Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Abará - Bahia's Version of a Pamonha/Tamal

In yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, while discussing how important the black-eyed pea (feijão-fradinho) has always been in traditional Brazilian gastronomy, I mentioned that it was particularly associated with the regional cuisine of the state of Bahia, the center of Brazil's Afro-Brazilian culture. Salvador, the capital of Bahia, was the capital of all of Brazil during earlier colonial times, and was the center of a vast area of sugar-cane cultivation. The agriculture of sugar cane requires a tremendous amount of human labor, a need which was met with the transportation of millions of Africans to work in the fields as slaves. Among the things that arrived in Brazil in their meager belongings must have been some black-eyed peas, which were planted and which thrived in Bahia.

In addition to eating these legumes cooked but whole, the black cooks of Bahia learned to de-skin black-eyed peas, mash them, and use the mashed beans to create a number of dishes, some of which have become iconic dishes of Afro-Brazilian cuisine. The most famous, without a doubt, is acarajé, a fritter made of frying mashed black-eyed peas in dendê palm oil. (Click here to read about acarajé on Flavors of Brazil.) Another dish made with the same mashed beans is called abará, and it's related both to Mexico's tamales, and to the Brazilian cornmeal dish pamonha.  What all three dishes have in common is that they share the common technique of wrapping a moist paste in banana leaves, and then steaming them. This technique is common throughout Latin American, and these are not the only examples. But it does show how a shared method of cooking is modified and adapted to local conditions - in the case of abará, by substituting mashed black-eyed peas for cornmeal.

Like acarajé, abará is not just a well-loved traditional dish. It is also intensely associated with the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, and in that religious tradition it is one of the ritual foods offered to the gods and goddesses of Candomblé, the Orixás, during ceremonial occasions.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Black-eyed Peas - The Bean, Not The Group

Beans, fresh or dried, are one of the cornerstones of Brazilian nutrition. Consequently, they are also fundamental in Brazilian traditional gastronomy. They are the most important source of protein for the poorer strata of society - those who cannot afford to regularly consume animal protein. Without the proteins provided by beans, the good nutritiion of millions of Brazilians would be at risk.

In earlier posts on Flavors of Brazil, you can find discussions of some of the most common species of beans consumed in Brazil, such as the feijão carioca (Carioca bean) and the feijão preto (Black bean). Besides these two, there are many other varieties of beans in the Brazilian bean-pot. Which bean is most likely to make its way to your table depends on your economic level, your geographical location, and often, your racial background.

One bean is particularly associated with all aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture; understandably so, since this particular bean, unlike most beans, originated not in the Americas but rather in tropical Africa. It probably arrived in Brazil on board slave ships bringing African slaves to Portugal's South American colonies - current-day Brazil. It's scientific name is vigna unguiculata, and in English it's most commonly called "Black-eyed pea." It is the most commonly consumed bean in large parts of Brazil, particularly in the state of Bahia, where the cultural influence of Africa is most strongly felt in Brazil, and in the traditionally-poor regions of Brazil's northeast, where this bean will grow in the infertile soils and harsh semi-arid climatic conditions which prevail locally.

One of the many fascinating things about the black-eyed pea is the huge number of common names it carries in the Portuguese of Brazil. In English there are only a few names for  vigna unguiculata - black-eyed pea, black-eyed bean, cowpea or lobia. But there is a rich range of names attached to vigna unguiculata in Brazil. Some are quaint, some humorous, but all are regional. Here are just a few:

boca-preta (black mouth)
ervilha-de-vaca (cow pea)
favalinha (little fava bean)
feijão-alfanje (scimitar bean)
feijão-careta (straight bean)
feijão-chícharo (chickpea bean)
feijão-chicote (whip bean)
feijão-chinês (Chinese bean)
feijão-congo (Congo bean)
feijão-corda (string bean)
feijão-de-boi (ox bean)
feijão-de-frade (monk's bean)
feijão-de-olho-preto (black-eyed bean)
feijão-de-vara (pole bean)
feijão-fradinho (little monk bean)
feijão-galego (Galician bean)
feijão-lagartixa (lizard bean)
feijão-mineiro (miner's bean, bean from Minas Gerais)
feijão-miúdo (tiny bean)
feijão-miúdo-da-China (tiny Chinese bean)
feijão-vinha (vineyard bean)
feijão-verde (green bean)

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll cover this bean in more detail, concentrating on its use in the traditional gastronomy of Bahia and of Brazil's northeast.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

PHOTO GALLERY - Pitaia, an Exotic Beauty

The pitaia, which is known in English as pitaya or dragon fruit, is commonly associated with Southeast Asia, where is it extensively cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. This cactus, however, is native to Mexico, and is grown extensively in Brazil, particularly in the state of São Paulo.

Because the fruit is heavy and fragile, cultivation is a demanding task, requiring skill and art. But since the pitaia commands a high price in the marketplace, in Brazil and elsewhere, cultivation is increasing rapidly in Brazil.

