where Portugal once had colonies. His interests come together in Eurasian food: generous, flavoursome dishes from across the globe.
Eurasian food and culture is a vibrant mix of European and Asian. Portugal has taken its culture – and its food – far and wide, to Brazil, Malaysia, Africa and India. The travellers that left Portugal tried to recreate the dishes of home using local ingredients. Some of these dishes are famous: feijoada, a meaty bean stew, for example, is eaten in every country that had a Portuguese settlement. What’s in it, and when you eat it, depends on where you in the world you are.
Turning traditional dishes vegetarian
Many of the dishes Kei cook are not traditionally vegetarian. Our meal started with a dish from Porto, veggie bacalao with batatas a murro (bashed tatties). It impressed me for several reasons. Firstly, I love bacalao – cod – served in the various ways you get it in Portugal and Spain: as fritters, dumplings, fillets and stews. The veggie bacalao was fried, battered veggie fish fillets with onions and peppers. Secondly, I’d never had a convincing fish-replacement before but this was really good. The fillet was white and crumbly, moist and delicately flavoured. It was very convincing. Thirdly, it was a happy, hearty dish. Flakes of sea salt was lovely with the sweet onions and peppers and the bashed tatties were crispy and soft. It was a really good way to start a meal.
Kei loves traditional Eurasian dishes and wants to give vegetarians an authentic experience, and meat eaters a meal they’ll enjoy. Some carnivores believe that a meal without meat will leave them hungry, weak and protein starved: Kei wants to change this attitude by serving dishes that retain traditional textures.
Bean dishes are important worldwide. Versions on the meat and bean stew I’ve had include sweet, sticky Texan-style baked beans, Swedish brown beans, creamy cassoulet and now, feijoada. Of course, there’s a twist to Kei’s feijoada: it was veggie, and inspired by the way it’s cooked in Goa. It is made with red beans, loads of paprika, coconut milk that adds a lovely richness, cabbage and pressed, marinated tofu. With it, Kei served a buttery, garlicky rice that I could have for lunch, all on its own. The rice soaked up the rich feijoada sauce perfectly, and the pressed tofu added texture and great flavour.
Kei told us he’d played with the idea of getting four different chefs together to cook feijoada from their countries. That’d be a really interesting experience, vegetarian or not, especially if the chefs covered Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. I’d personally love to see how one dish changes on four different continents!
Rendang is a Malasian dish, a dry aromatic curry made with spices and coconut milk that’s been reduced to a thick gravy. Traditionally, strips of meat are coated with the sauce. Kei makes it with soy and it is fabulous. The sauce contains 12 spices, among them cassia and lemongrass, as well as coconut. It is rich, mellow, and tastes and smells wonderful. Sometimes you meet a dish you wish you could eat all night, one you don’t want to stop eating. Kei’s rendang was one of those for me.
A smooth finish
After travelling the world, we’ve come home to Porto again and dinner finished with Kei’s family’s dessert. It was an almond flavour mouse topped with chocolate mousse with a dash of port. I don’t know exactly what was in either layer – its a family secret – but enjoyed the contrasts in flavour between the silky chocolate and the rich white almond-flavoured layer. It’s made with a Portuguese almond liqueur, crisper than Amaretto but with a similar almond punch. It was delicious!
If you are want to try Kei’s Eurasian cooking for your self, sign up to news to find out when the next pop-up is, or contact Kei about private dining. Kei’s cooking is big on flavour, offers great textures and is served with more than a pinch of passion. As Kei says: “Cooking is all about sharing a piece of your heart.” The dishes Kei cooks are close to his heart and will warm yours. Enjoy!