Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Marmalade and Marmelada - What's the connection?

I've always loved marmalade. One of the absolutely best ways to eat a piece of good, hearty whole-grain bread is to toast it, generously slather it with soft, unsalted butter, and then spread on it a thick layer of marmalade made from bitter Seville oranges, the kind with thick chunks of peel. On a cold winter's morning, and eaten with a steaming hot cup of black tea with milk, the meal approaches perfection.

In English, the word marmalade means a jam- or jelly-like preserve, thickened with fruit and fruit rind. Almost always the fruit involved is a citrus fruit - oranges, bitter oranges, lemons, limes grapefruits, etc. I have seen the word used for a ginger preserve, but outside this one, it's always meant something made with citrus fruit to me, and to most other English speakers.

Once I started living here in Brazil, and shopping at the local supermarket every week, I noticed a product on the shelves called "marmelada". When I gave it a good look, however, it seemed to have nothing to do with what we call marmalade, other than seeming to be made from some sort of fruit, and being sweet. It was a dark red, thick and consistent paste which could be cut into slices or chunks. If any readers are familiar with "guayabada" the Mexican and Caribbean guava paste, they will know what marmelada is like - it's very similar in appearance. Naturally, I bought some, and it was delicious, very fruity and not too sweet. The fruit taste was definitely familiar but I could not place it immediately.

Reading the package label I saw that the only ingredients were sugar and "marmelos". Not being familiar with this fruit, I looked it up in my Portuguese dictionary, where it was defined as "the fruit of the marmelo tree" which originated in Asia Minor. Not a lot of help. I next checked online for images of the marmelo, and found this photo:

I immediately recognized it. Can you?

If you can't recognize it, or want to know more about how this all connects to the English word marmalade, click on "read more" below for the rest of the story.

Monday, March 29, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Black Beans (Feijão Preto)

Even though the city of Rio de Janeiro has a bean named after it, the "Carioca bean" (feijão carioca in Portuguese), in fact that bean is not the most commonly eaten bean in Brazil's most famous city.  That honor must go to the black bean, or the black turtle bean as it's sometimes called.

Brazil is a vast country, and although dried beans are a staple of the Brazilian diet everywhere in the country, the type of bean which is preferred is a regional choice. In some parts of the country white beans are standard, in others brown, or pinto-type beans are the norm. Only in Rio de Janeiro (the city and the state) is the day-to-day choice of bean likely to be the black bean.

When Brazilians anywhere in the country made feijoada (click here for more information), the use of black beans is obligatory, because this dish is particularly associated with Rio de Janeiro. In Rio itself, it is estimated that more than 75% of the population eats beans on any given day, and the vast majority of those beans will be black turtle beans, normally eaten with white rice.

Black beans are particularly appreciated throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and it's impossible to imagine Mexican or Cuban cuisine without them. I find them to be one of the more flavorful beans, and one of the most suited to tempering with spices, herbs and citrus juices.

All dried beans are very healthy dietary choices, and the black bean is one of the most beneficial in the whole bean family. It is rated as being extremely high in levels of molybdenum, very high in folicin (vitamin B9), tryptophan and fiber, and high in protein, vitamin B1, magnesium, manganese, iron and phosphorus.

Besides its use as a daily staple, the back bean is used in soups, stews and, of course, in the national dish feijoada. (Click here for a bean soup recipe that can easily be made with black beans, and here for feijoada).

North Americans would do well, diet-wise to imitate the bean-eating habits of Brazilians. Dried beans are inexpensive, easy to preserve and store, versatile in cuisine, healthy and delicious. What more could one want from a food?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

RECIPE - Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Balls)

These small snacks made from bacalhau (salt cod) are a favorite in bars and at the beach everywhere in Brazil, and are not specifically considered as something associated with Easter. They are eaten all year round, usually washed down with ice-cold Brazilian beer. Although I never deep-fry anything at home because of the smell of fried food, and try not to eat too much that has been deep-fried even in restaurants due to health concerns, I do have a real weak spot for these treats. When they're on offer, they are very difficult to resist.

As I don't deep-fry at home, I haven't made this recipe myself. I include it for interest, and in case anyone would like to make these bolinhos (in English: little balls) at home.

Bom apetite!
RECIPE - Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt-Cod Balls)
Makes 10

2.5 lbs. (1 kg.) bacalhau, desalted and de-skinned - click here for technique
2.5 lbs. (1 kg.) red-skinned potatoes
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. Extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Neutral vegetable oil for frying
Place the salt cod in heavy saucepan with cold fresh water to cover, bring to a boil over medium heat, and boil gently until tender. Drain, let cool, and reserve.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in oven-proof pan or dish, and roast in pre-heated 425F degree (220C) oven for one hour. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, peel, and then mash them. Let cool completely then reserve.

Using your hands, flake the bacalhau into very small pieces, making sure to remove all bones. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-duty frying pan, then add the bacalhau, the bay leaves and the garlic and fry until the mixture is lightly browned, and dry. Discard the bay leaves, let cool, and reserve.

When ready to serve, heat the vegetable oil in deep-fryer or deep pan, taking care not to burn or heat too high. Mix the bacalhau, the mashed potatoes and the chopped parsley, being sure to create a homogenous mixture. Add black pepper to taste.

Form the mixture into balls of approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) diameter, using well-oiled hands to avoid sticking. Fry in the hot oil until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from oil, drain on paper towels, and serve immediately, garnished with wedges of fresh limes.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira from Abril Editora.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

RECIPE - Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is the most common way for Brazilian families to serve salt cod (bacalhau) at the traditional Good Friday meal. Good Friday is traditionally meatless, and eating Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a way to connect with the communal past, and celebrate the connections between Brazil and Portugal, where this dish originated.