The fruit itself, in addition to being refreshingly delicious, is extremely photogenic - colorful and varied in size, texture and shape. Here are some photos of this beauty, from the Brazilian agricultural site, Globo Rural.

Pitaia plantation in Pinheral, São Paulo. Cultivation is delicate work and demands attention.

The yellow pitaia is the most commercialized variety in Brazil, with a high level of sugars, around 20 brix.

The purple pitaia, with a brix level of 12, attracts with the brilliant color of its pulp.

The white pitaia has a brix level of 10 and is well-suited to the production of sweets.

Friday, August 27, 2010

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

(Please click here to read about this series of reposts of original posts from May 24, 2010 to June 12, 2010. This is the final reposting of the series.)

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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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

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

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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eating Local Isn't Easy... Even in Brazil

In the most recent edition of Globo Rural, a combination of TV network, magazine and website from Brazil's media giant Globo, there was an interesting article which highlights the difficulty in sustaining a commercially viable locally-sourced food distribution system. As Brazilians become aware of the benefits of eating foods that are produced nearby, commercial pressures on the farmers and ranchers who provide local food often make it difficult for the consumer to find local foods. This situation is not unique to Brazil, but neither is Brazil immune from the problem. The following is a translation of the Globo Rural article, which concerns tomatoes from the central-west Brazilian state of Goiás.

In Goiás, the tomato harvest has already begun. This years crop was very good, but the large quantity of tomatoes entering the market has disrupted the normal pricing of the crop.

For twenty years farmer Deusdete Pereira has dedicated himself to the cultivation of tomatoes in the municipality of Goianópolis, in the center of the state. During the growing season, he was optimistic, betting that this year's profits would be large, as they were last year. But now that the harvest has begun, his situation has changed. "Last year, we did very well. Now, this year is beginning badly," he says.

The price of a 25 kg (55 lb) case of tomatoes has dropped by 71%. In August, 2009, the price of a caseof table tomatoes was R$35 (USD $19.80). Today, a case is worth R$10 (USD $5.65). According to the state agricultural department, Emater, the reason for this drop in price is the entry into the market of tomatoes from other regions, which are fighting for market share.

The majority of tomatoes grown in Goiás are sold outside the state. By the beginning of September local producers will have harvested two million tons of tomatoes.

On the property of farmer Marciclei Franco, with the product ready to go to market, he is also worried. "This year is difficult. It's either price-match or lose everything. The price is very low. There are too many tomatoes on the market, tomatoes from [competitors from other regions], he says.

Goiás is Brazil's largest producer of tomatoes, and provides 25% of the national crop.

When prices for a crop are so low that crop is not sustainable, as is the case with tomatoes this year in Goiás, farmers often stop producing for local markets, and consumers are forced to purchase alternatives from farther away. It's a difficult economic problem to solve, and one that will have to be addressed sooner or later, in Brazil and elsewhere, if the "eat local" revolution is going to succeed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Brazil in Canada - Brazilfest 2010

I'm currently vacationing in my Canadian hometown, Vancouver. During the summer months of July and August the weather in Vancouver isn't significantly cooler or wetter than in my Brazilian hometown, Fortaleza, so the adjustment to Canada has been very easy for me. Maybe the beaches here aren't quite as tropicalas in Brazil, and certainly there are no beach bars serving cerveja and caipirinhas (Canada's strict alcohol laws prohibit the public consumption of alcoholic beverages on beaches) but when the sun shines, you can almost imagine that you're in Brazil.

This past weekend, Vancouver became significantly more Brazilian during the annual Brazilfest, sponsored by a number of commercial enterprises, the city administration, the Consulate General of Brazil in Vancouver, and the tourism department of the federal government of Brazil, and organized by the local Brazilian community here in Vancouver. This community has grown significantly in the past decade, and Brazilian culture has become part of the rainbow of cultures that makes up Vancouver. On the Brazilian social network site Orkut, one community for Brazilians in Vancouver numbers over 9000 members, and there are other Vancouver-based Brazilian social networks around the web. Vancouver annually hosts thousands of Brazilian students who come to Canada to learn English. During the summer in the center of the city one constantly hears Portuguese spoken in shops, on rapid-transit and in parks.

Brazilfest took place on one of Vancouver's principal downtown streets, which was closed for the duration of the festival. There was a large music stage at one end of the street (video above), and the street was lined with booths and stands. Some were selling Brazilian clothing and crafts, come were advertising tourism in Brazil, but by far the most popular, and to me the most interesting, were the food stands. One stand featured plates of Brazil's "national dish", feijoada, and for most of the afternoon, the line for feijoada stretched back a full city block. Other stands sold Brazilian pastries and sweets, like cheese bread (pão de queijo) and doce de leite, or snacks such as coxinha and pastel. The popular Brazilian soft drink guaraná was available at the exorbitant price of $3.00. All that was lacking to make it truly a Brazilian festival was beer. Oh well, that's Canada for you.

