Wednesday, June 30, 2010

RECIPE - Chucrute (The Brazilian Take on Sauerkraut) REPOST

(Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010)

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.

INGREDIENTS - Vinagreira, a versatile Hibiscus

Hibiscus Sabdariffa, one of the many members of the Hibiscus family, is an important medicinal and culinary ingredient in many corners of the world. In English, the common name for this plant is the Roselle or Rosella, though in the Caribbean it's known as Sorrel. In Spanish-speaking Latin America the name is Flor de Jamaica and in Brazil it's called Vinagreira.

The plant is cultivated commercially in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Various parts of the plant have commercial value - the woody stems yield bast fiber, which is used to produce burlap. The calyx of the flower is exported to Europe and North America where it produces a natural food coloring, and the dried calyces are used to make infused teas called "Hibiscus Tea" or in Spanish "agua de Jamaica".  Anyone who has drunk Red Zinger tea has already sampled Hibiscus Sabdariffa, and it's this plant which gives the tea its brilliant red color. In many countries where this plant is cultivated, its leaves provide the most common culinary use, and among these countries is Brazil.

In Brazil, cultivation of vinagreira as a cooking ingredient is strongly associated with the remote Northeastern state of Maranhão. Maranhão differs from the other states of Brazil's Northeast in culture, racial mixture, dialect, art and history, as well as cuisine. Having been at various times a colony of France and the Netherlands, as well as of Portugal, and being largely inaccessible from other parts of Brazil during colonial times, Maranhão has a unique flavor all its own. For example, it is only in the traditional cooking of Maranhão that you find use of vinagreira , but there it is a keystone ingredient and is essential in the preparation of the most famous dish from Maranhão, cuxá.

Once you have tasted vinagreira leaves, you'll understand where the Portuguese name comes from, as the high Vitamin C content of the leaves gives them a very acidic taste. Other regional names for the plant in Maranhão include caruru azedo, which means "acidic caruru."

Future posts on Flavors of Brazil will be featuring the foods of Maranhão, and will include a number of recipes which include vinagreira. 

If you wish to grow  Hibiscus Sabdariffa in your own garden, whether for making hibiscus tea, using the leaves in a recipe from Flavors of Brazil, or just for the beauty of its flowers, seeds can be purchased online from Click here for a link to the ordering page for this plant.According to the site, it can be grown successfully in USDA zones 6-11.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

RECIPE - Pamonha

In yesterday's Flavors of Brazil, I posted a recipe for a sweet corn pudding called canjica. In that article there was a link to a video from Folha de S. Paulo, a national newspaper in Brazil. The video was a demonstration of the process of making canjica by a charming woman named Dona Antônia, who recently won a culinary competition during the festas juninas in Northeastern Brazil.

Dona Antônia deserves a return appearance here on Flavors of Brazil. Even though she only speaks Portuguese and consequently many readers of this blog won't understand her, she is so delightful that I can't resist linking to another of her videos on the Folha de S. Paulo website.

The competition that Dona Antônia won was a search for the best pamonha maker in the Northeast of Brazil. Pamonhas are similar to Mexican tamales and are associated with the festas juninas, although they are popular year round. A few months ago pamonhas were featured on Flavors of Brazil, although at that time, no recipe was published. So to remedy that lack, and to give Dona Antônia another opportunity to shine, here is a link to her video demonstration of pamonha making, followed by the recipe itself.


RECIPE - Pamonha
Makes 12

12 ears very fresh corn
4 Tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold whole milk
Cut off the bases of the ears of corn, then carefully shuck them, taking care not to rip the husks if possible. Reserve the husks. Remove all the silk from the cobs, then trim them.

Grate the ears of corn over a large container, then pour the liquid through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all the juice. Stir the sugar and salt into the corn juice until dissolved, then add the milk. Reserve.

Trim the corn husks into equal sized rectangles (see examples on video). Using a corn cob as a mold, wrap the cob in at at least four husks, remove the cob, and tie one end of the package of husks securely with kitchen twine. (see demonstration on video). Carefully fill each package with the liquid corn mixture, then tie the other end of the package with twine tightly.

