Monday, May 31, 2010

RECIPE - Chucrute (The Brazilian Take on Sauerkraut)

Southern Brazil's state of Santa Catarina received a large influx of European immigrants in the 19th Century, continuing on into the early years of the 20th Century. They came to the south of Brazil as it was fertile land, suitable for agriculture, and most of had been farmers in Europe. The south was relatively unpopulated at the time, and so was eager to absorb and immigrant population. And finally, the temperate climate of the south, with hot summers and cold, sometimes freezing, winters was less of shock to the immigrants' systems than the tropics further north.

One of the most numerous groups of immigrants that came to Santa Catarina were from Germany. The first German immigrants arrived in 1828, and by the end of the 19th Century, large parts of Santa Catarina were settled primarily by Germans. The two largest settlements were in Blumenau and Joinville, cities which today still have a very German flavor. At the present date, 40% of the population of Santa Catarina can trace its roots back to Germany, and in some areas of the state, German is more commonly spoken than Portuguese.

One of the recipes that arrived in Santa Catarina with the early immigrants from Germany was sauerkraut, still a popular dish today. Over time, influenced by the French name for sauerkraut - choucroute - the Portuguese name changed to the somewhat more Latin-influenced chucrute (pronounced shoe-crew-tchee), but the recipe is still recognizable as German sauerkraut. Here's how chucrute is made today in Blumenau, Joinville and numerous other towns and villages of Santa Catarina.
RECIPE - Chucrute
Serves 4

1 lb. sauerkraut (preserved in glass jar is better than tinned)
1/2 cup smoked bacon, in 1/3" cubes
5 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
8 dried juniper seeds
pinch of granulated white sugar
1 small white onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
Put the sauerkraut in a sieve or colander and run cold water over it to remove the brine. then squeeze it gently in the hands to remove excess moisture. Put the bacon cubes in a heavy, medium saucepan, and fry it until the fat is rendered and cubes are crispy. Add the bay leaves, the peppercorns, the juniper and the sliced onion and continue to fry over medium heat until the onion is soft and transparent but not browned. Add the sauerkraut, forkfuls at a time, and using the fork to separate the strands. Stir well, add the white wine, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced by half. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

These are Brazilian Dishes??

Imagine that you just bought a book of Brazilian regional cuisine. It has a beautiful cover and you thought it would be nice to have a book of Brazilian recipes in your collection of cookbooks. When you get it home and open it up to thumb through some recipes you find recipes for these dishes: lasagne, gnocchi, beefsteak tartare, chucrute, spatzle, Kassler rippen, and even knackwurstchen mit sauerkraut und salat. You'd think that somehow the wrong cover got put on the wrong book, and what you had was not a Brazilian cookbook but a German or Italian one. If your new book was about the regional cuisine of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, however,then those recipes are exactly the ones you  should expect to find, as they are the typical foods of this state of immigrants, particularly from Germany and Italy.

Southern Brazil is different from the rest of the country in topography, climate, racial and ethnic mixture, and all forms of culture, including cuisine. The three southern states, Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul, share a temperate climate that is very different from most of Brazil, which is tropical year-round. In the mountains of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul temperatures fall to freezing or below frequently during the winter months of June, July and August. Most of the current population of these states can look back up the family tree to find ancestors living in Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Lebanon or Syria. And like descendants of immigrants around the world they continue to honor their immigrant heritage. Village festivals might include Oktoberfest-style beer tents and oom-pa-pa bands in lederhosen. Italian holidays are celebrated, as is the grape harvest with wine festivals. It's very different from the beach, sun and palm tree picture postcard image that most people carry in their minds when they think of Brazil.

But just as Carmela Soprano's baked ziti cooked at her home in New Jersey is not the same thing as her great-grandmother cooked in Italy, the dishes of these states, although they might have a name that comes from the family homeland, have been molded and modified by the years spent in Brazil. It's interesting to see what has changed over the course of a trans-oceanic voyage and a century or two in the New World, and what has not. In the next few posts, I'll give you some recipes from this region that reflect the immigrant heritage of southern Brazil. One thing for certain, the ingredients will not be difficult to find anywhere in North America or Europe. This is the cuisine of temperate climates, and the ingredients are very similar to areas with similar climates north of the equator.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Roots of Chocolate - The Cacaueiro Trees of Bahia

Chocolate, in whatever its form - a Brigadeiro, a hot chocolate drink, a Mars bar, Callebaut Belgian cooking chocolate - begins its journey to the palate of the consumer in the seed of the cocoa tree (scientific name: Theobroma cacao), which in Portuguese is called the cacaueiro tree. The origins of this tree, which was cultivated from Mexico to Brazil long before the arrival of Europeans on the heels of Christopher Columbus, are obscure, but it is thought that it originated among the foothills of the Andes mountains in the western Amazon River basin. Wild cocoa trees can still be found in that area.

