Thursday, September 30, 2010

RECIPE - Pastel Dough (Massa para Pastel)

Like many distinctly-not-healthy fast foods, the Brazilian pastel varies tremendously in quality from location to location. Pastels are like that little girl in the Longfellow poem - when they are good they are very, very good, and when they are bad they are horrid. A bad pastel has too little filling, undercooked or overcooked dough, and the dough itself is greasy and heavy. A real stomach-bomb. But a good pastel has the right quantity of well-made filling, wrapped in a covering that is non-greasy, flaky and crunchy. (To see how a properly made pastel looks, check out the photo below.) Que delícia!

While researching in books and online for recipes for pastel dough, I discovered that the real experts in the art of pastel making all seem to swear by the same "secret ingredient" which guarantees a flaky, crunchy pastel, though it's really not much of a secret. They all say that the reason their wrapping comes out so well is that when mixing the ingredients, they add cachaça, the Brazilian sugar cane liquor. On a Brazilian website that offers questions and answers on every possible subject, someone asked why pastel dough was improved by the addition of cachaça, and the answer was this (my translation):

It's because the dough, though fried, doesn't absorb as much of the frying oil, and consequently ends up crunchy and full of little air pockets. Try making the dough without adding  cachaça and you will see the difference. There isn't any change in texture of the dough or in flavor with cachaça, it's only when the pastel is dropped in the deep-fryer that it goes into action. Bom apetite!

(Do you think McDonald's uses cachaça in the dough for their pies? I somehow doubt it.)

So here's the standard recipe for pastel dough, with the obligatory shot of cachaça. As it's the alcohol that causes the dough to be less absorbative, I would think that other liquors, for example, vodka, would work equally well.

RECIPE - Pastel Dough (Massa para Pastel)
Enough for 50 pastels

2.2 lb (1 kg) all-purpose wheat flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. chicken broth
1 Tbsp. lard
2 Tbsp. cachaça
2 cups warm water, approximately
Mix the flour and salt, then add the broth and lard. Add the cachaça to the warm water, and add to the dough in 1/4 cup quantities, mixing in thoroughly and stopping just when the dough forms a ball. Do not overmix or add too much water.

Form into a ball, then let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, dough is ready for rolling out, filling and cooking as desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from website Tudo Gostoso, by UOL.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pastel - Brazil's Favorite Snack?

If you asked almost any Brazilian what food they would associate with the drinking of caldo de cana (freshly pressed sugar cane juice) the likely response would be "pastel." A pastel is a stuffed pastry that is deep-fried, and almost always served with a glass of caldo de cana.

For millions of Brazilians, a pastel serves as a quick lunch, a mid-morning or afternoon tide-me-over, or as an anytime treat at the market, a fair or at the beach.  Pastels have been part of the food culture of Brazil for almost a century, and most food historians are of the opinion that their origins can be traced back to the early-20th Century wave of Japanese immigration to Brazil. As newly-arrived immigrants from Japan began to leave the coffee plantations and move into the cities of southern Brazil one of the ways to succeed there was to open a restaurant. Anti-Japanese sentiments were strong at that time, and Japanese cuisine was unknown, so most of these restaurateurs opened Chinese restaurants. One always-popular item in such restaurants was the deep-fried spring roll, and it's from these small rolls that the pastel developed. What the pastel has retained from its spring roll ancestor is the thin, rolled-out pastry, the use of a filling, and the technique of deep-frying. What has changed is the size and shape of the pastry and the choice and variety of fillings.

Today, a pastel is most likely to be in the shape of a rectangle of the dimensions of a normal post-card or slightly larger, although other shapes and sizes do exist. It is filled with either a sweet or savory filling and is normally served hot right from the fryer - accompanied, of course, by the ever-present caldo de cana. A pastel is stand-up food, and meant to be eaten directly from the hand - they really can't be successfully eaten with a knife and fork. They are usually served in a paper napkin or in a small paper envelope, and the caldo de cana may be presented in a plastic cup.