Bring a large quantity of water to boil in a stockpot or other large saucepan. Lower heat, then carefully place the packages in simmering water to cover. Partially cover the stockpot or pan, and let the pamonhas simmer for one hour. When done, remove the pamonhas from the water and let them drain thoroughly. Serve hot or at room temperature.

These are Brazilian Dishes?? (REPOST)

(Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010)

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.

Monday, June 28, 2010

RECIPE - Creamy Corn Pudding (Canjica)

One of the most traditional foods of the festas juninas celebrations in Northeastern Brazil is a creamy dessert pudding made from grated fresh corn called canjica. (In other parts of Brazil, canjica may refer to other dishes entirely).

It's made by grating a dozen ears of fresh corn to extract the juice and then, after adding milk, sugar and spices, cooking down the liquid until it reaches the consistency of a thick pudding. It's served at the community fairs and street stalls that are an integral part of the festa junina tradition. It's also quite simple to make at home, though it requires a commitment of a considerable amount of time and elbow grease. But it's well worth the effort as it's comfortingly delicious.

If you click the link at the end of this paragraph, you'll be taken to the site of Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil's major national newspapers. On the page that's displayed you can click on a short video which is entitled "Master pamonha chef teaches how to make Northeastern canjica." The cook in the video, a charming woman named Dona Antônia, won a pamonha-making contest at the festa junina fair in Campina Grande, one of the largest such fairs in Brazil. (Click here to learn about pamonha). In this video she demonstrates how to make canjica. Although it's in Portuguese, the video shows the simplicity and charm of this country cook. The recipe below duplicates the recipe she details in the video.

RECIPE - Creamy Corn Pudding (Canjica)

12 ears of fresh corn
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
pinch of salt
powdered cinnamon to taste
Grate the 12 ears of corn, saving the liquid in a large bowl. Pour the liquid through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all the juice.

Put the liquid in a large, heavy saucepan, add the milk, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then heat the mixture on the stove top over medium heat. Bring only to the simmer, stirring constantly, then reduce heat to maintain the simmer. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for one and a half hours, or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of pudding (or an English custard).

Pour into individual serving bowls, and sprinkle each serving with powdered cinnamon. Let cool, and serve at room temperature, or chilled if preferred.

The Roots of Chocolate - The Cacaueiro Trees of Bahia (REPOST)

(Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010)

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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Guaraná Jesus - Brazil's "Holy" Soft-Drink (REPOST)

 (Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010)

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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Midsummer (Feliz Festa de São João)

On or about the day of the northern hemisphere's summer solstice (June 20/21) pagan cultures in many places celebrated the longest day of the year with a festival or holiday known as Midsummer. During the period of Christianization of Europe this festival became identified with St. John the Baptist in order to "de-paganize" it, and today many cultures around the world celebrate St. John on June 24. In Brazil this festival is known as Festa de São João and it is celebrated all around the country, though most fervently in Brazil's Northeast. The festival is also known as festas juninas which means "the festivals of June."

The Brazilian festas juninas are associated with community bonfires on the eve of June 24, and with a style of folk-dance called quadrilha. Based on a European dance, the quadrille, the quadrilha has evolved in Brazil unto a complex and complicated dance involving up to 30 dancers led by a couple dressed as a bride and groom. Dancers wear colorful costumes, and there are local, regional and national competitions in Brazil among quadrilha dance troups. Here is a video from YouTube showing part of a competition on the Northeast of Brazil.

Of course, food is an important part of the festas juninas too. The traditional foods of this festival, served at the street fairs that are such an important part of the celebrations, are all associated or made from corn (milho). This is probably due to the fact that June is the harvest season for corn in Brazil, but there may be some other connection to the pagan solstice festivals that were the origin of the festas juninas. Whatever the reason, food stalls at the street fairs feature roasted or boiled corn on the cob, pamonha, bolo de fubá, and a kind of sweet cornmeal pudding known as canjica. (Articles and recipes for pamonha and bolo de fubá have been featured on Flavors of Brazil - click the links to find them).