One of the best places on earth to grow the cocoa tree is in the southern sections of the Brazilian state of Bahia. The climate, topography, soil and biodiversity of the local forest (called Mata Atlântica) combine to create perfect growing conditions. Most of Brazil's commercial production of chocolate (95%) comes from this area, and historically it was one of the most important worldwide sources of cocoa. Today, Ghana and The Ivory Coast in West Africa are the largest cocoa producers in the world, but the cultivation of cacao trees is still economically significant in Bahia.

Bahia's cacaueiro trees are to this day planted in the natural forest rather than in plantations or orchards, as the tree, although it can reach a height of up to 40 feet, requires shade from the forest canopy for ideal growing conditions. Cultivation and harvesting of the fruit of the cacaueiro is to this day primarily a manual process, with little mechanical support.

It is from the fruit of the cacaueiro that chocolate ultimately derives. The fruit is large, up to 8 inches in length, with a hard rind and skin about 2 inches thick. Inside the fruit is a thick, sweet and gummy juice enclosing from 30 to 50 large, soft seeds. It is from these seeds, once they have been dried and fully fermented, that the two components of chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa butter, are extracted. The fruits are cracked open, the seeds are extracted and washed, and then are spread out on the ground to dry and ferment in the heat of the sun. Even today, naturally drying and fermenting of the seeds is the most common means of production of chocolate, as mechanical drying can introduce other, unwanted, flavors to the final product. In the central squares of small Brazilian towns in southern Bahia one can see drying cacau seeds spread out in the sun to dry during the harvest season. Once dry and fermented, the seeds begin their journey on the road to delighting children and adults alike, all over the world, with the heavenly taste of chocolate.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guaraná Jesus - Brazil's "Holy" Soft-Drink

In our ever-shrinking, globalized world, I find it refreshing when something, anything, remains particularly and resolutely local. When something, be it a style of music, a fashion, a type of handicraft, a food or a drink, has a cult following in one region, and is practically unheard of in the rest of the world.

In the most recent post here on Flavors of Brazil, I discussed Guaraná Antartica, a popular soft-drink everywhere in Brazil, manufactured by a multinational brewing consortium. It has a huge following in Brazil, but it is known outside the country only in expatriate Brazilian communities, and among travelers who learned to enjoy it in Brazil. But Guaraná Antartica isn't really what I mean when I mention very local cult brands or styles, because Brazil is a huge country with almost 200 million inhabitants.

There is another Guaraná made in Brazil which does have this status. It's called Guaraná Jesus, and it comes from the poor northeastern state of Maranhão, where it is extremely popular. It's a carbonated soft drink, bright pink, and although the list of ingredients is secret there are hints of clove and cinnamon in its flavor. It's very sweet, in keeping with Brazilians' flavor preferences, and naturally, it contains guaraná from the Amazon.

Guaraná Jesus was named after its pharmacist-inventor, Jesus Norberto Gomes, of São Luís, Maranhão, who developed the drink at his pharmacy in 1920. He was trying to imitate a locally-popular medicinal concoction when he developed the soft drink, which he baptized with his own name. Ironically, although the drink has a Biblical name, Gomes was a fervent atheist, and was excommunicated by the Catholic Church for assaulting a padre.

Guaraná Jesus' advertizing campaign often use religious humor and references to advertise the drink. Among the company's recent slogans are: "Abençoe sua sede!" (Bless your thirst!) "Guaraná Jesus, porque nem só de pão vive o Homem" (Guarana Jesus - because man does not live by bread alone) and "Fé no estômago" (Faith in your stomach).

The ironic part of this whole story, for me at least, is that this small soft drink company, which was a market leader for many years in its own little corner of the world, did too well in selling its product. Guaraná Jesus was just too-tempting a purchase for one of the big multi-nationals not to scoop up, and in 2001 Coca-Cola purchased Guaraná Jesus. Up to this point, however, they have left it a strictly local product, only manufactured in Maranhão. I hope they keep it that way forever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Guaraná - The Soft Drink

The small fruit from the Amazonian rain forest known as guaraná provides not only an extract or powder with a powerful stimulant effect on the body, as discussed in the previous post, but also provides the name, if not the principal , of one of the most important soft drinks sold in Brazil, certainly the most iconically Brazilian soft drink that exists. Brazilians, in the third largest market in the world for soft drinks, consume enormous quantities of guaraná, which follows only Coca-Cola in the national market. The soft drink Guaraná is a crisp, highly carbonated soft drink, with a flavor that can best be described as "apple-ish" with hints of berries. It's very refreshing, particularly when served ice cold on a tropically hot day, a typical day in most of Brazil.