I often wonder if McDonald's pies, which are similarly deep-fried, were inspired by Brazil's pasteis (pasteis is the plural form of pastel in Portuguese). They really aren't a pie in the North American sense of the word, and closely resemble a Brazilian pastel with a sweet filling, although Brazilian pasteis are not often filled with apples, cherries and other North American fruits.

Like many snack foods, the Brazilian pastel can vary tremendously in quality depending on the vendor. Poorly cooked in over-used oil with minimal amounts of filling a pastel can be a very depressing experience. But properly cooked in good-quality oil, with a tasty filling and crunchy pastry, it can be a delicious, if not exactly healthy, treat.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Caldo de Cana - Brazil's Liquid-Sugar Drink

It's no secret that Brazilians, on the whole, have a VERY sweet tooth. Fruit juices, even those from sweet fruits, are normally highly sugared, desserts can be achingly sweet, coffee is invariably drunk very sweet, and I've even seen kids plopping a tablespoonful or two of sugar into a glass of milk before drinking it. Considering Brazil's long and complicated history of producing sugar from sugar cane, it's really no surprise.

When a Brazilian wants a real sugar rush, however, he or she doesn't have to drink a fruit juice, or eat a pastry or cake - it's easy to get the real thing, unfiltered and unflavored. If you peel sugar cane itself, then run the cane through a pressing machine it yields a greenish-yellow juice called caldo de cana (cane broth) or garapa. This same pressing process, on an industrial scale, is the starting point for refining every type of sugar cane product, from molasses, through rum and cachaça, to brown sugar and on to the highly refined white sugars. On a much more artisanal scale thousands of small hand-cranked or electric presses can be found on streets and beaches in markets and fairs all over Brazil grinding out the juice which satisfies the national addiction for sugar.

Caldo de cana is not a highly flavored drink, and the overwhelming impression when drinking it is one of pure sweetness, pure sugar. Considering that it is normally between 40 and 50% sucrose by dry weight, it's no wonder that one's taste buds busily scream out "sweet, sweet, sweet!" when one drinks caldo de cana. The juice, otherwise, has little aroma or taste.

Although Brazilians love to gulp down a glass of iced caldo de cana on a hot day, I find that its high sugar content prevents it from being a thirst quencher. And for me, at least, the lack of a specific flavor diminishes its appeal. I'd much rather have a fruit juice with a lower sugar quotient and a bit of a citric/acidic punch when I'm thirsty. But I'm in the minority in this country - at least judging by the length of the lines in front of caldo de cana stands everywhere in Brazil. Lines of folks just waiting for their sugar fix to be freshly pressed and poured into a glass. Bottom's up!

Monday, September 27, 2010

RECIPE - Maminha with Caper Sauce (Maminha ao Molho de Alcaparras)

Although the caper bush most likely originated somewhere in the Mediterranean basin, and certainly is associated with Mediterranean cuisines, the bud of this bush's flower, known gastronomically as capers (alcaparras in Portuguese) is very popular in Brazil. Their sharp acidic bite is used to spark up sauces and dressings, and they are added whole to pizzas and salads. They are not grown in Brazil, so they are imported preserved in vinegar and/or salt just as they are elsewhere in the world. In this recipe from the Brazilian recipe swap website Culinária & Receitas, posted there by Silvia Martins, capers are used to flavor the sauce for a pot roast of maminha (see this post to learn more about maminha.) If you want to make this recipe in North America, just ask your butcher for a bottom round roast of the size indicated in the recipe.
RECIPE - Maminha with Caper Sauce (Maminha ao Molho de Alcaparras)
Serves 8

3 lb (1.5 kg) maminha, in one piece
1 Tbsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. green onion, green part only, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped
3/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
Mix the salt and garlic in a small bowl with the back of a wooden spoon, or use a mortar and pestle to create a paste. Spread the paste on the top of the piece of beef and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Place the beef in a roasting pan, cover it with a lid or with aluminum foil, and put it in a preheated 350F (175C) oven. Remove the cover and continue to cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the top is browned.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the capers and fry for one minute. Add the mustard, parsley, green onion and basil and stir to mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat, and slow add the creme fraiche or sour cream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. When the creme is all added, test for temperature, and if necessarily return to heat briefly to heat the sauce through, but do not let it boil.