This dish is one of the few traditional recipes for which there is a known time and place of origin, and a known originator. The dish is named for its creator, José Luis Gomes de Sá Junior (1851 - 1926), who was a cook at the Restaurante Lisbonense in Porto, Portugal, where he created his eponymous dish.

The recipe itself is not complicated, and other than requiring the time for desalting and rehydrating the bacalhau, does not require a large investment of time. It's absolutely delicious, and perfect for serving a large gathering.

RECIPE - Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá
Serves 8

2 lbs. (800 gr.) dry-weight salt cod, desalted, rehydrated and skinned (click here for technique)
6 lbs. (3 kgs.) boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch (4 cm.) chunks
2 large onions, thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic
6 eggs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata-type black olives
2 medium, ripe tomatoes, sliced
 Hard-cook the eggs. Cool, peel and reserve. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until just tender, but not falling apart. Drain, cool and reserve. Simmer the bacalhau in a separate pan of water until just tender. Drain and cool. Using fingers, flake the cooled bacalhau into large flakes, taking care to remove all bones. Reserve. (All this can be done in advance).

In a large heavy frying pan, heat the oil, then add the onions and saute them. When they begin to color, add the garlic, taking care that it does not burn. Continue sauteing until the onion and garlic are lightly golden. Remove from heat.

In a large glass or ceramic oven dish (like a lasagne pan), alternate layers of potatoes, bacalhau, eggs and the onion/garlic mixture until all ingredients are used up. Place the black olives and tomato slices on the surface of the dish, then sprinkle with the parsley. Place in a pre-heated, medium oven (350F) for approximately 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling hot, and the top is lightly browned.

Remove from oven, and drizzle with best quality extra-virgin olive oil. Serve at table directly from the cooking dish. Accompany the dish with white rice and a salad of greens.

Recipe translated and adapted from Wikipédia português.

Techniques - Desalting Salt Cod (Bacalhau)

Since salt cod (bacalhau) is always sold salted and dried, it's necessary to desalt and rehydrate it before it can be used in cooking. Depending on how salty the fish is, this process should begin 24 to 48 hours prior to cooking the fish. If the bacalhau is very dry and covered with salt, start earlier. If it still has some moisture in the flesh and no visible salt, you can begin only 24 hours before.

Prior to the desalting and rehydrating process, if the bacalhau is still in the form of fillets, the fillets should be cut into thick slices of approximately 3 inches each. Most bacalhau is sold with the skin of the fish still attached, and it's better (and easier) to remove the skin prior to desalting. Simply lift the skin away from the flesh with a sharp knife at one corner of the piece, and then grasp the skin with a hand towel and firmly peel it away from the flesh.

Place the skinless pieces of bacalhau in a large bowl, preferably of glass or ceramic, then cover with cold, fresh water. The bowl should then be covered and placed in the refrigerator. (Bacalhau desalted at room temperature spoils very quickly). Every 6 hours or so, the fish must be removed from the refrigerator, drained, rinsed, returned to the bowl and covered with fresh water.

You can separate a small sample of fish and taste it to determine if it has been sufficiently desalted prior to begin cooking. The sample does not have to be cooked - bacalhau can be eaten safely uncooked, as the preserving technique "cooks" the flesh without heat.

The Foods of Easter in Brazil - Salt Cod (Bacalhau)

Foods associated with Easter in Brazil include not only the sweet (click here to read further) but the salty. Eating salt cod (in Portuguese bacalhau) is traditional throughout the country, and on the Good Friday holiday eating bacalhau approaches the obligatory category, like turkey on North American Thanksgiving.

Brazilians love bacalhau and serve it in many forms year-round, not just at Easter time. This is part of the culinary heritage that Brazil received from its former colonial power, Portugal. The Portuguese were among the first nations to employ bacalhau in their diets, and fished for Atlantic cod (Gadus Morhua) in the cold seas of Canada, Newfoundland, and Norway as early as the late 1400s. Before the arrival of electrical refrigeration, salting was probably the most important method of preservation of food, and the Portuguese were early discoverers of the possibilities of international trade in bacalhau. In time, the Portuguese discovered the gastronomic possibilities of bacalhau, and passed their love of this salted fish on to the Brazilians.

Unfortunately, bacalhau is loved too well, not just in Portugal and Brazil, but throughout the world, and stocks of Atlantic cod have been decimated. Severe overfishing has led to collapse of the stock, and the long term outlook for a revival of a sustainable Atlantic cod fishery is decidedly dim. Today, much of the bacalhau sold in supermarkets and fish markets in Brazil comes from other species, some related to Atlantic cod and some not. Whatever the species though, bacalhau, which began as a way to cheaply feed the poor has become an expensive luxury here in Brazil and elsewhere.

Whatever the price, Brazilians are still willing to pay for the traditional privilege of eating bacalhau at Easter. This week, Brazilian supermarkets are laden with vast quantities of it, and the rather pungent smell of this salted fish wafts from one aisle to another. Few shoppers leave the market without at least a small package of salt cod and a chocolate Easter egg. That's the Brazilian Easter basket.