The first Guaraná soft drink was developed in 1905 by a medical doctor in Rio de Janeiro state. It became popular quickly, and its popularity led to the development of competing soft drinks named Guaraná . The most important of these was created in 1921 by Antartica, a beverage and brewery company which is now port of the largest beer producing consortium in the world AmBev. Guaraná Antartica is by far the most consumed Guaraná in Brazil, dwarfing all competitors, including the Kuat brand, which is Coca-Cola's entry into the Guaraná market. It is so much the brand leader in Brazil that one's of it's more recent slogans is simply "É o que é," which means "It is what it is." Guaraná  Antartica is the primary sponsor of the Brazilian national soccer team, which links the product directly to the soul of Brazilian culture. During the 2006 World Cup, Antartica filled the nation's TV screens with a commercial that some consider the best Brazilian commercial of all time, and which created a storm of outrage in neighboring Argentina. In the commercial, the camera pans the national team singing the Brazilian National Anthem, and as it pans, you see the among the players Diego Maradona dressed in the official Brazilian kit. Suddenly the scene shifts as Maradona awakes from this nightmare in his own bed, and puts it all down to drinking Guaraná Antartica before going to bed. Here is the ad, from YouTube:

Antartica isn't the only Guaraná in Brazil, though, and in the next post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll cover one of the most interesting of the non-Antartica Guaranás.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


If not "flavor of the month", the small red fruit known as guaraná in its Amazonian homeland and as guarana with-no-accent in the rest of the world has become a buzzword for the 21st century. "Buzz" is indeed the appropriate word to use here, as guarana fruit contains more than twice the caffeine punch of the coffee bean. The percentage of caffeine, botanically known as guaranine when occurring in the guarana plant, in guarana is approximately 2-4.5% by weight, whereas in the coffee bean in ranges from 1-2%.

The guarana tree (Paullinia cupana), which is in the same botanical family as the maple, is native to the Amazon rain forest, and is particularly prevalent in the Brazilian portions of that forest. The fruit of this tree was harvested by native tribes of Indians long before the arrival of Columbus and was revered for its medicinal or magical properties. According to Indian legend, one day an evil deity killed a particularly well-loved child. A more benevolent god, seeing the grief caused by this senseless act, plucked the left eye of the dead child and planted it in the forest, where it sprouted into the wild guarana tree. Then it plucked the right eye of the child and planted it in the village, where it grew into the domestic guarana tree. The bright red fruit, with a black seed inside, is considered to resemble an eye, which is probably part of the origin of this legend.

Guarana extract, often in the form of a powder, has been used by Brazilian pharmacists and apothecaries for centuries as a stimulant which can be added to any type of syrup or concoction. Pure guarana powder can be purchased in pharmacies, healthfood stores and supermarkets throughout Brazil, and it is often added to fruit juice drinks to provide an extra energy boost. The phenomenal growth in the use of guarana as a stimulant in the 21st century, however, has not come from the Brazilian market, but from the worldwide market in energy drinks, most of which depend on guarana to provide at least part of that "energy" that is the mystique of these beverages. A quick look at the list of ingredients on the back of a can of Jolt, Burn, Starbucks Energy+Coffee, Monster, Mountain Dew MDX  and countless others will show guarana to be an ingredient. This has had an important impact on the growth of the export market for guarana extract and powder in Brazil, and has contributed to the globalization of the consumption of guarana, though most likely few who imbibe these energy drinks care what's providing their "buzz."

In Brazil, one of the most popular soft drink flavors is known as Guaraná. Although there is a small amount of guarana in these drinks (the caffeine levels are similar to those in Coca-Cola), they are not energy drinks. In the next posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll discuss these soft drinks.

Monday, May 24, 2010

RECIPE - Souza Leão Cake (Bolo Souza Leão)

One of Pernambuco's most well-loved gifts to the cooking traditions of Brazil is this decadently rich custard-cake, Souza Leão Cake (Bolo Souza Leão). Invented in the 19th Century by someone in the Souza Leão family, on one of their eleven sugar plantations, this cake is now served at wedding receptions, birthday and anniversary parties, and even funeral receptions around Brazil.

Their are innumerable variations of this cake, and many, many recipes for it, but this one, from Viagem Gastronómica Atraves do Brasil, was given to the author of that book by dona Rita de Souza Leão Barreto Coutinho, of the Moreno Plantation branch of the family, who is seen in the center of the photo at right seated between Izabel de Souza Leão Veiga and Eudes de Souza Leão Pinto, from the same branch of the family.

Unlike Luis Felipe cake, a similar custard-cake which requires only ingredients easily obtained in North America and Europe, Souza Leão cake uses a manioc dough called puba which means it is difficult to make outside Brazil. Puba is made from manioc that is allowed to ferment, covered with water, for seven days. After fermentation, the manioc is drained, washed thoroughly, and then grated. Finally the grated manioc is squeezed to remove all liquid from the pulp, wrapped tightly and refrigerated for up to one week. At this point, the puba is ready to use.

So, notwithstanding the possibilities of problems in finding puba, you might enjoy reading this recipe which has a long history, and I'm sure a longer future ahead of it.
RECIPE - Souza Leão Cake
Makes 22 portions

2.2 lbs. (1 kg.) granulated sugar
2 cups cold water
2 cups unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt
2.2 lbs. (1 kg.) manioc dough (puba)
16 egg yolks
3 cups coconut milk
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground anise seed
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Grease a large round cake pan, with high sides, with softened butter.

In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in cold water, heat over high heat and, stirring constantly,bring to a boil. Stop stirring at this point, and cook the syrup to soft-string stage. Do not let color or caramelize. Remove from heat, and stir in the unsalted butter and salt. Let cool completely.