Guaraná - The Soft Drink (REPOST)

 (Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010)

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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

RECIPE - Ponche da Copa (World Cup Punch)

World Cup time is party time in Brazil. When the national team is playing, the country shuts down and everyone, literally everyone, heads for a TV at home, at a party in a friend's house, in a bar or restaurant, or on the beach, where the government sets up enormous screens to show all matches. Most offices close during the time Brazil plays, and even the government-owned Banco do Brasil closes all its branches before game time. The country is awash in green and yellow, the national colors, and for a time, football (soccer for Americans) replaces weather and political scandals as everyone's favorite topic of conversation.

Up to this point, Brazil has been doing quite well in the current World Cup in South Africa, and are already assured to move on to the next round, even though they must complete this round on Friday, June 25, with a game against their old colonial masters, the Portuguese.

I'll be having a group of friends over to watch the game on Friday, and no house party in Brazil, either at World Cup time or any other time, is complete without food and drink. I've already started the preparations for a feijoada - football is Brazil's national sport, so why not serve Brazil's national dish? There will be lots of beer and soda, of course, but Brazilians love to drink fruit juices too at parties, so I'll be making a non-alcoholic fruit punch to serve during the game. It's easy to make, delicious and very thirst-quenching. After screaming one's lungs out for an entire game, it also serves to soothe a scratchy throat.
RECIPE - Ponche da Copa (World Cup Punch)

2 cups unclarified apple juice
2 cups orange juice, preferably with pulp
2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 large ice cubes
club soda
orange slices
Place the juices, the condensed milk and the ice in a large blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large serving jug and top with a small amount of club soda. Stir very gently to mix.

Pour into tall glasses, adding additional ice cubes if desired. Decorate each glass with an orange slice (plus a small, paper Brazilian flag if possible)


(Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 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.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flavors of Brazil Is Back!

Dear readers of Flavors of Brazil -

I've recently returned to Brazil from a vacation in Italy. Prior to leaving, I wrote a number of articles for posting on Flavors of Brazil, and arranged for one to be posted every day. Unfortunately, for some reason my Google account was "compromised" (according to Google and Blogspot) and so Flavors of Brazil was arbitrarily shut down without notice.

Only upon my return to Fortaleza have I been able to re-establish my Google account and get Flavors of Brazil "back on the air."

If any of you tried to access Flavors of Brazil during the past few weeks and were unable to, please accept my apologies. I know how frustrating it is when a website disappears without a trace. However, there really wasn't anything I could do to ensure a quick reinstatement of this blog while I was traveling.

Please continue to visit Flavors of Brazil. The world of Brazilian cuisine is an enormous one, and there's much, much more that I plan to explore via this blog. In the meantime, in addition to new posts, I will be re-posting all the articles that "appeared" while the blog was closed, so that no one need to try to go back and read three weeks worth of posts at one time.

Thank you. Muito obrigado,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

You Say Esfiha, and I Say Esfirra......

Whether you spell it "esfiha" or "esfirra", there are two things you should know about this Brailian snack-food with Middle Eastern origins. First, it's one of the most popular and well-known snacks and/or fastfood items in Brazil, and millions are eaten every day. Second, no matter which of the two spelling you choose, the pronunciation is the same, since "rr" in Portuguese is pronounced like the letter "h." Consequently, "esfiha" and "esfirra" are both pronounced "ess-FEE-ha".

The esfiha (my preferred spelling) was brought to Brazil from the Middle East by the large immigrant communities from Lebanon and Syria, most of whom settled in São Paulo. From there it spread throughout the entire country. An esfiha is a member of the "flatbread-pizza" family, found round the world. It is basically a round of leavened bread spread with any number of ingredients and served either open (like a pizza) or closed (like a calzone). The spicing and ingredients bear evidence of the esfiha's Middle Eastern origins, with ground meats, cumin, onions, a touch of cinnamon being common ingredients to fill an esfiha. There are many other versions, including ingredients like chicken, eggplant, eggs and, of course, cream cheese.