In the next few posts, I'll provide some traditional Brazilian and Portuguese recipes for bacalhau at Easter time. The product is available in many supermarkets, and in all Portuguese and Italian markets, in North America. If you want an alternative to the Easter ham or lamb this year, go Brazilian and serve bacalhau.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Foods of Easter in Brazil - Chocolate Easter Eggs

For Brazilians, Easter is THE time to eat chocolate, specifically in the form of chocolate Easter eggs. Some chocolate is part of the holiday foods of Christmas season, but only incidentally so. Brazilians don't celebrate St. Valentine's Day in February, instead they celebrate the Dia dos Namorados (Lovers' Day) in June, but chocolate isn't a great part of it. Easter, however, is an orgy of chocolate in this country which is the birthplace of the cacao tree.

It's impossible to avoid chocolate Easter eggs in Brazil during the Lenten season. TV is saturated with ads for them, bus shelters and buses themselves are plastered with ads,  and shops are filled, sometimes literally, with Easter Eggs. In all the major supermarkets and big-box stores, so many Easter eggs are on display that there is no room to put them on the shelves. Instead, temporary structures are built in all the aisles, and the eggs are hung from them, overhead the shoppers, just within reach. Traditionally the eggs are wrapped in brightly covered foil, so entering a supermarket aisle at Easter time is like walking into a cave roofed with sparkling, glittery chocolate-filled stalactites (or is it stalagmites?)  Here's a photo to give you an idea of the effect.

The variety of eggs sold each year in Brazil, and the size of the market, are both enormous. Eggs range in from minuscule  to ginormous, and in price from a few reais (approx. $1.00 USD) to thousands of reais. Special luxury eggs are sometimes priced at well over $10,000 USD.

Whatever the price, the 2010 "crop" of Easter eggs in Brazil will be approximately 5% higher than last year, according to APAS (Associação Paulista de Supermercados), a supermarket-industry association. APAS blames the price increase on this year's higher global price for sugar (which in turn is blamed on the failure of the sugar harvest in India), and on higher prices in Brazil for cocoa butter (blamed on the rise of the dollar against the real). Ironically, almost all the cocoa butter used in manufacture of chocolate in Brazil is imported, even though the product is produced here. According to a spokesperson for APAS, "the domestic product does not provide the taste that Brazilians appreciate in chocolate."

Nonetheless, even with higher prices, the chocolate industry in Brazil is expecting that sales of Easter eggs in 2010 will be about 7-10% greater than last year, when the economic crisis had an impact on the market. Brazilian consumers are more confident and optimistic about the economy this year, and increased sales of Easter eggs is one of the results.

Whether sales rise 5% or not, the consumption of Easter eggs in Brazil is astoundingly high. Expected volume in 2010 according to industry experts will be about 25.5 thousand tons, which works out to approximately 100 million Easter eggs. With a population of 200 million persons, that's half an egg for every Brazilian, from infant to great-granny, to enjoy during the Easter season.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

RECIPE - Feijoada (Classic, Traditional Recipe)

In my previous posts about feijoada, I mentioned that this meal contains numerous possible additions, modifications, substitutions and deletions. Consequently, there is no single definitive recipe for feijoada. Cookbooks and food magazines, Brazilian and foreign, newspapers and the internet offer up thousands of recipes for making this dish.

I'll post a few feijoada recipes here in Flavors of Brazil, but I thought it would be proper to start out with a very traditional recipe from 's Rio de Janeiro . As it's from Rio de Janeiro, it is called "Feijoada Carioca" in Portuguese. Carioca is a Portuguese word that means someone or something that is from Rio de Janeiro. Although feijoada is enjoyed everywhere in Brazil, it is most closely associated geographically with Rio de Janeiro.

This recipe is for a very traditional feijoada, and I'm posting it, even though not all the ingredients are likely to be available outside of Brazil, as illustrative of a classic feijoada. Fortunately, feijoada is infinitely flexible, and can be altered to suit taste, budget and availability, so don't hesitate to try this recipe even if you can't find everything that's in the list of ingredients. Just improvise!

You'll note that this recipe is high in saturated animal fats, and it is consequently highly caloric and probably not the most healthy recipe from Brazil. However, the final product is quite rich and most people do not eat a large quantity at one time, nor is feijoada eaten frequently. Just like the Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, this is a meal for special event or celebration, and as such, rules of healthy nutrition go out the window.
RECIPE - Feijoada (Classic, Traditional Recipe)
Serves 6

1/2 lb. (250 gr.) pork ribs, salted
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) pig's tail, salted
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) pig's foot, salted
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) pig's ear, salted
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) pork loin, salted
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) carne-do-sol (click here for instructions on how to make your own carne-do-sol)
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) beef brisket
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) Linguiça sausage, or other smoked sausage
1/2 lb. (250 gr.)  Linguiça sausage, spiced, or pepperoni
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) Kielbasa sausage, or other garlic sausage
1 1/2 cups dried black beans
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
5 bay leaves
1/2 cup cachaça
1 unpeeled orange, scrubbed and quartered
1 lb. (400 gr.) pork lard
1/2 lb. (250 gr.) thick sliced smoked bacon, cubed
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
The day before cooking the feijoada, place all the salted,meats in a large pan, and cover with cold water. Refrigerate. Change the water every three hours, for minimum 24 hours. Drain thoroughly.

In a very large kettle or bean pot, place the beans, the meats and sausages, the cilantro and green onions tied together, the bay leaves, the cachaça, and the orange. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook over low heat. As each meat in turn becomes fully cooked and tender (test with a fork) remove from the kettle, let cool, cut into bit-size pieces, and reserve.

When the black beans are fully cooked and soft (about 1.5 - 2 hrs.), remove 1 cup of beans and cooking liquid, and blend until smooth in a blender. Return 1/2 cup of this mixture to the beans in the kettle to thicken the cooking liquid.