I spoke to several people who were lined up to buy feijoada. Whether they were Brazilians who immigrated to Canada long ago or students here for a summer of English language instruction, they all said they were lining in order to "matar saudades" of Brazil. They meant that they were trying to assuage homesickness for Brazil and Brazilian culture through eating one of it's most traditional dishes. Feijoada isn't easy to make for one or two persons, or in a small kitchenette, so these folks didn't mind lining up in the hot sun for up to an hour just to eat a plateful of "home." Over the years, I've attended numerous cultural festivals, in Vancouver and elsewhere, and one constant element of these fairs is "food from home." It's interesting proof of the centrality of traditional foods and recipes in creating cultural identity. Food from back home shrinks time and distance and brings one back to one's culture with each bite. Certainly that was the case for those Brazilians in Vancouver this weekend who ate feijoada and other Brazilian dishes. They all exclaimed how the tastes of Brazil connected them once again to their homeland, or even if they said nothing, the look of satisfaction on their faces as they ate told the same story.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

RECIPE - Risotto of Mandioquinha and Smoked Trout

This year the prestigious Italian gastronomic firm Riso Gallo released a guide to the 100 best risotto recipes in the world. Many of the recipes came from restaurants in Italy, naturally, but two were from restaurants São Paulo, Brazil. With a large community of Italian-immigrant descendants, and a vibrant contemporary cooking scene, it's not entirely unlikely that São Paulo restaurants would make their way into this 100 best list. What was less predictable was that one of the risotto recipes would feature the humble root that is perhaps Brazil's oldest-cultivated ingredient - mandioquinha.

One of  São Paulo's most highly regarding restaurants, Cantaloup, was chosen for this "100 Best" list for its risotto of mandioquinha and smoked trout. As mandioquinha is not easy to find in North American or European food markets, this recipe can be adapted for the northern hemisphere by substituting celeriac, or celery root, for the mandioquinha. There will be a slightly stronger celery flavor than in the original dish, but since the taste of celery is part of the flavor palette of mandioquinha, the resulting risotto will be quite similar to Cantaloup's original.
RECIPE - Risotto of Mandioquinha and Smoked Trout
Serves 4

For the shrimp butter:
5 medium-sized shrimp heads (reserve bodies for other use)
1/4 cup (40 gr) yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup (80 gr) unsalted butter, softened

For the risotto:
4 free-range eggs
1/2 cup (80 gr) yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/3 cups (260 gr) arborio or carnaroli rice
1/2 lb (240 gr) smoked trout
1/4 lb (100 gr) Parmesan cheese, grated
fleur de sel to taste
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
finely chopped parsley
4 cups (1 liter) light chicken stock, simmering
green onion, finely chopped, green parts only
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
one sprig fresh dill, chopped
1/4 lb (100 gr) mandioquinha or celeriac
1/4 lb (100 gr) fresh fava beans or lima beans, shelled
Prepare the shrimp butter: In a medium non-stick frying pan combine the shrimp heads, onion and garlic. Stir fry over medium heat for a few minutes, or until the heads begin to yield their juices. Add the white wine and bring quickly to a boil to deglaze the pan. Continue to boil until the wine is reduced by half. Pour all the ingredients into a sturdy sieve over a small bowl, and press hard on them to extract all the juice. Let cool slightly, then mix into the softened butter. Reserve.

Prepare the smoked trout: Cut into 1/4 in (1 cm) cubes. Place in a small bowl, then add  the olive oil and chopped herbs (green onion, parsley and dill). Stir to completely coat the trout with the marinade. Reserve.

Prepare the eggs: Bring 4 cups (1 liter) water to the boil over high heat. Add the eggs, and boil for 4 1/2 minutes. Remove the eggs from the heat, and plunge them into ice-water to stop cooking. Let cool completely in the water, then carefully peel them. Reserve in refrigerator.

Prepare the mandioquinha: Peel and cube the mandioquinha. Bring the cubes to a boil in lightly salted water. When tender and soft, drain and mash the mandioquinha, adding a small amount of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the beans: Bring 4 cups (1 liter) lightly salted water to boil. Add the beans and cook for a few minutes, until they are just tender. Plunge the beans into cold water to set the color. Drain and reserve.

Complete the risotto: In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic then cook, stirring continuously, until the onion is transparent but not browned. Add the rice and, continuing to stir, cook until the rice becomes transparent. Add the white wine and cook until the wine is totally absorbed. Begin to add the chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, allowing each addition to be absorbed completely before adding the next. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a small pan, remove from heat, then carefully add the refrigerated eggs to heat them. When the rice is just al dente and all or most of the stock has been absorbed, add the mashed mandioquinha, the beans, the marinated trout and stir for a few moments, until everything is heated through. Remove from the heat. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and the shrimp butter, and stir very well. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

Portion the risotto onto four deep plates. Add one egg to the top of each, then sprinkle with additional parsley and dill to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Folha de S. Paulo.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Mandioquinha; Brazil's Oldest Food?