In Brazilian cities and towns, esfihas are available at lunch stands, snack bars, bars, and even in fast food restaurants. Brazil is home to a chain of Arabian-style fast food restaurants called Habib's, which claims to being the world's largest chain of Arabian fast food. Habib's signature dish (it's Big Mac as it were) is the esfiha - served open style and selling currently for the loss-leader price of R$0.49 . That's about USD $0.25).

Like most snack foods, esfihas vary in quality and some are pretty bad, especially if they've been sitting in a warmer for hours or days. But when they are freshly made, with care, they make a wonderful meal-on-the-go. Just down the street from my home is an Arabian restaurant called Nilo Express and it makes wonderful esfiha. They are made to order, and are normally the closed style. The restaurant has a large variety available, including esfihas such as ground beef, ricotta, sausage, sausage and cream cheese, escarole with mozzarella, escarole with bacon, chicken, chicken with cheddar, tuna, provolone, four cheese, carne do sol, palm heart, and palm heart with mozzarella. They don't cost R$0.49, but they also don't cost a whole lot more, and they are, to my mind, much better than what's on offer at Habib's.

Esfiha is another example of the cultural diversity to be found in Brazilian food. From the souks of Damascus and Aleppo to the beaches and streets of Brazil, esfiha has found a new home in the New World.

Friday, June 11, 2010

RECIPE - Risotto with Taioba and Plantains (Risoto de Taioba com Banana-da-terra)

One of the most highly-regarded chefs of Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is Cantídio Lanna. A descendant of Italian immigrants, Cantídio learned to cook from his mother Pichita Lanna, and in her honor named his restaurant after her - Pichita Lanna.

Lanna's food combines styles and dishes that derive from his Italian background with fresh ingredients typical of Minas Gerais. In this dish, a classic risotto, he uses taioba, a tropical green from his regions (for more information on taioba, read the preceding post) and plantains. Since taioba is unlikely to be available to you unless you live in an area with a large Puerto Rican or Central American population, this dish is just as good made with arugula, although the flavor balance will tip away from Brazil a tiny bit and tip towards Italy. Plantains are increasingly available in supermarkets in North America and Europe.
RECIPE - Risotto with Taioba and Plantains (Risoto de Taioba com Banana-da-terra)
Serves 5

4 ripe plaintains
1 qt. (1 lt.) light chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 bunches taioba, coarsely chopped (can substitute arugula)
1 lb. (500 gr.) arborio rice
1/2 bottle (375 ml.) dry white wine
salt to taste
1/2 cup salted butter
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Peel the plantains and cut them into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Reserve.

Bring the broth to the simmering point and reserve.

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium high heat and saute the onions until golden then add the rice and 1/3 of the taioba and continue to fry, stirring continuously, until the rice is transparent and the greens are softened. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the wine is fully absorbed and the rice is beginning to dry. Then add the hot broth and another 1/3 of the taioba. Add the banana slices and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the broth is absorbed and the rice is "al dente." Add in the balance of the taioba and remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter and grated cheese, mix all together, cover the pan and let rest for 2 minutes. Serve immediately, decorated if desired with some sauteed plantain slices.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2010


One of the typical greens of the mountainous, interior state of Minas Gerais is known in Brazil as taioba. It's used in many different ways, as one might use spinach, though taioba is never served raw. The taioba plant (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) is commonly called "arrowleaf elephant ear" in English although it's also sometimes referred to as tannia, and in Spanish it's known as yautia in Puerto Rico and as tiquizque or macal in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In the cuisines of these countries, the leaves of the plant are sometimes used, but it's cultivated mostly for its edible tubers.

In Brazil, it's the large green leaves that are consumed, and I've been unable to find any reference to the use of the taioba tuber in Brazilian cooking. It's often simply sauteed with garlic and served as an accompaniment to a meal including meat, beans and rice.