In a large frying pan heat the lard, and cook the bacon in it until browned and crispy. Remove the bacon cubes, and in the same lard, fry the garlic and onion until soft and transparent, but not browned. Remove from heat, then stir in the reserved 1/2 cup of the blended beans. Stir entire contents of frying pan plus the reserved meats and bacon, into the beans in the kettle. Let cook over low heat for 20 minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve accompanied by Mineiro-style kale, thick slices of peeled oranges, white rice, farofa (recipe to follow), and caipirinhas to drink.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Origins of Feijoada - Another Urban Legend is Debunked

Ever since I first started coming to Brazil, I've heard numerous times of the origin of feijoada, Brazil's "National Dish". The details often varied, as did the sources, but the gist was always the same - that feijoada was a meal that had its origins in the food prepared by the slaves in colonial Brazil's mining districts, on its coffee plantations, and in its sugar cane growing regions. The story was that usually the food given to the slaves was restricted to rice and beans, and that when times were good, or to celebrate a holiday, the slaves were given a bit of the least-desirable cuts of pork (skin, snout, ears, feet, belly) to add to their normal diet. The slaves added this animal protein to the beans they usually ate unadorned, and feijoada was born. From there, it was brought into the kitchens of the plantation houses, made more elaborate and elegant, and in the 19th century became urbanized in the restaurants of Rio de Janeiro. From there it was adopted nationally, and attained it's iconic status.

All very romantic, but apparently also all very untrue. Doing some research for these postings about feijoada on Flavors of Brazil, I discovered that what I'd been hearing all this time was basically an urban legend - a very widespread one that is believed by the majority of Brazilians. According to Brazilian culinary historians, such as Carlos Augusto Ditadi, who is a historian at the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro, and Luís da Câmara Cascudo, author of História da Alimentação no Brasil (The History of Food in Brazil), the origins of feijoada are not even Brazilian. Feijoada goes back to the pork and bean stews of Southern Europe, and those of Portugal in particular. It turns out that feijoada and cassoulet are cousins! What these European dishes and feijoada have in common is that they are all ways of cooking the less noble cuts of pork in a thick bean stew. Closer study of the history of feijoada indicates that it is particularly closely related to the stews of the Portuguese regions of Extremadura, Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro. The major change that resulted in the "Brazilianization" of feijoada was the use of black beans, which are not typical in that part of Europe. Normally the European stews were made with kidney beans, white beans, or chickpeas.

The reality is somewhat less appealing than the myth, in which the scraps of food thrown to slaves was turned by them into the national dish. But reality it appears to be.

I'll shortly be posting recipes for the various dishes that constitute a feijoada. After that it's up to you readers to create your own Brazilian festa at home.

Feijoada - The Essential Ingredients

Although feijoada is often crowned with the title "Brazil's National Dish" it is not, in fact, a dish at all. Feijoada is a meal, in the same sense that Thanksgiving turkey dinner is not a dish but a meal. Just as one family might serve creamed pearl onions at Thanksgiving, while another family considers that heresy, and serves a broccoli casserole instead, the core ingredients of the Thanksgiving dinner rarely vary - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. Feijoada is exactly the same - there are a huge number of dishes that have made their way into a feijoada, but there is only a small number of dishes without which one cannot really call the meal a feijoada.

A true feijoada will consist, at the very least of:

Cuts of pork, including hocks, ears, and belly, cooked in black beans

Linguiça sausage cooked in black beans
Boiled white rice

 Peeled slices or cuts of fresh oranges

Mineiro-style kale
 And to accompany this enormous repast, the traditional beverage of a feijoada:

Together, all these dishes constitute a proper feijoada, but other additional dishes may be added as desired. Note that the first two ingredients, the true core of a feijoada, are pork products cooked in black beans. Although in today's world, with today's sensibilities, vegetarian feijoadas do exist, the traditionalist Brazilian would refuse to call that concoction a feijoada at all. But if the 21st century universal compendium of food has allowed the entry of vegetarian haggis or a vegetarian pasty, then let's allow an exception for vegetarians to allow them to enjoy feijoada. However, truth be told, a true feijoada is a meal for carnivores only.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Feijoada - Brazil's "National Dish"

It was inevitable that sooner or later Flavors of Brazil would come face-to-face with the dish that most gastronomes, culinary historians and sociologists call the national dish of Brazil - feijoada. A blog about Brazilian food without feijoada would be like an Italian food blog missing pizza, or an English food blog without spotted dick. Feijoada is the elephant in the room, so it's time to discuss it here on Flavors of Brazil.

There is no such thing as a "national dish" in Brazil, in the sense that feijoada has no official status in this country. Unlike acarajé and Mineiro cheese, feijoada has not been recognized as part of Brazil's cultural patrimony by IPHAN, the governmental body charged with compiling such a list. (Click here to read about IPHAN and  acarajé.)

Nonetheless, feijoada has been crowned with the status of "national dish" in countless books, newspapers, magazines and web posts worldwide, so I think such status is by now a fait accompli.

In upcoming posts, I'll discuss the history of this dish, it's composition, and a few recipes. LIke many other iconic, traditional dishes there is not a single "official" recipe for feijoada. Every Brazilian's favorite feijoada is the one made by his or her mother, grandmother or childhood maid. Consequently, recipes are innumerable. However, Flavors of Brazil will try to provide a few recipes for readers to create a truly Brazilian experience in their own homes. Feijoada is a great party dish, and is not difficult to make. Ingredients are available almost everywhere, so it's easily doable almost everywhere, by almost everyone.