Many of the foods consumed every day in 21st century Brazil have a very long history - they have been eaten locally for untold thousands of years, certainly for much longer than the short 510 years since the arrival of Europeans on Brazil's South Atlantic shores. The native American inhabitants of what is now Brazil have endowed Brazilian cuisine with some of the most basic and important foodstuffs in its larder - things like manioc, urucum, vinagreira, and the pinhão. Foods that are native to the Americas are one of the three cultural cornerstones of all of Brazilian alimentary history along with foods from Africa and foods brought to Brazil by the Portuguese and other European settlers.

Current scientific research into native American food plants seems to indicate that the oldest food - that is, the food with the longest history of cultivation - currently to be found on Brazilian plates is a root vegetable variously called mandioquinha, batata-boroa, or batata-aipo. There really isn't a name in English for this root, so the Spanish term arracacha is often used in English-language texts. The mandioquinha plant was first cultivated in the highlands of the Andes Mountains and was introduced into the lower elevations of Brazil through native American trade routes. It is currently cultivated in a number of regions in Brazil.

The mandioquinha has a taste that many people describe as being intermediary between carrot and celery, though one discerning gourmet said it's taste was "a delicate blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts". One of the names of this plant, batata-aipo, literally means celery-potato. Like the potato itself, mandioquinha cannot be eaten raw, and the most common way to cook the root is to boil it. Just like the potato, once boiled, mandioquinha can be served plain, mashed, included in stews and soups, even turned into gnocchi. One culinary advantage that the mandioquinha has over it's potato cousin is that it comes in a variety of intense colors - creams, yellows and purples.

Mandioquinha is an important ingredient in the traditional, homely cooking of many Brazilian regions. The use of the root is also undergoing a culinary reappraisal in the kitchens and laboratories of some of Brazil's most innovative chefs and culinary authors. Entranced by it's complex mix of flavors and it's visual appeal, the newest generation of Brazilian chefs has raised the profile of this humble Andean root, making it one not only one of Brazil's oldest forms of nutrition, but also one of it's characteristic elements.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide an award-winning recipe for a contemporary fusion-cuisine uptake on the mandioquinha.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


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

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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken Cabidela (Angolan style) REPOST

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

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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken Cabidela (Galinha de Cabidela Cearense) REPOST

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

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.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blood as food - delicacy or taboo? (REPOST)

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

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, August 13, 2010

Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo - Octopus and Goat Cheese

At last week's trade/show in Fortaleza, Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo, there were some very interesting presentations on efforts being made in the region to develop new markets for local products. One of the problems that food producers must overcome when introducing new products into the market is overcoming the traditional local reluctance to eat anything new or untried. It seems that in northeastern Brazil, and perhaps in other parts of the country, the population's palate is extremely conservative, and if a food or a dish is not something that has been eaten for generations, people just won't put it on the table. Because of this cultural phenomenon, abundant locally-available but nontraditional food sources - vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, meats - are not commercially viable , while traditional food sources are over-stretched.

One presentation was made by first-year students in the Gastronomy program at the Universidade Federal do Ceará. They are studying ways to introduce octopus into the local diet, as octopus is a non-endangered, widely available food source in the seas off the coast of Ceará, but has never been part of the diet of the local population. Octopus are often caught accidentally by local fishermen, but are thrown back in the water as there is no market for them. The students, in their research, discovered that apart from the traditional reluctance to try new products, the local residents are extremely resistant to the texture of octopus, perceiving it to be rubbery or too chewy. They are currently testing a number of different cooking technique, cooking temperatures and cooking times, to reduce the elasticity of octopus, and feel that if they succeed, it will significantly improve the commercial prospects of an octopus fishery. As students of gastronomy, they are also creating menu items which combine octopus with other local, traditional and familiar ingredients and cooking techniques to minimize the "strangeness" of octopus and to emphasize it's adaptability to local food ways.

The research staff of the federal Agriculture Department (Embrapa) research laboratory in Sobral, a small town in the interior of Ceará, presented the results of one of their research projects in another presentation. There researchers are trying to develop markets for goat cheese through the development of new cheese types. Although goat meat is a traditional food item in the interior of Brazil, dairy products from the same animal have never been accepted by local inhabitants. As goat milk could be widely available, and since goat milk has been proven one of the healthiest dairy products, the Agriculture Department wants to develop the market. Much of the work on this project has been in the development of new goat cheeses, based on well-known local cow milk cheeses. A good example is cream cheese made from goat milk. Cream cheese is already part of the local diet, which means that there is likely to be less resistance to goat milk cream cheese, as it's in a form that is familiar. At the laboratory this project, however, is also working to develop more contemporary and unusual goat cheeses, ones that might not sell at all in local markets, but which might be successful in the sophisticated markets of cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Fortaleza. For example, they developed a creamy goat cheese that is impregnated with oil of the pequi fruit. Pequi has a strong and unusual taste, one that is extremely complex, and which is often compared to truffles. At the presentation, samples of this cheese were served, and I found it to be intriguing and unlikely anything I've ever tasted. There are few things are are totally new in the world of flavors and tastes, but this was one of them. An eye-opening marvel, it was.