Because the large leaves of the taioba plant have large veins, most recipes call for the stems and veins to be stripped out, leaving on the leafy green part to be used in cooking. As these leafy greens can still be quite large, most commonly the greens are shredded or cut into thin strips before cooking, as is also done in Minas Gerais with kale (couve).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RECIPE - Sarapatel

I promise this will be the last in the current series of Brazilian recipes featuring blood as an ingredient. I know that to concentrate on an ingredient that many people find distasteful if not disgusting runs the risk of sending readers of Flavors of Brazil flying, never to return. But I really can't finish this series of posts without including a recipe for sarapatel, the most famous Brazilian dish which includes blood. If this blog is to showcase the traditional foods of Brazil, it really can't exclude these dishes which have blood as an ingredient. For those of you who can't take any more, I hope to see you back tomorrow, when I promise I'll feature a dessert, and one that doesn't have a sanguinary ingredient in it.

For those of you who are curious enough to stick around for the rest of this post, here's a little bit of history about sarapatel before we dig into the recipe itself. In Brazil, sarapatel is associated with the state of the northeast. However, its origins are not Brazilian, but instead are European. Sarapatel is an ancient dish from the Alentejo region of Portugal, and was carried with Portuguese colonists and settlers to the New World. Interestingly, these same Portuguese carried the recipe for sarapatel when heading for colonies in the opposite direction from Brazil, and today sarapatel is considered a traditional dish in the parts of India that were formerly Portuguese - most famously Goa.

Whereas the chicken dishes that were featured the past few days on Flavors of Brazil used liquid blood to flavor the sauce, and added vinegar to the blood to make sure it stayed liquid, in sarapatel the blood is cooked in boiling water to coagulate and solidify it, and then it is added to the sauce as a solid ingredient. When I lived in Vancouver, Canada, I'd often see solidified cubes of pork blood in the meat markets of Chinatown, and the blood used in sarapatel is essentially the same as this Chinese ingredient.

I must say, before I add the recipe, that I can't vouch for how this recipe tastes, as I'm unable to even think of eating a bowl of sarapatel. I am assured by some of my sarapatel-loving friends here in Fortaleza that this is a typical recipe, and that it sounds delicious (to them!)

Bom apetite!
RECIPE - Sarapatel
Serves 6

1 set pork viscera as follows: lungs, liver, heart
2 cups solidified pork blood, cut into 1 inch cubes**
2 cups water
lime juice to taste
fresh limes
2 large red onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
4 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 serrano chiles
4 Tbsp. lard

** If the pork blood is liquid, pour it into a boilable Zip-Loc bag, and cook in simmering water for approximately 15 minutes. Let cool, and remove from bag, then cube.
In a large pan or stockpot, combine the water, the pork innards, a good amount of lime juice, and some halved limes. Bring the water to a boil, drain the innards, and then repeat the process with fresh water and lime juice. Remove the innards from the water, let drain, then cool,. Chop the innards into bite sized pieces and return them to the water with all the other ingredients except the lard and the blood. Cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day, remove all the solid ingredients from the pan or stockpot. Drain them well. Heat the lard in a heavy duty frying pan, and fry all the ingredients, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Once they are golden, place in a fresh pan, cover with fresh water and lime juice, and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the pork is tender. Carefully add the cubed blood, let simmer for a few minutes for the sauce to thicken, then serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mundo de Sabores.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken Cabidela (Angolan style)

This is not actually a complete recipe, but it is something that I found interesting and instructive while I was doing online research on the Brazilian dish Chicken Cabidela (Galinha de Cabidela in Portuguese.)

Since the days of Portuguese colonialization, Brazil and the African nation of Angola have shared many cultural traits, as they were both colonized from Portugal, and as many of the slaves transported from Africa to Brazil embarked on their frightful journey in Angola. Brazil and Angola share a language, an official religion, a number of African-based religions, musical instruments, and food traditions among other things.