Place the manioc dough in a large bowl, then add the egg yolks one at a time, alternating with small aounts of coconut milk, making sure that each is incorporated before adding more. Finally, add the cold sugar syrup and mix everything completely. Pour the batter through a fine sieve, then add the spices.

Pour the batter into the greased cake pan, place the pan in a roasting dish and pour hot water into it to the height of the top of the batter and place in pre-heated oven for 50 minutes, or until it is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from heat, and let cool in the cake pan. When only warm, unmould the cake onto a serving platter and let cool completely, serving from the same platter.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Story of a Cake - Bolo Souza Leão

Back in March, Flavors of Brazil featured a traditional cake from the state of Ceará called Luis Felipe Cake (Bolo Luis Felipe). It is a dense, moist cake, with a texture halfway between cake and custard. (Click here to read about Luis Felipe cake.) In that article I mentioned that I had no idea who Luis Felipe was, or why the cake was named after him.

In a state that borders Ceará, Pernambuco, a similar cake is made and it also bears the name of someone, or in this case the name of a family - Souza Leão. Unlike poor Luis Felipe whom no one remembers, the Souza Leão family is well known. According to family legend, someone in the family invented this cake, but no one is sure exactly who. In his book Viagem Gastronómica Atraves do Brasil, author Caloca Fernandes tells the story of this family, which has a long history in Pernambuco and which will forever be associated with the cake that bears its name.

The Souza Leão family, according to Fernandes, was a large colonial family during the era of the sugar cane boom in Brazil and the various branches of the family owned eleven sugar plantations, among them such interestingly-named plantations as Moreno, Tapera, Bom Dia ("Good Morning" in English), Xixiam and Alagodeiras. The family is still prominent in Pernambuco, though of course the sugar plantations as they were in colonial days are long gone.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, there will be a recipe for this delicious (and extravagant) cake. Like it's cousin from Ceará, Luis Felipe cake, Souza Leão cake is an orgy of sugar and eggs and is generally served only on special occasions. When you read the recipe, you'll see why.

Friday, May 21, 2010

RECIPE - Country-style Chicken with Angu (Frango Caipira com Angu de Fubá)

Angu, Brazil's polenta, is a marvelous addition to a traditional country-style chicken dish from the central Brazilian state of Goiás. This huge, landlocked state is primarily agricultural, with farms ranging in size from small subsistance farms to mega-ranches and plantations.

The traditional cuisine of Goiás comes from the small family farms that dot the land, and very few of those farms don't have a half of a dozen chickens scratching around in the yard. They are valuable for the protein they provide in their eggs, and on special occasions for the protein they provide with their meat. A chicken that has lived its life running around the yard, what we'd call a free-range chicken, is known in Brazil as a frango caipira, which means "country-style chicken."

As this dish combines chicken with angu, the cornmeal polenta of Brazil, it makes a substantial main course, and need be accompanied only by a salad or cooked vegetable.
RECIPE - Country-style Chicken with Angu
Serves 4

3.5 lb (1.5 kg.) free-range chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 tsp. corn oil, or other neutral vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 japapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cups water
1/4 cup chopped green onion, green parts only
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup yellow cornmeal (polenta)
In large heavy-duty pan, heat the oil then fry the chicken pieces until nicely browned on all sides. Fry in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Use additional oil if required to avoid sticking.

Return all the chicken to the pan, the add the salt, garlic and turmeric, mixing well to cover all the chicken with the seasonings. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken to a large serving platter, cover with half of the cooking liquid, sprinkle with the green onion and cilantro, and keep warm.

Return the remaining half of the cooking liquid to the heat, and when simmering add the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the cornmeal begins to thicken enough to retain its shape on a spoon. If the angu becomes to thick, add hot water to thin it out. The consistency should be like oatmeal, or wet polenta.

Place the angu in a bowl, and serve it and the chicken immediately.

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Angu - The Polenta of Brazil

Recently, Flavors of Brazil featured in a few posts an ingredient called fubá. Fubá is the ground, dried corn that is known in English as cornmeal, and it is used to make delicious cakes and pastries among other things. (Click here for a recipe for Bolo de Fubá, a sweet cornmeal cake.)

Brazilians make much use of fubá in savory dished too, and in that they are like the northern Italians who turn their cornmeal into the famous Italian dish polenta. When fubá is mixed with water, with or without other ingredients, and then cooked it becomes angu - Brazil's polenta. In areas of Brazil which received a large number of Italian immigrants in the past people do use the word polenta, but in the rest of the country, it's called angu, a word that derives from the Fon language of West Africa. In some regions of Brazil angu is prepared not with cornmeal (fubá) but with manioc flour, however, angu de fubá, is the more traditional dish.

Italian polenta is often referred to as being either "wet" or "dry" depending on the relative quantity of water and cornmeal. Wet polenta is creamy and won't hold its shape on a spoon. Dry polenta is firm, and after cooking and cooling, can be cut into any shape desired. There is a similar variation in Brazilian angu - one style, which is made simply with fubá, water and salt and which has a firm texture is called angu mineiro, which means "in the style of Minas Gerais." The creamier, moister angu is called angu baiano, "in the style of Bahia." Angu baiano often has other ingredients added to the basic cornmeal and water, things such as meats, shrimp, vegetables and seasonings.