Remove the roast from the oven, place it on a carving board, and slice into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices, cutting across the grain of the meat. Arrange them decoratively on a serving platter, and drizzle the caper sauce over. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BEEF CUTS - Maminha

Since the butcher's art varies from country to country, each culinary culture similarly varies from all others in the way meat animals are butchered and the way the carcass is divided into cuts of meat. We've already discussed this topic previously here on Flavors of Brazil, talking about the Brazilian beef cuts picanha and cupim. These cuts of meat do not correspond directly to the cuts familiar to American and Canadian customers, which differ in turn from the cuts found in a British butcher shop, which have no connection to the say beef is cut for a Parisian boucherie, etc. etc. etc. So this is one more post in a Flavors of Brazil series about the way Brazilians cut their meat, in particular their beef, in an attempt to allow recipes and techniques of Brazilian meat cooking, some of the best in the world, to be exported around the world.

One of the best-loved and most common cuts of beef in this meat-mad country is called maminha. In North American terms, it would be part of the round - in particular, part of what is called "bottom round." This means it is cut from the part of the animal that sits on top of the rear legs. In other words, the hips and rumps. In this chart of Brazilian beef cuts, maminha is number 15.

This cut is particularly suited to grilling on a churrasqueira (charcoal or gas grill) when cut into steaks, into roasts when it is left whole and to stews when it is cubed. It's a very versatile cut, and one of the leanest beef cuts available. One well-known Brazilian food guide calls maminha "a filé mignon for the grill" as it shares the leanness and tenderness of the filé, but is suited for grilling, unlike the more-expensive filé. The guide goes on to recommend that the cut be left whole for roasting, and that it only be sliced (always across the grain) after cooking, and that it never be cooked more that medium, as it will turn tough and fibrous when overcooked.

Any Brazilian recipe for maminha can successfully be made in North America by substituting "bottom round roast" for whole-cut roasting and cubed for stews, or "bottom round steak" for grilling.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

RECIPE - Red Rice with Eggpland and Miso (Arroz Vermelho ao Miso de Beringela)

A few months ago, the Brazilian food magazine Prazeres da Mesa held a gastronomic tradeshow and exhibition in Recife, Brazil. (See this post for a report on the Fortaleza edition of the tradeshow). In this month's print and online versions of the magazine, the Recife show is covered in detail, with stories and recipes provided by the many chefs who presented there.

One of the chefs featured during the event was chef Joca Pontes, of Recife's well-known Ponte Nova restaurant. A fierce advocate of local and sustainable food, Pontes was one of the first new-generation chefs in Brazil to work with red rice, and is an important part in the story of its renaissance.

At the Recife show, chef Pontes demonstrated the following dish, which in best 21st century tradition combines local ingredients and foreign inspiration, in this case Japan.

(As previously mentioned, Brazilian red rice is currently not exported from Brazil, but this dish works well with Wehani rice , available in North America and Europe.)

RECIPE - Red Rice with Eggpland and Miso (Arroz Vermelho ao Miso de Beringela)
Serves 8

For the rice:
2 cups (400 gr) red rice
6 cups (1.5l) vegetable stock
3 Tbsp. (40 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste
2 bay leaves
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch annatto powder (sweet paprika may be substituted)

For the eggplant:

1/4 cup (50 gr) granulated white sugar
1/4 cup (50 gr) white miso
1/4 cup (50 ml) sake
1/4 cup ginger liqueur
1/4 cup (50 ml) light soya sauce
1 Tbsp. (20 ml) light sesame oil
1 Tbsp. (20 ml) neutral vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. green onion, chopped
8 medium-sized okra pods, cut into rounds
1 Japanese long eggplant, cubed
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small red or green chili pepper, seeded and cut in half
1 small red onion, sliced

For the ginger vinaigrette:
1/3 cup (100 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup (100 ml) neutral vegetable oil
1/4 cup (50 ml) light soya sauce
1/4 cup (50 ml) fresh-squeezed lime juice
4 tsp. (20 gr) granulated white sugar
1.5 Tbsp. ginger, freshly grated
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
mixed baby greens
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and saute, but do not let brown. Add the red rice, plus the salt, bay leaves, cumin and annatto powder, stirring well to combine. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover the pan and let cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, then allow the rice to rest in the pan for an additionaly 10 minutes. Remove the rice to a serving platter, fluffing it with a fork, and reserve, keeping warm.