I came across an Angolan recipe for Chicken Cabidela, the dish whose recipe is in the previous post of Flavors of Brazil. What I found fascinating was how the instructions for the Angolan dish (which is remarkably similar to its Brazilian cousin) starts at the very beginning of the process of making the dish, and carries right on through to the end. Here's a translation of the start of the instruction part of the recipe: "Kill the chicken. Make sure to save all the blood, adding vinegar to it to prevent coagulation. Clean and pluck the chicken........"

The only recipes in the classical Western tradition that begin with killing the main ingredient,  as far as I know, are recipes for lobster. In Angola, on the other hand, the author, knowing his or her readership, felt that the process needed to start with an execution. In the West, we prefer to buy our main protein wrapped and sealed, for the most part, and tend to try to forget how the meat got to the supermarket or the butcher's shop in the first place. The Angolan recipe is a sharp and valuable reminder of where the food on our plate originates.

Monday, June 7, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken Cabidela (Galinha de Cabidela Cearense)

This traditional and well-loved dish from the semi-arid scrubland of the interior of the state of Ceará,an area known as the "sertão", is an example of how settlers of that inhospitable region turned necessity into a virtue by creating a dish that used everything possible from a slaughtered backyard chicken. Only the head and the feathers are missing from the list of ingredients - one of the most important of which being the blood of the bird. (Click here to read an earlier post about blood as a culinary ingredient in Brazilian cuisine.)

Today Chicken Cabidela is served not only in the mud and stick houses of subsistance ranchers in the interior, it's featured on the menu of fine restaurants and served at buffets in cities and towns of Ceará. Alongside any highway in the state you'll see homemade signs advertising "the best Galinha de Cabidela in Ceará just ahead", or "Our speciality - Galinha de Cabidela." If you stopped to sample all the Galinha de Cabidela on offer, you would never reach your destination.
RECIPE - Chicken Cabidela
Serves 4

1 large roasting chicken - 3.5 lbs. (1.5 kgs) - cut into serving pieces
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. annatto powder (or substitute sweet paprika)
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
2 chopped large tomatoes
1 chopped and seeded green bell pepper
2 chopped medium onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onion, green portion only
1 cup chicken blood (with 2 Tbsp. vinegar added to prevent coagulation)
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
 Season the chicken pieces with the salt, annatto (or paprika) and pepper to taste. Place chicken in large heavy saucepan, add just enough water to cover, bring to boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is just tender but not falling off the bone. Remove from heat and reserve.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, add the tomatoes, green pepper, onions, cilantro, green onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Do not let the onions and garlic brown.

In the large sauce pan, combine the sauteed vegetables with the reserved chicken and broth. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth and reserve. Continue to cook the broth over medium high heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until it slightly reduces and thickens into a sauce.

Reduce heat to low, add the chicken blood to the sauce, and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch with the egg yolk, lightly beaten. Off heat, slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce to prevent lumps, stirring constantly. Return the sauce to heat briefly to thicken and to remove starchy taste. Then add the reserved chicken pieces, heat thoroughly and serve immediately.

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

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blood as food - delicacy or taboo?

In many cultures, using blood as a culinary ingredient is a common characteristic of traditional cuisine, often in the form of sausages, or in soups or stews. Some cultures, notably the Maasai of Tanzania, drink fresh animal blood fresh, which the Maasai do mixed with milk. In other cultures, there is a very strong taboo about the eating of animal blood. Jewish and Muslim cultures are specific about this taboo, and the slaughtering of animals must be done in so as to avoid retention of blood in the meat - kosher, halal. Some people have a culturally-engendered repulsion to the consumption of blood, even in the absence of specific cultural prohibitions.

Brazilian food traditions, particularly in the northeastern regions of that country, include many dishes in which blood figures prominently. Blood-sausages are part of the culinary landscape of Portugal, and perhaps the influence of Portuguese colonizers introduced blood as a culinary ingredient to Brazil. Well-loved dishes from the Nordeste which have blood as a principal ingredient include sarapatel, which uses pork blood, and galinha de cabidela, with chicken. One of the most interesting, and surprising uses of blood is in the creation of a candy called chouriço, made from pork blood, manioc flour, rapadura sugar and flavorings. Friends of mine who grew up in the interior of Ceará remember loving chouriço as children, though most swear they wouldn't eat it now.