More to come....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good Food in an Unlikely Place

Among the places where one's expectation of a good meal is minimal, certainly the most infamous is at 35,000 feet on board a plane - any plane. Complaints and jokes are airline food are legion, in Brazil as elsewhere in the world. Stale sandwiches, unhealthy packaged snacks, wilted salads - the list goes on and on.

Interestingly, there appears to be a small number of exceptions for this rule, including one in Brazil. The largest catering company at the largest Brazilian airport - LSG Sky Chefs at São Paulo's Guarulhos Airport has been winning a number of prizes internationally for the quality of the in-flight meals they prepare. Granted, to compare airline food with meals served on terra firma will always end to the detriment of "sky-high" cuisine, but when comparing airline food to airline food, LSG Sky Chefs appears to be a winner. In the past few years, LSG's operations at Guarulhos have won prizes as best catering station worldwide from British Airways and Air France. In 2008, LSG São Paulo won the IATA's Catering Quality Assurance Award as the Caterer of the Year.

In a recent edition of FDQ: Food and Drink Quarterly, LSG's Vice-President of sales and program management for Latin America, Andréa Arakaki, spoke about what makes LSG São Paulo different from it's operations at the other 200 airports where it has facitilities. She considers the major difference to be the "hand-made" quality of food prepared at Guarulhos. “Due to the low costs of labor, we rely a lot on people and very few machines for food preparation,” explains Arakaki. “Moreover, unlike Asia, Germany, and the U.S., where LSG Sky Chefs has invested in large plants for the production of frozen food that is then distributed to bases throughout each region, in Latin America, food is still prepared using fresh ingredients. While in North America and Europe customer demand for frozen food is on the rise, the majority of airlines in Latin America still request fresh food. Consequently, at Guarulhos, for example, we have our own butcher, bakery, pastry area, etc. – it’s at these individual work areas that all our food is made.”

Ms. Arakaki also feels that Brazilian culture contributes to the quality of her company's food. She points out that food is an integral part of social culture in Brazil, and that air travel here, although becoming more common day by day, still has a slightly-glamorous cachet. As a consequence, Brazilians' expectations of airline food are higher than in other countries where air travel has had the "glamour" equivalent to bus travel for a very long time. Whatever the reasons, I personally have noticed that food from Guarulhos is a step-up from that from other airports. My usual flight Toronto-São Paulo-Toronto serves better food leaving Brazil for Canada than it does in the other direction. And food on domestic airlines in Brazil, though meager, still exists, along with free beverages, including beer. So it's still possible to say "bom apetite" in the skies of Brazil.

Monday, March 15, 2010


We have a winner in Flavor of Brazil's little "guess the fruit" contest, in which I challenged readers to identify the Brazilian fruit shown in photos (click here and here to see the photos). Reader Doug correctly guessed that the fruit in question is the Brazil Nut. As I mentioned in posting the contest, the fruit in question (and yes, botanically the Brazil Nut is a fruit - we eat the seeds in this case and call them nuts) was strongly identified with Brazil. Having the word Brazil in the name of the fruit is probably the strongest identification possible, isn't it?

In Portuguese, these nuts are not called "Castanhas do Brasil" which would be a direct translation of the English name. Rather, they are known as "Castanhas do Pará" taking their name from the northern Brazilian state of Pará, where they were first commecially harvested.

The Brazil Nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is native to the Amazonian Rain Forest, and can be found from Bolivia to the Guianas.  It is one of the largest trees in the rain forest, reaching heights of up to 100- 150 ft. (30 - 45 m.) and normally lives for up to 500 years, although some specific trees are older than 1,000 year. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Brazil Nut tree's status as "vulnerable" as many of its habitats have fallen victim to deforestation.

The Brazil Nut has a very interesting, and extremely complicated, means of reproduction, which requires a specific species of orchid and a "long-tongued orchid bee." Wikipedia outlines the process like this:
The Brazil nut tree's yellow flowers contain very sweet nectar and can only be pollinated by an insect strong enough to lift the coiled hood on the flower and with tongues long enough to negotiate the complex coiled flower. For this reason, the Brazil nut's reproduction depends on the presence of the orchid Coryanthes vasquezii, which does not grow on the Brazil nut tree itself. The orchids produce a scent that attracts small male long-tongued orchid bees (Euglossa spp), as the male bees need that scent to attract females. The large female long-tongued orchid bee pollinates the Brazil nut tree. Without the orchid, the bees do not mate, and therefore the lack of bees means the fruit does not get pollinated.

With such a complicated system of reproduction, it's fortunate that each tree can live up to a thousand years - the chance of all required parties showing up at the same time and same place for reproducing is likely rather small.

Brazil Nuts are high in both calories and protein (18% protein by weight). It is also the richest dietary source of the mineral selenium, which has lead some researchers to suggest inclusion of Brazil Nuts in one's diet, due to selenium's significant powers in preventing certain cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.  The shell of this nut, however, contain alfatoxins which can lead to liver cancer. This has caused the EU to impose import restrictions on "in-the-shell" Brazil Nuts.

The shell of the nut itself is one of the most dense and hard of all nut shells, as anyone who's tried to attack an unshelled Brazil Nut with a simple nutcrackers probably already knows. In the forest, capuchin monkeys have been seen to use a stone as an anvil on which to crack open Brazil Nuts - I hope that's easier than using the typical nutcracker.