Im a small saucepan, add together the sake, the ginger liqueur, the soy sauce and the sugar. Bring quickly to a boil, then turn off heat and stir in the miso to dissolve. Reserve. In a non-stick frying pan, combine the sesame and vegetable oils, and briefly fry the chili pepper. Add the okra, eggplant and green pepper and stir-fry until vegetables begin to brown. Reduce heat, then add the miso mixture, stir well to combine and cook for 2 minutes. Reserve, keeping warm.

In a blender, combine the soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, grated ginger and mustard. Combine the two oils in a measuring cup with a spout. Blend with lowest speed, adding oils in a slow stream to create an emulsion.

In a mixing bowl, combine the baby greens with the vinaigrette, tossing to coat all the leaves. In a large non-stick frying pan, reheat the rice with a small amount of olive oil. Add the eggplant mixture, and correct the seasoning, adding salt if required. Using 8 salad plates, divide the rice, then cover each plate with the dressed greens. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Prazeres da Mesa

Friday, September 24, 2010

Red Rice (Arroz Vermelho) - The Plot Thickens

In this post from a few days back, Flavors of Brazil discussed the history of the cultivation of red rice (arroz vermelho or arroz-da-terra) in Brazil. In a nutshell the story was that this super-nutritious and delectable whole-grain rice, which had been disdained for centuries, was being rediscovered by the newest generation of Brazilian chefs. In subsequent posts, I provided two recipes for this grain, one traditional and one of-the-moment.

The day after those posts appeared, the newest issue of a Brazilian gastronomic magazine called Prazeres da Mesa appeared on my local newsstand, and I picked up a copy. One of the main editorial pieces turned out to be entitled A Volta do Arroz Vermelho (in English - The Return of Red Rice). It covered much of the history that I had posted on Flavors of Brazil, but adding something that wasn't in the sources I had previously read, and which I found very interesting. Around the middle of the Eighteenth Century, the Portuguese Crown outlawed the cultivation of red rice in its Brazilian colonies - for purely commercial reasons, as there was a royal monopoly on white rice. In compliance with that royal decree, the governor of the colony of Maranhão, Joaquim de Melo e Póvoas, decreed the following penalties for those caught growing red rice:

Free men - One year of imprisonment and payment of a fine of 100,000 réis of which half will be spent on public works and half given to the person who had denounced him;

Slaves - two years in chains with floggings from time to time;

Indian - two years in chains, only

They certainly took agricultural crime seriously in those days! It's no wonder, then, that red rice almost disappeared from Brazil, and that it was only semi-clandestine production in the semi-arid backcountry of northeastern Brazil that kept red rice cultivation alive.

In the post to follow here on Flavors of Brazil, I'll include one more red rice recipe, this time from the pages of Prazeres da Mesa.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

RECIPE - Duo of Red Rice and Minted White Rice

In this recipe the humble grain red rice, which some call a weed, is elevated to stardom by well-known Brazilian chef Mané Young. Mané is chef de cuisine at Casa Jordão restaurant in the mountain resort city of Campos do Jordão, Brazil. Campos do Jordão, if it were in India, would be known as a "hill station"; that is, a resort in the mountains where tourists can go to enjoy a respite from the intense summer heat of the cities in the lowlands. The yearly average daily high temperature in the resort is 20C (68F) and at night the yearly average daily low is 9C (48F). These temperatures are unusual in Brazil, and throughout the year tourists come to Campos do Jordão for a breath of fresh, cool air.

Chef Young is an innovative chef, and has been one of Brazil's strongest proponents of using local and traditional ingredients to create a contemporary Brazilian gastronomy. He has created several dishes combining the formerly-disparaged red rice (arroz-da-terra, arroz vermelho) and other ingredients to lift what might be a pedestrian grain to a best-supporting-side-dish role on his guests plates. This recipe employs red rice and minted white rice to make a dish that has both visual and gustatory appeal.