Angu, of whichever style, is generally served as a side dish. As it's a carbohydrate, it is often served in place of rice or pasta, although Brazilians do not restrict themselves to one starch per meal, and often serve both angu and rice on the same plate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

RECIPE - Pineapple and Lemongrass Tea (Chá de abacaxi com capim-santo)

Fresh pineapple is a delight and a totally different experience from any form of preserved pineapple. Here in Brazil fresh pineapples are often available at a very good price, but when I lived in Canada high prices restricted my purchases of fresh pineapple to the category of "sweet indulgences." Often a single pineapple would cost 3 or 4 dollars, so I didn't pick one up every day in the supermarket. In addition to the price of the fruit, I begrudged the fact that a goodly portion of it would be thrown away in the preparation - the crown of course, but also the skin. Due to the formation of the fruit, with its spiny eyes in the skin, large amounts of delicious pulp would be lost when peeling away the skin. I often wondered if there was any possible use for the skin.

Recently, here in Brazil, I came across a recipe for an iced tea made with pineapple peelings and lemongrass that's refreshing, delicious, healthy AND a great way to avoid having to compost or throw out the skin of a fresh pineapple. It was developed by Graziela Calfat and Ivana Cunha Morettin at Boa Bistrô in São Paulo, and I discovered the recipe on the site of Folha de S. Paulo, one of that city's major newspapers.

Although lemongrass is a plant that comes originally from Southeast Asia, it grows well in Brazil where it's known under the names of capim-santo and capim-limão. It is generally consumed in teas and health drinks and hasn't become the flavoring ingredient that it is in Asia. It's considered more medicinal than culinary, but Brazilians consider it to be chock-full of health-bestowing properties.

Next time you buy a pineapple at the market, remember to buy some lemongrass too, and when you prepare the pineapple, save the peels and make this tea. I guarantee you'll like it.
RECIPE - Pineapple and Lemongrass Tea (Chá de abacaxi com capim-santo)
Yield - 1 pint (500 ml.)

Peelings of one pineapple, washed thoroughly
One bunch lemongrass
1 pint (500 ml.) water
honey to taste
Trim the lemon grass stalks, removing the woody outer layers, retaining only the tender cores. Crush them with the side of a cleaver, or chop finely. Place in a teapot, in a strainer or loose in the pot. Bring 1 pint water to the boil, pour over the lemongrass and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain if necessary, then reserve.

Coarsely chop the pineapple peelings, Place them in a heavy saucepan, pour the lemongrass tea over and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and reserve.

Using a blender or food processor, blend the pineapple peeling/lemongrass tea mixture until thoroughly blended. Taste for sweetness, then add honey if desired and blend again for a minute or so. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a serving pitcher. Refrigerate the tea, and when cold, serve in tall glasses over ice.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RECIPE - Spinach and Palm Heart Salad with Tamarind Dressing

Although most cooks and diners think of tamarind in the context of Southeast Asian or Indian foods, the fruit is used extensively in Brazilian cuisine. The tamarind tree originated in central Africa, and from there Arabian traders took it too the Indian subcontinent and on to the countries of Southeast Asia. Portuguese explorers and traders then brought it back from Asia to Europe, and carried it on to Brazil, where it's become a popular food source.

Brazilians love tamarind juice, tamarind Popsicles and tamarind candies. The fruit is also valued in cooked dishes, where the addition of tamarind juice adds an acidity and sharpness that is similar to, but not identical to, the acidity of citrus juices.

Here's a modern-day Brazilian recipe for a light and healthy salad of spinach and palm hearts (palmito) with a tamarind based dressing.
RECIPE - Spinach and Palm Heart Salad with Tamarind Dressing
Serves 2

1/4 lb. (100 gr.) tamarind pulp (can be purchased in Asian and Latin American markets)
2 Tbsp. light sesame oil
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. salt
4 cups lightly packed spinach leaves
2 stalks hearts of palm, thinly sliced
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
Place the tamarind pulp in a medium bowl, and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand for 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Pull the seeds out of the tamarind pods, place the pulp of the pods in a small sieve and press the pulp through the sieve into a bowl. Combine with the sesame oil, rice vinegar and salt to taste. Reserve.

Put the spinach leaves in a large salad bowl. Add the sliced palm hearts, then the tamarind dressing. Finally, toss lightly to coat the spinach leaves with dressing, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top of the salad, and serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mannequim Magazine, Feb. 2010.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Weekend in the Country

When the tropical heat of Fortaleza becomes too much to bear, local residents often head for the hills. Nestled in the mountains at an altitude of 2850 feet (865 meters) yet only 60 miles (100 km.) from Fortaleza is the small alpine resort town of Guaramiranga. The weather there is significantly cooler than on the coast, usually in the upper 70s (25C) during the day, and down to the low 60s (15-16C) at night. For residents of Fortaleza, these temperatures are a thrillingly chilly experience, and one to be savored. In and around Guaramiranga there are a number of inns, chalets and small hotels, and in the city itself a variety of restaurants. But many residents of Fortaleza have weekend homes there, or visit the homes of friends while in the mountains.