Brazil is on the cusp of a gastronomic revolution, and is just awaking to the potentially revolutionary ideas and creations of a combination of local ingredients and avant-garde techniques. Inventive chefs throughout Brazil are looking for new ingredients which are locally available, but which may not be traditionally part of the flavor-spectrum of Brazilian cuisine. The octopus project and the goat cheese development project are just part of this new world of Brazilian cuisine, but projects such as these will be essential in the creation of a Brazilian gastronomy for the 21st century.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo - Gastronomic Trade Show in Fortaleza

Fortaleza, my Brazilian "hometown", is a rapidly growing metropolis of about 3 million people, and by most people's count is either the fourth- or fifth-largest city in Brazil. It is, however, a very long way from the cultural and economic centers of the country, which are located in the region called "Southeast" and which revolve around the twin poles of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In earlier times Fortaleza's isolation from the rest of Brazil was extreme, but today, with Rio and São Paulo being only 3 hours away by plane, this isolation is diminishing rapidly.

An interesting example of this was a gastronomic trade show/exposition that I attended last week here in Fortaleza. It was produced by São Paulo's Prazeres da Mesa (Pleasures of the Table) magazine. Prazeres da Mesa has approximately the same media importance and profile as such magazines as Bon Appetit, Saveur, or Food & Wine. Their annual circuit of expositions previously encompassed only cities in the central core of Brazil, but this year they brought the show to Fortaleza for the first time. They had a smashing success of it, too.

Prazeres da Mesa ao Vivo was a two-day event and included cooking classes taught by local and nationally-famous chefs, lectures, a trade show, wine tasting sessions, and two gala dinners. I attended several cooking classes and lectures, and will report in detail about them in the next few posts here on Flavors of Brazil.

I found the quality of the classes, lectures and presentations to be excellent overall. For me, the event was marred only by two problems, which might have been due to the fact that this type of show had never been produced in Fortaleza before. The first was a lack of organization - registering for the show, signing up for individual classes, etc., all required a great deal of patience, persistence, and at times even aggression. The second problem was over-sale of admissions, which meant that many events were sold out within minutes of being open for registration. I'm hoping that next year's event, which Prazeres da Mesa has already promised, will iron out these "opening night" jitters, and that the event will be all that it potentially can be - a glimpse into the rapidly-evolving world of Brazilian gastronomy and food science.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

RECIPE - Acerola Sauce (REPOST)

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

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.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Acerola - Small But Power-packed (REPOST)

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

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.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Guaiuba - A "Top-Three" Fish in Ceará

In a recent interview in Fortaleza's Diário do Nordeste newspaper, Lúcio Figueiredo, who is chef at Vojnilô seafood restaurant here in town, commented on the best locally-sourced varieties of fish available on the menu of his restaurant, which was named the best restaurant for fish in the 2009 Veja Guide to eating and drinking in Fortaleza. In the article he mentioned three varieties of fish which he considers the best choices for a diner at Vojnilô, in terms of traditionality, quality and sustainability. The three fish he spoke of are the sirigado (black grouper), pargo (red porgy) and guaiuba (yellowtail snapper). He went on to say that although many of his customers order these fish in cream or bechamel sauces, his preference for all of them is to simply grill them whole, which highlights the flavor of the fish itself and nothing else.

I was familiar with, and have eaten frequently, both sirigado and pargo. (Click here for an earlier Flavors of Brazil article about the sirigado.) But guaiuba was a new one to me. An image search on Google brought up some stunningly beautiful pictures of the fish, and I recognized it immediately from having seen it many times at the local seaside fish market. But I have never purchased it at the market, nor eaten it in a restaurant. That's a situation I'll soon have to remedy.

 The guiauba, or yellowtail snapper, has a wide range, and according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) the species belongs to the "least concern" group on its Red List. In other words, at the moment, it is in little danger of extinction of the species through overfishing. It can be found all along the American coast of the Atlantic, from Massachusetts to southern Brazil.