(As Brazilian red rice is not available outside the country, you can substitute Wehani rice very successfully elsewhere.)

RECIPE - Duo of Red Rice and Minted White Rice
Serves 4

3 Tbsp. (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp. (50 gr) butter
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup red rice
1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. creme fraiche
2 Tbsp. whole milk
Salt to taste
Cook the red rice in 4 cups water by the absorption method. Remove from heat and reserve.

Cook the white rice in 1.5 cups water by the absorption method. Remove from heat and reserve.

In two separate frying pans, heat the olive oil and the butter over medium heat, until the oil is hot and the butter is melted, but not browning or smoking. In the frying pan with olive oil, add the chopped onion and saute until golden brown. Then add the cooked red rice and the milk. Salt to taste, stir to mix, remove from heat and reserve. In the frying pan with butter, add the chopped parsley, green onion and mint and immediatley add the cooked white rice and creme fraiche. Stir and cook very briefly, then remove from heat and reserve.

In a serving bowl or platter, or in a mold, combine the two rices decoratively (see photo for an example). Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Gula magazine

RECIPE - Red Rice With Milk (Arroz-da-terra de Leite)

The natural variation of white rice which is called arroz-da-terra (rice of the earth) or arroz vermelho (red rice) in Brazil has always been a part of the traditional cuisine in the semi-arid region of northeastern Brazil known as the Sertão. This harsh land, where it rains infrequently and which suffers periodic droughts of catastrophic proportions, has a place in Brazilian mythology and culture similar to the "Far West" in American culture - an unforgiving, violent land where only the strongest survive. Literature, music, films and television have all influenced the way this region is seen in the rest of Brazil, but the reality is often different, particularly now that irrigation and water-control projects have reduced the social costs of the area's aridity.

The cuisine of the Sertão reflects the character of the land and of its inhabitants. There is a limited range of ingredients, and cooking techniques are restricted to those which were available in historic times, primarily cooking over a wood fire, either on a stove or in a campfire.

This simple rice dish, which in the Sertão is a traditional accompaniment to carne de sol, is surprisingly delicious and satisfying, and would go well with any grilled or barbequed meat. The Brazilian red rice used in the original recipe is not available outside Brazil, but other red rices, such as Wehani rice can very successfully be substituted.
RECIPE - Red Rice With Milk (Arroz-da-terra de Leite)
Serves 4

1 cup red rice (arroz-da-terra)
4 cups water
salt to taste
2 cups whole milk, hot
2 Tbsp. whipping cream
Italian parsley, finely minced, to taste
1 sprig Italian parsley, to decorate
In a large saucepan add the rice and water. Salt the water to taste. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring regularly to avoid sticking. When the water is almost totally absorbed, add the milk and cream and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Remove from heat. Mound the rice in a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with the minced parsley and add the sprig to decorate the dish. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Red Rice (Arroz Vermelho) - A Weed Becomes a Star

Considered a weed in the world of rice cultivation, the red-husked variety of rice is leaving its sketchy background behind and becoming an object of culinary desire here in Brazil. Red rice has a long history in this country, and has always been appreciated for its flavor in the semi-arid regions of northeastern Brazil. Outside of that region, however, it's only recently begun to show up on diner's plates in high-end, chef-driven restaurants.

Red rice (called arroz vermelho in Portuguese, and also known in Brazil as arroz-da-terra and arroz de Veneza) first arrived in Brazil in 1535, in the state of Bahia. White rice arrived more than two centuries later in 1765. It's reddish coloration is a naturally spontaneous mutation of white rice, and a certain percentage of any crop of white rice will show this trait. In recent years, however, cultivators have been working to find a cultivar of rice that will produce a reliable crop of red rice every time. Just as they have always done with white rice, trying to find a cultivar that won't display the red variation.