I spent the past weekend in Guaramiranga at the home of a good friend, taking advantage of the cool weather, in bright sunshine during the day, and under clear, crisp skies at night. On Saturday, we spent the day at the home of another friend, where we were treated to the Brazilian holiday ritual called churrasco. (Click here to read a bit more about churrascos in an earlier post on Flavors of Brazil.) There was a group of a dozen or so people, including three generations of the host family and friends from each of those generations. As is typical, the party started about noon, on a large open deck which has a full barbeque-kitchen at the back and a view over the forest and a small pool at the front. The kitchen includes a full barbeque pit, a traditional Brazilian wood-stove (very different from the North American model), an oven, a brick pizza-oven, two sinks, and a wet bar.

Wood Stove

Wood-burning oven

Coffee-making utensils

While the fires were lit and stoked, drinks were served around the large antique dining table on the shaded and covered deck, and much talk moved between the table and the cooks (who were also guests) at the grills. Courses were cooked separately, mostly one at a time, and each was served when it came off the grill. Sometimes there might be as long as an hour between courses, an hour filled with chatter, laughter and toasts.

The first course to come to the table was prepared on the wood stove. Chicken drumsticks and small, pudgy pork sausages were cooked over the fire in an enamelled cast-iron pan, then sauced with a sweet and sour sauce using local honey and citrus juices, flavored with home-grown rosemary.

Drumsticks and sausages on the wood stove

Drumsticks and sausages served

While the guests were nibbling (actually more like gobbling) the chicken and sausages, spatchocked quails were grilling in the barbeque pit. Raised just down the road, these little birds were grilled very simply, with just olive oil and salt. They came to the table crunchy and crispy, and most people had more than one.

Quails on the grill

Quails served at table

There was a longish break after the quails, fortunately. While the cooks were preparing the steaks (picanha) and pork loin on the grill, I was given a tour of the garden by the hostess. There were hundreds of bromeliads and orchids, ferns of every type, heliconia and strelitzia, and some beautiful food-bearing trees including avocado, lime, tangerine and palmitos.

Tangerines ripening

I returned to the deck just in time for the main course to be served. Up to this point, the food had consisted entirely of meat, which is typical of a churrasco. For the main course, the meats were accompanied by rice (with carne do sol and fresh bananas from the garden), manioc flour, and home-made hot pepper sauce.

Main course meats being cooked on the grill

Beef steaks - picanha cut

Rice with carne do sol and bananas

By the time the last of the main course was cleared away, it was approaching 5 pm, and since we'd begun at noon, it had already been a five-hour meal. Things slowed down a bit, coffee was made, and about an half an hour later, coffee and aged cachaça were placed on the table, and the meal ended with drinks and a coconut-cashew nut cake. Shortly thereafter, as the sun set, people began making their thank-yous, and all had left by abou 6:30 pm. A churrasco is a daytime event, and rarely goes past sunset.

Although the meal was very meat-heavy, because it was served at such a slow pace, no one became over-full. Just as the appetite reawakened, another grilled meat seemed to appear as if by magic on the table. A beautiful way to spend a beautiful day - lovely surroundings, good friends, and good food and drink.

Enough to make one want to go away every weekend!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

RECIPE - Jambu Rice (Arroz de Jambu)

Brazilians normally eat rice every day, and enjoy flavoring their rice with onion, garlic, greens, seafood, cheese or other flavoring agents. Perhaps it's the fact that rice is on the place 365 days a year that explains such popular side dishes as rice with broccoli, rice with cheese, rice with shrimps, rice with leeks and innumerable other combinations.

In the state of Pará in northern Brazil rice is combined with the local green called jambu, discussed in the preceding post on Flavors of Brazil, and served as a side dish with meats, fish dishes, poultry, just about anything. The bitter flavor of the jambu and it's anesthetic-tingly effect on the mouth and throat make jambu rice one of the more unique of all Brazilian rice dishes.

It's unlikely that jambu will be found in your local supermarket, and substituting any other ingredient will mean the loss of the physiological effect of this green, but I'm including the recipe because it's an interest one, it's typical of the cuisines of the basin of the Amazon river, and because it can be made very successfully with watercress, which will give the proper bitter taste, the mouth-tingling effect notwithstanding.
RECIPE - Jambu Rice (Arroz de Jambu)
Serves 4

1 bunch jambu leaves (watercress can be substituted)
3 cups salted, boiling water
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
salt to taste
Wash the jambu thoroughly, then pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Briefly blanch the jambu leaves in the boiling water, then remove them, reserving the water. Refresh the jambu in a sieve under running cold water. Coarsely chop the jambu, then reserve. In a heavy saucepan with a lid, heat the neutral vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the rice, and stir-fry for a few minutes, or until all grains of rice are coated with oil and are transparent. Add 2 cups of the water in which the jambu was blanched, bring to a boil, cover the pan, and cook over low heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is tender and dry. Remove from heat and leave in covered pan.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the garlic and onion, until just browning, but not burnt. Add the chopped jambu leaves and olive oil, stirring briefly, then add the cooked rice, stirring gently to mix all ingredients together without breaking the grains of rice.

Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted and translated from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Jambu (Acmella oleracea) is a leafy green much used in the cooking of the state of Pará, located along the lower reaches of the Amazon river system, and which is native to that region. It's also known as agrião-do-pará which means "Pará watercress" and it is from this name that its English name "paracress" derives.

Another name in English for this Brazilian native plant is "toothache plant." This is due to an interesting medicinal property that jambu has, and refers not to the fact that the plant causes toothaches, but that it cures them. Jambu contains the compound spilanthol, which has the property of numbing toothaches and which is a component of a number of proprietary toothache creams and remedies.

The anesthetic effect is jambu is part of the culinary mystique of the plant as well, and in Pará chopped jambu leaves are added to a number of dishes not just for the flavor they have, but because of the numbing or tingling effect they have on the mouth. This effect causes a cooling feeling in the mouth as well, and jambu is considered to counteract hot chile peppers - because of the anesthetic effect, the burning sensation from chiles is lessened. In Brazil, culinary use of jambu is mostly restricted to the Amazonian rain forest, and outside this region it has limited use in cooking and gastronomy.

Although native to Brazil, jambu is now grown in other parts of the world, notably Southeast Asia and also India, where buds of the plant are used in chewing tobacco because of the spilanthol effect.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

RECIPE - Pau de Burro Cocktail

This cocktail, served at the restaurant Faustino in Fortaleza, takes its name from one of the regional nicknames for cachaça - pau de burro. This vulgar, but not-too-vulgar, slang term for Brazil's most famous liquor can best be translated into vernacular English as "Donkey Dick". I don't know why this name was applied to cachaça and I'm not sure I want to know. I'll just make sure that when if and when I order one of these at Faustino, I'll be very clear that it's a drink that I want! (Bartender: What'll it be?" Customer: "I'll have a donkey dick.")

The drink is made here with caju honey, the honey obtained from bees that harvest the nectar of the caju tree. That, plus the use of local cachaça make it a real hometown cocktail here in Fortaleza. It's unlikely that you'll find caju honey, but you can substitute any very fragrant, floral honey, like honeysuckle, fireweed or clover.
RECIPE - Pau de Burro Cocktail
Makes 1 cocktail

1 cup crushed ice
1 Tbsp. caju honey or other floral honey
1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 oz. cachaça

Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, close it, and shake thoroughly, up to one minute.

Pour into old-fashioned glass, garnish with lime slice, serve. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

RECIPE - Shrimp Faustino (Camarão Faustino)

This recipe for shrimps and bananas in a light curry sauce created by José Faustino Paiva, proprietor of Fortaleza's Faustino restaurant (click here for a review of Faustino), highlights local ingredients, in keeping with Fautino's philosophy of sourcing ingredients as close to home as possible. It's a dish that can be made successfully just about anywhere, however, with near-universal availability of good shrimp and of bananas. In this recipe you should use sweet bananas, not plaintains. As the dish contains rice, it can be served simply with a light green salad as a lunch or dinner main course.
RECIPE - Shrimp Faustino (Camarão Faustino)
Serves 2

1 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium banana, just ripe, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm.) cubes
1 tsp. good-quality curry powder
1 lb. (400 gr.) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and pepper to taste
1.5 oz cachaça (tequila can be substituted)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup bechamel sauce (click here for bechamel recipe)
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 cup precooked, long grain white rice
Heat a heavy-duty frying pan over medium heat. Melt the butter in the pan, then stir in the curry powder, mixing thoroughly to avoid lumps. Then add the garlic, the onion and the banana cubes. Cook until the onions are transparent, but not browned. Finally add the shrimps, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes, until the shrimp are just done.Flame with the cachaça (put the liquor in a large serving spoon, heat briefly over medium heat, then touch match to the liquid, averting face. Once the cachaça is flaming, pour the mixture over the shrimps in the frying pan). Separately, mix together in a small saucepan the white wine, the bechamel and the cream and heat the mixture, but do not let it boil. On a serving platter, combine the shrimp mixture from the frying pan and half of the sauce, stirring to coat the shrimps and bananas with the sauce. Put the remainder of the sauce plus the cooked rice in the frying pan used to cook the shrimp and heat quickly over medium high heat. Place the rice in a side bowl, or alongside the shrimp on the platter and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted and translated from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RESTAURANT REVIEW - Faustino (Fortaleza, Brazil)

Situated beautifully on Fortaleza's seaside promenade with views of waves lapping the coral reefs at the base of the restaurant's windows, Faustino is Fortaleza's most prestigious, and most prizewinning, restaurant. Until last year, Faustino was tucked away in a nearby residential neighborhoor, but when a chain restaurant decided to close its seafront location Faustino made his move to a larger and more prominent location.