If you're within striking distance of the Atlantic shores, try to find yellowtail snapper at your local fish market. And take chef Figueiredo's advise - don't smother it with sauces, just clean it, stuff it with some fresh herbs, salt it, cook it on the grill, squeeze some fresh lime juice over it and dig in.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cupim Goes Upmarket - Alex Atala's Cupim with Pequi-flavored Potato Puree

The last couple of posts here at Flavors of Brazil have dealt with a cut of beef known as cupim in Portuguese - the cut which, in fact, comes from the hump of the humped Brazilian cattle known as zebu. Long considered one of the least desirable cuts of beef, due primarily to its high concentration of fat, cupim has been rediscovered by some of the most talented, and more adventurous, chefs of the Brazilian culinary world and is now sometimes to be found listed not only on the blackboard of neighborhood lunch spots, but in the multi-page menus of some of the most chic restaurants in the country.

Probably the brightest star today in contemporary Brazilian cuisine is Alex Atala, chef-owner of D.O.M.  Restaurant in São Paulo. The restaurant itself was named the 18th best restaurant in the world in this year's World Restaurant Awards. One of his signature dishes is an unusual and controversial treatment of cupim, which he serves with a potato puree flavored with oil of pequi, a Brazilian fruit with a strong love-it-or-hate-it flavor. (Click here to read more about the pequi.) He transforms cupim by his unusual cooking technique in this dish. The meat is cut into small perfect cubes, then cooked in a pressure cooker over very low heat for a long period of time. The end result are caramelized cubes of meat that are lean and so tender that the dish is served without a knife. All that is needed to cut the meat is a spoon. The cubes are served in just a bit of the broth which results from the cooking process with the pequi-enhanced potato puree alongside.

Recently the food section of the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper asked a number of food critics and other assorted foodies to taste and rate this unusual dish. This is what some of them had to say (my translation from the original Portuguese):

Anna Angotti and Damien Takahashi (journalists): We were apprehensive. This would be the third time we had eaten the cupim dish that was already a classic of Alex Atala's. We feared apathy, the palate already accustomed to to the dish, unable to be surprised. After all, we were veterans, we knew all the details, all the tricks of the dish. First would come the aroma of pequi, invading our olfactory senses without asking permission. Only later would it be tamed by the cupim broth, poured onto the plate at the last minute. We could repeat, along with the maitre d', the reason for the absence of a knife (the meat is so tender it can be eaten with a spoon). We were already expecting the contrast between the fresh, lightly acidic puree and the unctuous and intense cupim. The clear, light broth. We knew all that. What we didn't know is that we'd again be enraptured, just like the first time.

Braulio Pasmanik (businessman and gourmet): I hate pequi! I put that phrase in the Google search window and found that along with me, 3200 other people share that opinion.Taking into consideration that pequi isn't fundamental to gastronomy, that's an impressive number! The closest taste that pequi, brings to mind, for me, is bubble gum. And if cupim is already a greasy and tasteless meat, imagine it served with bubble gum!

You can see that this dish is one people tend not to be neutral about. But I guess that's what makes it such an exciting dish - it evokes all kinds of strong reactions, positive and negative. I've not tried it, but if and when I do, Flavors of Brazil will get the first review, I promise.

(after the jump there is a sampling of more critiques of Atala's dish that appeared in the Estado de S.Paulo article)

Luiz Horta (Assistant Editor, Paladar): A contemporary classic. A re-invention of foie gras without the foie. A magnificent texture, delicate intervention of pequi (a very dangerous flavor, one I normally detest). To reach a balance in all this is complicated. To succeed, and - on top of all - enchant, is something notable.

Neide Rigo (Nutritionist and author of the blog Come-Se): D.O.M. Restaurant's cupim cooked at low temperature resulted in an incredible texture for such a fibrous cut of meat. The fibers were tender, to the point that they could be cut with a spoon. The reduction that caramelized the exterior of the cubes has a strong meaty flavor, overly toasted, that fights with the pequi puree, also very strong-flavored. I adore pequi but both it and the cupim have a lot of fat and a strong presence. It was an ugly fight, and it wasn't my fault.

Luiz Americo Camargo, Supplements Editor, Estado de S. Paulo): Cupim is, for me, the Kobe beef of Brazil, the best cut from zebu cattle, even though doctors and nutritionists demonize it. Here is has a modern presentation, cutable with a spoon and with a exceptional reduction - potent without being indelicate. The accompaniment was not so felicitous. The pequi overpowered to such a degree that the equilibrium with the potato puree was lost. Could it be that the chef wasn't in the house?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

RECIPE - Home Style Cupim (Cupim Caseiro)

The cut of beef which is called cupim in Portuguese, and which comes from the hump of the zebu cattle, is a humble cut of meat. It is not one of what are known in Brazil as carnes nobres or "noble cuts." That title is reserved for the prestige cuts from the loin and the tenderloin. Cupim is a workaday cut and requires special care to ensure that it doesn't end up tough and stringy or fat and greasy.