Red rice has a more crunchy texture than white rice, as it is a whole-grain rice and has not been polished. It's flavor is a bit nutty, with hints of almond. Traditional northeastern Brazilian cooking has always known how to cook this rice to its best advantage, and now chefs in other parts of the country, notably São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and in the state of Minas Gerais, are adding red rice to their larders and creating inventive dishes that highlight its very attractive qualities.

In the next two posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide two recipes for this rice, one a traditional recipe from the northeast, and the other a chef's creation from a mountain resort in southeastern Brazil.

RECIPE - Maniçoba

Have you got a week with nothing to do? Or do you have to feed a crowd of 30-35 persons next week? Want to risk poisoning all those guests if you don't follow the recipe properly?

If your answer to those questions is YES, then Flavors of Brazil would like to present for your consideration a dish from the Brazilian state of Pará called Maniçoba.

This dish, which is one of the most famous festival and holiday dishes of Pará is made with the leaves of the cassava plant, or mandioca as it's known in Brazil. Because of the poisonous cyanides in these leaves, the dish requires a week's cooking time, and isn't worth the time or effort to make a small quantity. Thus, even in its home territory, maniçoba is a dish that's generally only consumed at festival and religious celebrations, where the numbers of people make all the effort that goes into cooking maniçoba worth while.

Since main ingredient of maniçoba is 33 lbs (15 kg) of fresh cassava leaves, I'm not worried that someone will read the recipe that follows, rushing it, and kill off their entire neighborhood, extended family or parish. But I think it's such an interesting recipe, and one that has such a long and colorful history, that it deserves a place in this blog.

RECIPE - Maniçoba
 Prep time: 1 week
Serves 35-40

35 lbs (15 kg) fresh cassava (mandioca) leaves
4.5 lbs (2 kg) lard
4.5 lbs (2 kg) smoked bacon, whole
4.5 lbs (2 kg) pig's feet, salted
4.5 lbs (2 kg)  pig's ears, salted
4.5 lbs (2 kg) pig's tongue, salted
4.5 lbs (2 kg)  pig's tail, salted
4.5 lbs (2 kg) pork loin, salted
4.5 lbs (2 kg)  pork ribs, salted
9 lbs (4 kg) carne de sol
3 lbs (1.5 kg) kielbasa-type sausage
3 lbs (1.5 kg) chorizo sausage
3 lbs (1.5 kg) linguiças sausage
9 lbs (4.5 kg) beef tripe
Remove stalks and central vein from cassava leaves, then thoroughly wash in cold water. In handfuls, grind the leaves using the finest blade of a meat grinder. You should have approximate 14 kb (6 kgs) of pulped leaves. Put the cassava leaves in a 40-50 quart industrial stockpot, add water to cover, and simmer for 72 hours (3 days). Thoroughly mix 8-12 times a day, making sure that the leaves don't stick to the bottom of the pot. When necessary to avoid drying out, add water to the mixture.

After 3 days, add the lard and the smoked bacon, whole. Continue to cook for 24 hours. On the fourth day, in another large stockpot add all the meats with the exception of the sausages and tripe and cover with cold water. Soak for 24 hours, changing the water several times.

On the fifth day, coarsely chop the tripe, pour boiling water over it to scald it, and let it cool in the water. Remove the salted meats from their soaking water, wash them thoroughly and boil them for 1 hours. Add the salted meats and the tripe to the cassava leaf mixture and cook for another 48 hours (2 days) removing the pot from the heat while sleeping.

On the sixth day, cut all the sausages into thick rounds, then add them to the stockpot. Continue to cook for 24 hours (again removing the pot from the heat while sleeping).

On the seventh day, you can rest, as the maniçoba is ready to serve, with white rice.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Case of the Two Maniocs

Yesterday, there was a post here on Flavors of Brazil about the confusing nomenclature for the staple food plant cassava (or manioc, or yuca, etc. etc.) Let's hope that faithful readers of this blog will have already studied and memorized that post to avoid further confusion.

The situation, however, it's quite as clear as it was made out to be in that post, because there is not just one plant that carries all those names, there are two. And the difference between the two of them is not insignificant by any means - because one is poisonous if not detoxified and the other is safe to eat in its natural state. Consequently, being able to correct distinguish between the two maniocs is a serious business, as an incorrect choice may be fatal.