In its native habitat, the Brazil Nut is eaten by the local population raw, roasted, ground into flour, and in both savory and sweet dishes, including particularly, a delicious ice cream. Outside Amazonia, the bulk of exported nuts are eaten roasted and salted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BOTANICAL MYSTERY - What is this? (clue #2)

Yesterday, I posted a photo of a Brazilian fruit, and and gave some clues as to its identity. To continue, here's one more hint and an additional photo to help in identification. Again, if you want to guess or think you know what this is, leave a comment.

The hint is that this fruit comes from the Amazonian rain forest, and is NOT normally eaten fresh.

Here's the photo:

RECIPE - Fresh Ham Sandwich (Sanduiche de Pernil)

A few days ago, I wrote here on Flavors of Brazil about the success that Brazilian cookbooks had at the recent Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris (you can read that article by clicking here). In that article, I mentioned that the first prize for cookbook photography went to a book entitled Brasil a Gosto, written by São Paulo chef Ana Luisa Trajano.

I thought it would be interesting to include a recipe of hers on Flavors of Brazil, and have chosen her Fresh Ham Sandwich. This recipe does not come from Brasil a Gosto, but is included in the series Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora. I've translated and adapted it for North American kitchens.

This recipe is Ana Luisa's version of a São Paulo luncheonette classic - the Fresh Ham Sandwich, or Sanduiche de Pernil, as it's called in Portuguese. It is made from fresh ham, or pork leg (uncured and unsmoked). This cut of pork is called pernil in Brazil, but can easily be purchased in North America under the name fresh ham, or pork leg.
RECIPE - Fresh Ham Sandwich (Sanduiche de Pernil)

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into quarters
2 carrots, cut into thick rounds
2 sticks celery with leaves, chopped
2 heads of garlic
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 fresh ham (approx 6 lbs. - 3 kgs.)
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
good quality kaiser rolls, French or Italian rolls for sandwiches
In a large, heavy saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat, then saute the vegetables with the bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the white wine, and continue cooking over medium heat, until the wine reduces slightly. Remove from heat, cool, and reserve.

Using a knife-sharpening steel, make holes in the surface of the fresh ham to allow the marinade to penetrate into the meat. Pour half of the vegetable/wine marinade over the ham, turning the ham in the liquid to ensure that the marinade penetrates as much as possible. Place the ham in a large bowl or glass container, and refrigerate in the marinade for 24 hours.

The next day, in a large non-stick frying pan with a small amount of olive oil, brown the ham well on all sides. When browned, place the ham in a roasting pan, and pour the remaining half of the marinade over the meat. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree (moderate) oven, and roast for approximately 2.5 hours, basting the ham with pan juices every thirty minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

To construct the sandwiches, thinly slice the cooled ham. On a roll, prepared as desired with butter, mayonnaise or mustard, add two or three slices of ham. Serve with potato chips or a side salad.

Friday, March 12, 2010

BOTANICAL MYSTERY - What is this? (clue #1)

This fruit is one of the foods most commonly identified with Brazil throughout the world, though you've probably not seen it in its natural, complete state.To get a good view of this not-too-lovely item, click the photo to enlarge it. If you want to make a guess, or think you know what it is, leave a comment below. (There are no prizes for this, just glory.)

In the next few days, I'll post additional photos which will help you identify it. In the meantime, good luck!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

BREAKING NEWS - Brazilian Cookbooks Win International Awards

One of the most prestigious international awards for excellence in cookbook publishing is announced in Paris each February - the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories, and this year there were entries from 136 countries.

Nine Brazilian cookbooks were honored this year,  including a special jury award, and two first place finishes.

The prize for "Best Cookbook Photography in the World" was won by Brasil a Gosto (in English, Brazil to Taste), written by São Paulo chef/author Ana Luisa Trajano, with photographs by Alexandre Schneider. The book is a compendium of regional recipes from 40 Brazilian cities, and the photographs are stunningly beautiful. Not having seen the competing books, I can only say that it would appear to be a prize well-deserved.

Author Edmundo Furtado won the prize for "Best Book in the World for Wine Professionals" with his book 
Copos de Bar e Mesa (Glassware for Bar and Table). This book presents the history and evolution of glassware and stemware for professionals, and includes complete technical details on more than 50 types of glasses, including exact dimensions, and explanations of suitability of each type for specific beverages.

The Special Jury Prize was given to Comida de Tradiçao para Crianças (Traditional Food for Children) from Brazilian publishing house Editora Esplendor, written by Eduardo Sganzerla.

A complete list of all prizes worldwide may be found here, and a list of winning entries from Brazil is here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

RECIPE - Luis Felipe Cake (Bolo Luis Felipe)

First, I have to say that after much internet research I have no idea who "Luis Felipe" was, or why he inspired this recipe for a cake that is one of the most-loved desserts of the state of Ceará, where I live. Although the cake can now be found throughout Brazil, it's always associated with Ceará, so I'm going to guess that the mysterious Luis Felipe must have lived here. Whether he was a cook, a thief (a wife or a lover?) is probably lost in time, but his name lives on in this very unusual and delectable cake.

To my mind what makes this cake so different is its texture. It's a mixture of eggs, milk, sugar and flour - the basis of so many desserts from around the world. If you cook eggs, milk and sugar mixed together the result is some form of custard. Add a bit of flour and you get a clafouti, which is a slightly thicker custard. Add a lot of flour and the result is a simple pound cake. Luis Felipe cake has more flour than a clafouti, and less than a pound cake. The result is a dessert that's halfway between custard and cake. It has the uniform consistency of custard, but can be sliced and served without falling apart. It does not have the "crumbly" texture of cake, but has a very similar flavor. It's a strange beast indeed, and I've never seen any other cake with it's texture - anywhere or anytime.