This simply home style recipe for marinated and roasted cupim fits the bill, and results in a delicious plate of meat perfect for a family supper, or for a buffet table. Since cupim is not regularly available in North America or Europe, you can substitute any of the stewing cuts of beef, like chuck roast.
RECIPE - Home Style Cupim (Cupim Caseiro)
Serves 8

For the marinade:
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin 1" (2 cm) strips
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small japaleno or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano
4 medium onions, cut into eighths
1 piece cupim or chuck roast, approximately 4 lbs (2 kg)

To cook the marinated meat:
1/2 cup brandy or cognac
salt to taste
6 cups (1.5l) light beef stock
1 Tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water

In a large-sized Ziploc or other sealable plastic bag combine all the marinade ingredients plus the meat. If very large, the meat may be cut into two equal-sized pieces to fit in the bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 24 hours, or overnight, turning the bag over occasionally.

The next day, remove the meat from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Drain the meat and pat dry with paper towels. In a large heavy pan or Dutch oven, brown the meat in a little oil until well browned on all sides. Heat the brandy or cognac in a small saucepan, remove from heat, then flame it. Pour the liquor over the meat in the pan. Let the flames die out.

Remove all the solid ingredients from the marinade, and add to the meat in the pan. Reserve the liquid marinade. Continue to cook over medium high heat until the onion is golden. Then add the reserved marinading liquid and the beef stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cover the pan.

Continue to cook the meat over low heat, maintaining the liquid at a simmer, for 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Place the covered pan in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Skim as much of the fat off the surface of the liquid as possible, then slowly reheat the meat and liquid. When the meat is thoroughly heated through, remove it and keep it warm on a heated platter. Add the dissolved cornstarch to the liquid in the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the cornstarch has thickened the sauce.

Slice the meat on the platter, and pour some sauce over each slice. Serve with additional sauce in a gravy boat, accompanied by boiled potatoes and a green vegetable or salad.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mais Você Culinária, TV Globo.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


As I've previously discussed, trying to untangle the linguistic and culinary nightmare of the taxonomy of beef cuts in Brazil and in North America is no simple matter. To start with, butchers here in Brazil and those in the Northern Hemisphere don't cut beef the same way, so a cut hat's popular in one region, like picanha in Brazil or Porterhouse in North America, might not exist in the other. Further, there are regional and local naming variations on both sides of the Equator. However, Flavors of Brazil doesn't intend to let this complexity deter it in its attempt to untangle and clarify this gastronomic bagunça ("messy situation" in Portuguese). In due course, we hope to work our way through the entire animal from head to tail to compile a list of correspondences in beef cuts that is accurate and usable for readers of Flavors of Brazil.

One cut of beef that I have frequently come across in supermarkets and butcher shops here in Fortaleza, and which I have enjoyed on a number of occasions, is called cupim. My curiosity was piqued the first time I spotted it in a butcher shop, as I knew that the word cupim meant "termite" in Portuguese. The red, boneless, fat-marbled piece of beef I saw on display seemed to have nothing to do with wood-eating insects (fortunately!). Research among recipes for cupim revealed that the cut is roasted or stewed, and is also sometimes featured in the menu of Brazilian churrascos, or barbeques. I actually tasted cupim for the first time in a churrascaria, a Brazilian meat-orgy style of restaurant where waiters circle the tables with cuts of meat on large swords, offering slices to diners. I found it very rich, quite fatty, and with a tender, stringy texture. For me, cupim is more a cut for pot-roast or stew and less for the grill. Cooking it in liquid disperses the fat (which can be skimmed off) and makes cupim less greasy.

Questions posed to Brazilian friends about what part of the body cupim comes from didn't yield too much information at first, though one friend used the unfamiliar word corcova  and pointed to his back. It was time to hit the internet to figure this one out. Corcova turned out to mean "hunchback" or "hump" and from there it required only a small bit of internet research to nail down exactly what cupim is. A large portion of the cattle raised for beef in Brazil are in fact zebus and not the same species as European and North American beef cattle. Zebus came originally from India and are the primary beef animal throughout the tropical world, as they are exceptionally tolerant to heat and drought. In fact, they constitute 80% of all the beef cattle raised in Brazil. The primary physical characteristics of zebus that distinguish them from taurine beef cattle are drop ears and a large hump atop the spine just behind the head. Bingo - there's the cupim! It's nothing more or less then the hump of a zebu.

Since most North American and European beef comes from taurine cattle, it turns out that you're unlikely to encounter cupim in those regions under any name. Because Brazil is a major exporter of beef to those regions, it's likely that you might have eaten zebu at some time without realizing it, but because cuts of beef tend to be culturally determined, cupim doesn't share in that export market. It stays home in Brazil, for the delectation of Brazilians and tourists who are adventurous enough to try it when the passing waiter in a churrascaria offers it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

RECIPE - Stewed Cashew Apples (Doce de Caju)

This is one recipe on Flavors of Brazil that is very unlikely to become one of your go-to recipes for a quick dessert at home - that is, unless you live here in northeast Brazil, where cashew apples (caju) are now in season and super-abundant. With it's thin and fragile skin, the cashew apple isn't amenable to long-distance transport when fresh, which limits the geographical size of its market.