Both plants have the same botanical genus - Manihot. The species that carries toxins is Manihot esculenta and that innocuous one is Manihot utilissima. In English, the two species are generally called bitter cassava and sweet cassava, respectively, and in Brazil, the toxic Manihot esculenta is generally known as mandioca and the non-toxic Manihot utilissima is called mandioca doce, macaxeira, or aipim.

The toxic properties of some members of this plant genus were long known to native American populations, who learned how to remove the toxins from the plant before consuming it. Variations of these techniques are still used today worldwide. Whatever treatment is used, the important thing is to remove cyanide from the plant, as ingestion of raw roots or leaves can cause severe and chronic illness, or even death. Toxins are removed naturally from the plant when it undergoes soaking in water, cooking or fermentation. Variations on all three of these techniques are used both at home and in industrial processing.

One of the most intriguing techniques for detoxifying cassava is one that native Indians used for fermenting cassava into a drink. It was described by anthropologist and shamanism scholar Michael J. Harner this way:

The sweet manioc beer (nihamanci or nijiamanchi), is prepared by first peeling and washing the tubers in the stream near the garden. Then the water and manioc are brought to the house, where the tubers are cut up and put in a pot to boil. … The manioc is then mashed and stirred to a soft consistency with the aid of a special wooden paddle. While the woman stirs the mash, she chews handfuls of and spits them back into the pot, a process that may take half an hour or longer. After the mash has been prepared it is transferred to a beer storage jar and left to ferment. … The resultant liquid tastes somewhat like a pleasingly alcoholic buttermilk and is most refreshing. The Jivarosw consider it to be far superior to plain water, which they drink only in emergencies.

This technique of masticating food to initiate fermentation is one used throughout the world from Asia and Africa as far north as the Arctic, where it was known to the Inuit.

In the next post on this blog, I'll provide a traditional recipe for a dish that used cassava leaves, which shows just how much care, effort and time are required to make cassava safe to eat.

Manioc's Many Names

For a long time I have been wanted to post some articles here on Flavors of Brazil about the plant that was the staple food of Brazil's Indians prior to the arrival of Europeans, and which today is still a daily source of nutrition for millions of Brazilians, and billions more residing in tropical areas of the planet. The botanical name for the genus is Manihot, a name derived from the name of the plant in the Tupi language, a native American language spoken in many areas of South America. In Tupi, the plant is called mandioca.

This plant goes by an incredible number of names throughout the world, and much of the taxonomy is confusing, with one name referring to possibly two or more varieties in differing locations, and with countless regional or linguistic variations for the name of one single botanical species. In order to begin to discuss mandioca on this blog, some sense will have to be made out of this linguistic and botanical bowl of spaghetti - some untangling of the plant's many names.

In English, three names are commonly given to the plant - cassava, yuca and manioc (note that cassava is sometimes spelled cassaba or cassada). The second of these names, yuca, is shared with most of the Spanish-speaking cultures of the Americas, such as Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Cuba, and The Dominican Republic. In Brazil, there are rather more than three common names - just to list a few: aipi, aipim, castelinha, macaxeira, mandioca-doce, mandioca-mansa, maniva, maniveira, pão-de-pobre. In Africa and Asia, where the plant is widely consumed, it has many, many more names.

Besides this overabundance of names denominating the plant itself, there are many more for each of the constituent edible parts of the plant - leaves, roots, etc. - and for the products derived from the plant, such as starches, flours, gums, saps. These will all have to be dealt with in due course, but will be left for later postings.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Exotic is in the Eye of the Beholder

Even though I've been living for two years in Brazil, and had been visiting it for many years previously as a tourist, I'm still running across foods and cooking techniques that make me think, "Wow, that's something I've never seen before," or "That's really strange looking (or tasting)." These exotic ingredients are one of the things that keep writing this blog so much fun - researching what they are, how they are used, and where they came from.

This past weekend, I learned a lesson about what is or isn't exotic. It's not that things in one location or another are more or less exotic, it's just that they are more or less different from what one already knows from previous experience. One person's exotic is another's "oh no, not this again!"