In the interest of gastronomic sociology, the next few posts will feature some of these "blood" foods. None of them will have been tested by me,however,  as I have to admit to being in that group of people mentioned in the first paragraph that have a cultural antipathy to eating blood. I just can't bring myself to do it, much as I try.

Friday, June 4, 2010

RECIPE - Acerola Sauce

In the rain forest of the Amazon basin in northern Brazil, acerola is easily cultivated, and flourishes in the humid heat of the jungle. The tomato, on the other hand, even though it is native to the Americas is just not happy in the steam bath that is the rain forest.

On the principle of make-do-with-what's-available, inhabitants of that region, realizing that acerola share a level of acidity, a texture of pulp, and even a range of colors, have created savory sauces made of acerola that can successfully be substituted in most recipes that call for tomato sauce, including things like pasta dishes, casseroles and stews.

Although for most readers of Flavors of Brazil, access to fresh tomatoes and/or processed tomato sauces is not a problem, I thought it might be interesting to include a recipe from the website of a Brazilian Martha-Stewart-style TV show called Mais Você just to demonstrate how it's made. I've not yet made acerola sauce myself, but will make a batch in the near future, and share the results here.

Chicken breasts with acerola sauce from Cordel da Vila restaurant in the Vila Madelena district of São Paulo.

RECIPE - Acerola Sauce

2 lbs. (1 kg.) fresh acerola
2 quarts (2 liters) water
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
In a large heavy saucepan or stockpot, combine the acerola with 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for approximately 5 minutes. Drain the acerola, let cool slightly, then blend completely in a blender, in batches if necessary.

Pass the resulting acerola pulp through a fine sieve into a medium saucepan. Add the parsley, salt and pepper. (Other flavorings can be added or substituted. Anything that you might want in tomato sauce will work here). Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook, stirring from time to time, for approximately 10 minutes or until the sauce in nicely thickened.

Use the sauce to substitute for tomato sauce in any savory recipe.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Acerola - Small But Power-packed

From time to time, Flavors of Brazil highlights one of the multitude of tropical fruits which are grown commercially in Brazil; one that might not be familiar to readers of the blog. In the past, there have been posts here on such fruits as caja, graviola, and caqui.

Most of these fruits have a long history of cultivation in Brazil, and many were cultivated by Indians prior to European arrival in the 16th century. Acerola is a fruit whose commercial cultivation is relatively recent in Brazil, though growing tremendously year by year. It's only been within the past twenty years that the acerola market has been commercially important, but now in many regions of Brazil's northeast, it is the most important commercial fruit.

What has made the acerola market expand so dramatically is the growing awareness, in Brazil and in other countries, of the healthful qualities of this small, red, cherry-like fruit. Acerola has an extremely high ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) content - acerola juice has over 3000% more Vitamin C than an equivalent amount of orange juice. That's not a typo - it's 3000% higher. It's claimed that by adding a very small amount of acerola juice to another juice that is low in Vitamin C (apple juice, for example), the levels of the vitamin in the juice will rise to the level found in orange juice. A Brazilian agricultural research agency recently prepared a study of the antioxidant property of eleven varieties of frozen fruit pulp, and in that study found acerola to have significantly high antioxidant properties.

Acerola (Malpighia emarginata) is native to the Caribbean, Central America, and the northern part of South America. In the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, it's known, variously, as Acerola, Barbados Cherry and West Indian Cherry. The resemblance between acerola and cherries is obvious, although the red of acerola is more orange than the purplish red of most cherries.

Acerola juice is naturally very sour, which is logical considering the high Vitamin C content, and to be drinkable, some quantity of sugar must be added. Brazilians, of course, add a lot of sugar, but I find that with minimum amounts of sugar, acerola juice makes one of the most refreshing juices I know. And clearly, it's also one of the healthiest. Not a bad combination of qualities, I'd say.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

RECIPE - Goulash

The previous two posts on Flavors of Brazil highlighted the German and the Italian components of the southern states of Brazil. It was from these two countries that came the bulk of the non-Portuguese European flow of immigrants to southern Brazil in the 19th and early 20th century.