It's not difficult to make, and if you (or your guests) are fans of custard or pound cake, serve Luis Felipe Cake. I can almost guarantee the seconds will be served!
RECIPE - Luis Felipe Cake (Bolo Luis Felipe)
Serves 10

4 egg whites
10 egg yolks
1 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup canned cononut milk, unsweetened
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups granulated white sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1 tsp. salt


In a medium, heavy saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water, then heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches the "thread stage" (temperature 225F-235F on candy thermometer, or until the syrup drips from spoon, forming soft threads in cold water). Remove from heat, add the butter and salt, and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat the egg whites to the "soft peak" stage, then gently beat in the yolks, one at a time, until you have a consistent mass. Fold in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with the coconut milk and the grated cheese. Finally, fold in the cooled syrup.

Generously butter a ring-shaped cake pan, and dust with flour. Pour the batter into the pan, place in a preheated oven, and cook for approximately 50 minutes to one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely, then unmold and serve.

The Price of a Cup of Coffee (update)

Last month I wrote an article in Flavors of Brazil about the tremendous difference in the price of coffee between Brazil and North America (click here for the article).

Comparing prices between countries depends not just on local prices, but also on exchange rates of course. So when I was at my local supermarket last night, and noticed there was a super-sale on my favorite brand of coffee, Santa Clara premium, I not only had to buy some, but had to check the dollar equivalent of the sale price.

Coffee here in Brazil is normally sold in packages of 250 gr. (about half a pound). The sale price that I paid last night was R$1.99 reais. Using this morning's official exchange rate, and converting from grams to pounds, that works out to USD $2.04 and CAD $2.09 per pound.

I figure that means that my pound of coffee here costs about half the price of a Starbuck's venti coffee latte. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pamonha - Brazil's tamales

One of the most important foods that the Americas gave to the rest of the world in the years following the arrival of Europeans to the New World is maize (corn). It is arguably the most important as it now cultivated throughout the world, and is the staple food of billions of humans on every continent. Only the potato might challenge corn for pride of place in the gallery of American foods.

In Brazil, the edible corn which we called "sweet corn" is known as milho verde. This can be translated as "green corn." I'm not sure why it bears that name, as the grains are equally yellow in Brazil as in Iowa or Kansas or Ontario. 

The corn plant is thought to have been first domesticated and cultivated in prehistoric Mexico, but prior to arrival of the first Europeans, it was known throughout large portions of both North and South America.

Corn is eaten in a number of ways in Brazil, but one of the most interesting in in the form of pamonha, which bears a close resemblance to the tamal of Mexico. Anyone familiar with Mexican tamales would recognize pamonha immediately, although these two foods have some significant differences. Tamales are made from a type of dry corn flour called masa harina, which is mixed with liquid to create the dough used to make them. In Brazil, fresh corn is grated and juiced to make pamonha dough. Mexican tamales are wrapped in dried corn husks and then steamed to cook them, while pamonhas are generally wrapped in fresh corn husks and cooked directly in boiling water rather than being steamed.

Pamonhas come in two basic varieties in Brazil, savory and sweet. I'm not sure if there are sweet tamales in Mexico, but I'm not familiar with them. Savory pamonhas are often filled with chopped meat or chicken, but can also be made "blind"; that is without stuffing. Sweet pamonhas are generally "blind" but can be flavored with coconut milk.

In my neighborhood in Fortaleza, every afternoon about 4 pm, I hear the sounds of the pamonha man coming from the street below. He rings a triangle as he walks by, shouting out the name of his wares - "Pamonha, Pamonha, Pamonha." In an age in which passing street-vendors have largely disappeared, it's a lovely reminder of earlier times and earlier ways to hear his call becoming louder as he approaches, and fading as he walks by. (Incidentally, his pamonhas are delicious, and only cost 1 real (about USD $0.50) each).

Mate - A Brazilian variety of tea

The dictionary offers two definitions of the word tea. One is an infusion in hot water of the leaves of Camellia sinensis , the plant which give us our common black and green teas. The second definition of tea is an unfusion in hot water of the flowers, leaves, or stems of any plant. Examples of such teas include camomile, mint, or linden. 

Brazilians do not drink much tea (in the first sense of the word). But as I have been discussing in the past few posts (click here or here) they do drink enormous quantities of mate, derived from the plant erva-mate. In southern regions, it's mostly drunk in the form of the traditional chimarrão. In all parts of Brazil, however, people drink something which they call chá mate. Cis the Portuguese word for tea, and so chá mate merely means mate tea. The difference between chimarrão and chá mate is that in chimarrão the leaves of the plant are dried, but are still green, whereas in chá mate, they are toasted. You can think of it as being the same as the distinction between green tea and black tea.

 Cmate can be bought in supermarkets in bulk or in tea bags, and can be used to make a hot drink like a "good cup of tea."  In Brazil's tropical climate, however, the appeal of hot tea is considerably lessened, and a good portion of the  consumed in Brazil is drunk in the form of iced tea, either home-made, or purchased in the form of pre-made, pre-sweetened, and often flavored iced drinks. It's a very refreshing however it's made, and makes a great thirst quencher at the beach, or in the hot sun. The commercial product, in line with Brazilian preference, tends to be very sweet, and so if you prefer a less-sweet drink, it's best to make it yourself, and keep some in the refrigerator at home.

