What do you mean there isn’t a large chunk of codfish in the middle of your Christmas dinner? Pancake Tuesday? Pfft, try pork stew. It’s lent and you’re eating meat on a Friday? Big no no! St. Martin’s day is just another random holiday on your calendar? No way, that’s a time for roasted chestnuts!
With many culinary traditions extending across cultures, the Portuguese are no exception. Over time and with combinations of cultures, they can vary from home to home. In ours, the holidays cannot go on without the delicacy that is sonhos.
Sonhos; which directly translates to dreams, are a must on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and especially the Epiphany. They return on Easter Sunday before hibernating until fall harvest when the pumpkins are ready for picking. Despite looking easy to make (roll, fry, devour), my mom is seen at family gatherings making these cherished sweets—preferably on the spot since they’re best enjoyed fresh, with a side of port wine, of course…
Growing up in this household ensured that I couldn’t possibly relate to complaints about bad lunches— I mean, how could I? Maria Esteves’ culinary skills are attested to by anyone who has had the pleasure of dining at her table. Not only does she cook well but does so with passion, which is evident in each dish, particularly her five-course meals!
So…what are dreams made of?
Sonhos are essentially fried balls of dough covered in sugar and/or cinnamon. There are a few variations of sonhos—regular sonhos as just mentioned, squash sonhos, carrot sonhos and in reality, any other combo that comes to mind. Maria specializes in the squash sonhos just like her mother did, which are also called “filhoses.” She typically keeps an emergency squash in the pantry, in case we have guests.
Seeing as most people aren’t fortunate enough to dine chez Maria whenever they please, we’re sharing the recipe…though we’ll have to exclude two secret ingredients as promised. On that note, give these a try one night—just try not to eat the whole plate!
1 butternut squash
3 tablespoon of white sugar
All-purpose flour, about the equivalent in weight as the squash
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Peel and cube the butternut squash. Cook it in very little water for about 20 minutes. Let cool completely. Puree the squash with a hand mixer. This step can be done in advance or even the night before.
Add the eggs to the puree, followed by the sugar and then the flour.
Heat up oil in a deep frying pan.
As soon as you put the flour, immediately start to fry the dough. Place a small spoonful of dough in hot oil. Fry about 5 minutes or until you see the balls are golden in colour.
Place them on a plate lined with paper towel to soak up the oil.
Prepare on the side some sugar mixed with cinnamon in a small bowl.
Once the balls are fried, roll them individually in the sugar/cinnamon mixture and place them on a serving plate.