They were not the only European countries that contributed the the European-originating ethnic mix that is found today in Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants arrived in these three states from Spain, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Each group, of course, brought with them their cultural heritage - language, music, customs, dress, religion and food. Much of this heritage has been retained, resulting in the unique cultural mosaic that is shared in these states.

We've already posted on Flavors of Brazil a German recipe from Santa Catarina, an Italian one from Paraná, and now one from Rio Grande do Sul which came to the South Atlantic shores of Brazil with immigrants from the Austo-Hungarian Empire and which has been as enthusiastically adopted in Brazil as it has in similar circumstances in North America.
RECIPE - Goulash
Serves 6

2 lbs. (1 kg.) stewing beef, cut into small cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 dry red wine
1 tsp. paprkia (preferably Hungarian)
1 cup light low-sodium beef broth
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. cold water
Heat the oil in a medium-to-large heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the cubed meat to brown - in two batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding.  When all the meat is browned and returned to the pan, add the onion, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and garlic, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Then add the wine, the paprika and the beef broth. Reduce heat, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the beef is tender. Mix the flour and water to make a paste, then add to the goulash in the pan. Let cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw-flour taste. Serve immediately with noodles or white rice.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken Risotto (Risoto de Frango)

In the last few posts, I've been talking about the European-influenced cuisines of Brazil's southern states. Unlike the population of more tropical regions in the center and north of the country, the bulk of the population of Brazil's south can trace its ancestry back to Europe, usually by way of immigrants to Brazil in the 19th and early 20th Century.

Yesterday, I posted a recipe from the state of Santa Catarina, which has a large German immigrant community. There are also German communities in the state of Paraná, which borders Santa Catarina on the north, but in Paraná the primary ethnic and cultural groups are descendants of immigrants from Portugal and especially from Italy. The capital, Curitiba, has a large and vibrant Italian community, as do the cities of Colombo and Santa Felicidade.

Just as Flavor of Brazil's recipe for chucrute was an evolution, not a copy, of German sauerkraut, this recipe from Paraná - delicious and different chicken risotto - is a Brazilian adaptation of an Italian original. Particularly interesting is the use of chicken gizzards as the primary protein for the dish. This recipe serves a large group, which makes the dish particularly appropriate for a feast or dinner for family or friends.
RECIPE - Chicken Risotto (Risoto de Frango)
Serves 10

For the broth:
5 quarts water (5 litres)
1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs. (2 kgs.), chopped into 8 to 10 pieces
1 whole tomato
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery stick
2 or 3 whole fresh sage leaves

For the risotto:
1 lb. (500 gr.) chicken gizzards, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
salt to taste
3 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
additional grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Make the broth: In a large deep pan or stockpot, combine the water and all ingredients. Heat over medium-high heat, and when the water begins to boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 50 minutes, loosely covered. Remove from heat, and let cool. When cool, remove chicken, discard skin and all bones, and then shred the meat. Reserve. Pass the broth through a sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth, Reserve.

Make the risotto: Season the gizzards with salt, then fry them with the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the onions and continue to saute until the onions become lightly browned. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce and stir. Add 2 cups of the reserved chicken broth and cook over medium-low heat for 40 minutes, or until the gizzards are soft. Meanwhile, bring the remaining broth to a simmer in another pot.

When gizzards are cooked, add the rice to the pan, stir and bring the mixture to the boil over medium-high heat. As it begins to dry out, add more broth by the cupful, allowing each to be absorbed before adding another. When the rice is almost cooked, stir in the reserved shredded chicken. Continue adding broth until all the broth is absorbed, or until the rice is tender. At this point, remove the risotto from the heat, stir in the 1/2 cup parmesan and the parsley and mix lightly. Correct the seasoning. Put into a serving dish, sprinkle additional parmesan on top and serve immediately.

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