In its most recent edition, the Guia Quatro Rodas, Brazil's Michelin Guide, named Faustino the best regional restaurant in Brazil's northeast. The Veja guides, another highly respected guide to Brazilian restaurants and gastronomy, similarly praises Faustino.

Faustino is not only the name of the restaurant, it is the name of the proprietor and chef, José Faustino Paiva. When Faustino was only 18 he went south to Rio de Janeiro to find work - a route well-travelled in those days by ambitious young men and women from Ceará. He found work as a dish-washer in a well-known hotel in Rio, the Hotel Gloria. His talents in the kitchen enabled him to move from the dish-washing machine to the food prep area and on to a sous-chef position. He moved on to other hotels, each time moving up the career ladder, until he became one of the most famous chefs in Rio. Having made his name and fortune, he decided to move "back home" and bought a small restaurant in Fortaleza, and a small farm in the countryside about 20 miles away. His restaurant was an immediate success, and his farm still provides much of the fresh produce and herbs for his restaurant.

I visited Faustino for the first time last weekend, and was predictably impressed by the quality of the food and of the service, and by the use of local ingredients and themes without being locked into either one. Local inspiration was combined with international flavors, techniques and presentations to give the best of both worlds - local and international.

We started with crab claws (patinhos de caranguejo) simply and quickly cooked in a broth flavored with onion, and served with home-made tartar sauce. Each tiny claw - local crabs are not big - had a nugget of sweet, tender meat attached. I sampled the tartar sauce, which was worlds away from bottled sauces, but preferred to eat the crabs unadorned, the better to get the flavor of the crab meat.

I followed the crab with snook (robalo) garnished with fried plantains and sauced with a light curry bechamel. This firm-fleshed fish stood up to the flavors of the curry sauce - the fish isn't wimpy, but it's not "fishy" either - and the banana added a sweetness which is typical of dishes from Ceará. The fish was served with a timbale of brown rice.

My dining partner chose Cleopatra shrimp, which consisted of large local shrimps, grilled, then sauced with a light cream sauce containing fresh seedless grapes, mushrooms and capers. This dish was served with scalloped potatoes and creamed white rice. The shrimp were sweet and tender, the sauce was subtle with sweet and sour accents provided by the grapes and capers, and the side dishes were excellent, although serving both potatoes and rice seemed a bit excessive to me. However, serving two starches is common in restaurants in Fortaleza, so I'm sure I'm in the minority locally in preferring one starch.

We chose a Chilean sauvignon blanc from Terranoble which complemented the meal very well, and which exhibited the crispness and grassiness of a good sauvignon blanc. The substantial main courses meant that we had to leave the dessert menu unsampled.

For food of this quality and complexity, I thought the prices were quite reasonable. Faustino is among the more expensive restaurants in Fortaleza, but for anyone used to restaurant prices in most of the world's metropolitan areas, all restaurants in Fortaleza are a bargain. Only the wine, as always in Brazil, was priced to world standards.

Monday, May 10, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Cocoa Powder(Cacau)

The recipe for Brigadeiro in yesterday's Flavors of Brazil called for cocoa powder. This is a culinary term which often confuses amateur cooks, and consequently causes culinary disasters. Dessert and pastry recipes are the most exacting recipes in the entire body of culinary instructions, and one wrong ingredient, or one incorrectly measured ingredient can swiftly turn a potential triumph into a disaster.

Cocoa powder, which is also known as cocoa or cacao in English and is called cacau in Portuguese, is not the same thing as "hot chocolate mix" or "cocoa mix" or any similar sweetened powders. It is pure cocoa solids, in other words, the nonfat component of chocolate. (The fatty component, contrastingly is called cocoa butter). These two components of chocolate are separated in a number of different ways, by pressing or by either the Dutch or Broma process. In any case, the end result is the separation of cocoa powder from cocoa butter. It is this cocoa powder that is required to make Brigadeiros as they should be made.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

RECIPE - Brigadeiros

In the previous post, we all learned that we can thank the perennially unsuccessful Brazilian presidential candidate, Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, for the sweet chocolate truffle which bears his name, and which has addicted millions of Brazilians, adults and kids alike. It's kind of like having a candy in the USA named the "Adlai" after the similarly unsuccessful Adlai Stevenson.

The candy itself is very simple to make; perhaps part of it's success. Here is the basic recipe, which yields 30 Brigadeiros.
RECIPE - Brigadeiros
Makes 30

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. powdered chocolate (cocoa powder)
chocolate sprinkles to make balls
In a deep, heavy non-stick saucepan, heat all the ingredients except the sprinkles, stirring constantly with silicone or wooden spatula or spoon. Continue to heat and stir until everything is well mixed and the mixture begins to come away from the pan. Remove from heat and let cool completely at room temperature.

Place chocolate sprinkles on edged cookie sheet. Greasing hands with softened unsalted butter, roll one Tbsp. of cooled mixture in your hands into a ball, then roll the ball in the sprinkles. Place on wax paper to dry and harden. Repeat procedure until all the mixture has been used up.

Place each brigadeiro in small paper or foil cup and serve as part of a buffet or dessert spread.