Toasting the leaves of erva-mate do not seem to interfere with it's healthful qualities. Studies at the University of Santa Catarina indicate the the cholesterol-lowering properties of erva-mate are not reduced by toasting, and that drinking chá mate is equally beneficial in this regard as drinking chimarrão.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chimarrão - The Gaúcho Way to Drink Erva-Mate

In an earlier post on Flavors of Brazil, I wrote about the plant erva-mate (or in Spanish, yerba mate) which is the iconic drink of a large part of southern South America. You can read about the plant here. Throughout the southern cone of South America, the leaves of the erva-mate plant are used to create a variety of drinks - some hot, some cold, some with green fresh leaves, some with dry leaves, some bitter, some sweet. In this post, we'll discuss the way erva-mate is most commonly drunk in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul - in the drink known as Chimarrão.

In Brazilian Portuguese, the inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul are called Gaúchos. Gaúcho in Portuguese carries the same original meaning it does in Argentinian Spanish - referring to the ranchers and cowboys of the vast pampas of this region. In Portuguese, the word is pronounced slightly differently than in Spanish, as "ga-OO-shoe." To most present-day Brazilians, however, a Gaúcho means nothing more than a person who lives in Rio Grande do Sul, and the word has lost its connections to ranching and cowboys.

Even though most Gaúchos have little or nothing to do with cattle ranching, the culture of the original cowboy gaúchos is still very much present in the south of Brazil. This can be seen in the cuisine of Rio Grande do Sul, and heard in the music; both derive from traditional  gaúcho ways.

Many Gaúchos make drinking erva-mate a daily habit; indeed, many drink it continually all day. In the streets or in the parks of any city in Rio Grande do Sul, at work or at home, a significant part of the population will be drinking erva-mate in the form of chimarrão at any given time. And it's easy to spot who's drinking chimarrão, because the apparatus used, and the ritual of preparation are unique to this type of tea. For many visitors to Porto Alegre, or other cities of this state, the sight of omnipresent chimarrão drinkers is one of their strongest memories when they return home.

Chimarrão is a drink made by infusing dried leaves and stems of the erva-mate plant in hot water (not boiling water which makes it bitter). The essential equipment, other than the tea itself includes a thermos jar of hot water, a cuia and a bomba. The cuia is a dried gourd, usually rounded or egg-shaped, which has been hollowed out and dried, often carved or ornamented with worked gold or silver. A bomba is simply a hollow metallic "straw" with a filter at one end, from which the  chimarrão is drunk.

To make chimarrão, some erva-mate leaves are placed in the bottom of the cuia, then hot water is poured over them, and left to steep. After a few minutes it is ready to drink.

The etiquette and ritual of drinking chimarrão is detailed and unvarying. Chimarrão is a social drink, and there are strict rules which must be obeyed when drinking it with others. The "host/hostess", the person who is offering the drink, must be the first person to pour hot water over the tea, and also the first person to drink. This is considered altruistic, as the first infusion is the strongest, and can be bitter. When he or she has drunk all the chimarrão he must refill the cuia with hot water from the thermos, and pass the drink and the thermos to the next person (usually people are served in order of importance, socially or economically). That person in turn must drink all the chimarrão, then refill the cuia and pass it to the next person along with the thermos. In turn, each person in the group receives the cuia filled with chimarrão , drinks it, refills the cuia and passes it on. It is considered extremely bad manners not to drink all the chimarrão, and to leave some in the cuia for the next person. To show to the group that one has drunk all the chimarrão, it is considered polite to drink until the bomba makes a gurgling sound, indicating there is no more liquid in the cuia.

 Chimarrão is not the only drink made from erva-mate, but it is definitely the most important one culturally. Drinking chimarrão with family, colleagues or friends creates a social bond, and fosters one's identity as a  Gaúcho.

In future posts, I'll talk about some of the other drinks made from this very special type of holly.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mate - the plant, not the buddy

In southern parts of South America (specifically Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and the southern states of Brazil, particularly Rio Grande do Sul) there is a strong tradition of drinking infusions of the plant mate known in Spanish as yerba mate and in Portuguese as erva-mate. (The proper English pronunciation of mate is not ma-TEH, incidentally. It is MA-teh with the accent on the first syllable.) The plant is a species of holly (ilex paraguarienses) and is native to those regions listed above. The leaves and twigs of this plant are used to create a number of different teas, which vary regionally, culturally and linguistically. I'll discuss the various drinks created from mate in future posts. These drinks are often significant parts of the culture, culinary and social, of the regions where they are popular.

Mate was first cultivated by the Guarani Indians who used the dried leaves and twigs of ilex paraguarienses to infuse teas. The habit of drinking mate was spread throughout southern South America first by Jesuit missionaries, and later by the cowboys known as gauchos.

Mate contains caffeine, varying from 0.7% to 1.7% by dry weight. This compares to tea leaves (0.3%-0.9%) or coffee (up to 3.2%). It also has elements such as potassium, manganese and magnesium, and has been shown to have anti-cholesterol and anti-oxidant properties. Conversely, there is some indication that mate has a limited connection to some specific cancers, particularly oral cancer. It's not clear, however, whether it is the chemical composition of mate that is carcinogenic, or whether it is the effect of drinking hot liquids (of any type). Some laboratory studies with mice seem to indicate that imbibing mate has the effect of lessening the tendency to obesity associated with high-fat diets.

In the regions where it is drunk, mate is as culturally significant as is black tea is in Scotland, as coffee is in Italy, or as wine is in France. It is not just a beverage, it's a social and cultural unifier and identifier that cross national and linguistic boundaries to create the "culture of mate."