However, not every recipe needs to be an instruction for possible use in one's kitchen. I've read and enjoyed many recipes in thousands of magazines and cookbooks that I hadn't the slightest intention of ever cooking myself. Some were too technical, some were too complicated, some were impossible to source, and some were just too expensive. But that didn't stop me reading the recipes. Recipes can be a source of learning and knowledge about something that is unknown and unfamiliar. Since this is the case, I'm offering this recipe in that spirit for the readers of this blog.
RECIPE - Stewed Cashew Apples (Doce de Caju)
Makes 10

10 ripe cashew apples (caju)
juice of one lime
1 quart (1l) water for boiling
1 1/2 cups (400 ml) water for stewing
1 cup granulated sugar

Using a kitchen towel, hold a cashew apple in one hand, and with the other hand protected by the towel twist off the kidney-shaped nut at the base of the cashew apple. (There are toxic chemicals in the raw nut, so do not attempt this procedure with unprotected hands). Discard the nut. Repeat with all the cashew apples. With a sharp paring knife, cut about 1/2 inch (1 cm) from the nut-end of the fruits to remove all traces of the nut.

Peel the fruits with a vegetable peeler. Using a toothpick, perforate the flesh of the fruits in several places. Bring the 1 quart of water to a boil in a large saucepan, then add the lime juice and then the cashew apples. Let them cook over high heat for ten minutes. Remove from heat and drain the fruits. Reserve.

In a medium saucepan, add the 1 1/2 cups of water and the granulated sugar and heat over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When simmering, add the cashew apples, and bring to a low boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pan, and cook the fruit for 1 hour or until the cashew apples are soft and the syrup is lightly thickened.

Remove from heat and let the fruit cool in the syrup.

Serve at room temperature or chilled, accompanied by a small, sweet cookie, like a shortbread.

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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Cashew Apple (Caju)

In a couple of recent posts here on Flavors of Brazil, the two-fold division of the fruit of the Brazilian cashew tree (cajueiro) has been discussed. Botanically speaking there is the fruit itself, which is what most non-Brazilians know as the cashew nut (castanha de caju) and then there is the pseudo-fruit, which is called "cashew apple" in English and simply caju in Portuguese.

While the cashew nut is widely known and enjoyed in many parts of the world, it is primarily in Brazil where the virtues of the cashew apple are appreciated. Even in other countries, such as Vietnam, India, Nigeria and Mozambique, where there is widespread cultivation of the cashew tree for production of cashew nuts, the cashew apple is not widely consumed and usually left to rot. A situation which, to most Brazilians, would be a crime, and which from a nutritional standpoint certainly is. Cashew juice contains 200-220 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml, plus a variety of other valuable micro-nutrients.

Brazilians indulge in the cashew apple in many forms, but by far the predominant use of this fruit is to make juice. Cashew apple juice (suco de caju) is one of the most popular and prevalent juices throughout Brazil. It is available in supermarkets everywhere, bottled or in Tetra-Paks, in the form of frozen pulp, or in the northeast of the country, freshly squeezed. The taste of cashew juice is like no other (in my experience and in the experience of many friends and acquaintances) and once tasted it becomes an iconic and uniquely Brazilian flavor. As with most unique tastes, describing the flavor of cashew juice isn't easy. However, there is one characteristic of the juice which immediately identifies it to the palate - the presence of a significant quantity of tannins - the astringent plant polyphenols which are responsible for the "woody" or "puckery" feel of black teas, red wines, and many unripe fruits. For me the presence of tannins, especially in excess, makes it feel like a have a mouthful of wooden teeth. However any individual perceives the presence of tannins, that person is likely to be able to identify their presence easily. Some people are averse to any hint of tannin, and for those people cashew juice is not a recommended waker-upper in the morning. Those who enjoy it are likely to appreciate the juice. Other than its tannic qualities, cashew juice is moderately sweet, and the taste carries a faint hint of cashew nut flavor. The texture is like a non-juicy apple.

Because the skin of the cashew apple is very thin, the fruit is not suitable for ong-distance transportation to markets outside its cultivation area. Consequently, even in Brazil, it's only in those regions where the cashew is grown that one is likely to see fresh cashew apples for sale.

Cashew apples are used to make conserves, preserves and sweets as well as juice, and the juice can be fermented and then distilled to make spirits. The largest cachaça distiller in Ceará, Ypioca, makes a distilled cashew apple spirit called Acayú.

Because of the fragility of the fruit, if you are desirous to know what a fresh cashew apple tastes like, you will probably have to come to northeast Brazil to try it. You may or may not like it when first sampling it - cashew apples and cashew apple juice are often an acquired taste - but whether you do or not, you'll definitely love this part of Brazil, so the whole trip will not be for naught.