On Saturday night, I had a group of Brazilian friends over for appetizers and drinks, a way of entertaining that's very popular here in Brazil. I often try to make dishes that my guests might not be familiar with, as I know that they can easily get Brazilian cooking anywhere, but some other styles of cooking are not really well known here. In preparation for the party, I visited Fortaleza's best greengrocers, called Mercadinho Japonês . It does sell Asian foods but is more of a generalized store for fruits and vegetables. I find it to have the best quality and selection in the city, and I can often find vegetables that aren't available in local supermarkets. I had decided to make a plate of raw vegetables with dips, and at the store I found a nice variety of them.

I prepared the dish when I got home, and had it on the dining table when the guests arrived. I was standing at the table when the first few guests began to sample the vegetables, and was slightly surprised when they asked me what some of the vegetables were, as they had never seen them. I of course knew the names in English but couldn't come up quickly with the names in Portuguese, so I availed myself of my bi-lingual dictionary to find the proper way to translate them into Portuguese. The response was "Oh! I've heard of these (or read about these) but have neven seen them before. I'll have to try them."

And what were these vegetables that my guests found so exotic and strange? Nothing more than these vegetables which are so common in North America that they might be considered boring or "done to death."

The radishes and celery were the talk of the party, and throughout the night guests were discussing them and comparing them to locally-available veggies. Most of the guests seemed to love most of these vegetables, though a few found their flavor to be strong and very assertive.

It just goes to show that anything can be exotic when it's out of its normal geographical range. An interesting lesson to remember.

PS. I forgot to mention the Portuguese terms I discovered for these two vegetables - celery is known as either aipo or salsão and radishes are called rabanetes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

RECIPE - Shrimp with Lime Sauce (Camarão com Molho de Limão)

One more shrimp recipe from Rio Grande do Norte, the land of the shrimp eaters (Potiguars). One of the great things about shrimp is that they cook in a such a short time. This means that when time constraints don't allow a roast or a stew to be considered as a main course, a shrimp dish makes a perfect centerpiece for a dinner whether it's a family meal during the workweek or an elegant dinner party on the weekend. Although shrimp is high in cholesterol, it is also high in protein and very low in fat, so as long as there are no particular concerns about cholesterol consumption, it makes an excellent choice as a meal's main protein.

Like the previous recipe for Shimp with Mango, this dish combines shrimp with fruit - this time lime, which highlights the flavor of the shellfish and adds a refreshing acidity to the dish. I like to add a bit more fresh lime juice to the finished dish just before serving to really make the dish "sing."
RECIPE - Shrimp with Lime Sauce (Camarão com Molho de Limão)
Serves 4

3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 small chili pepper (malagueta, serrano, jalapeño), seeded and minced
1 tsp. salt
1 lb (500 gr) ready-to-cook shrimp (de-headed, peeled and deveined)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. annatto powder (sweet paprika can be substituted)
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced
In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the lime juice, chopped hot pepper and cold water. Add the shrimp and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature. Drain the shrimp, reserving the soaking liquid.

Put the flour in a large plastic or paper bag, and dredge the shrimp in the flour, a few at a time. Shake the shrimps to remove excess flour and reserve.

Heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium high heat, then add the butter and olive oil. Melt the butter, but don't let it brown. Reduce heat to medium. Fry half of the shrimp for one minute, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, then remove them with a strainer and reserve. Repeat with the second half of the shrimp, frying for one minute then reserving.

Add the soaking liquid to the pan in which the shrimp were fried. Add the annatto powder or paprika and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the parsley, the cilantro, the red pepper and the reserved shrimp. Cook for a few minutes, mixing all ingredients thorough and heating the dish through. Remove from heat and place in serving bowl. (Add 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice and stir again, if desired.)

Serve with white rice and a green salad.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Saturday, September 18, 2010

RECIPE - Shrimp with Mango (Camarão com Manga)

This very simple and delicious recipe for shrimp in a mango sauce comes from the northeastern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. The fruit sauce gives the dish natural sweetness which highlights the sweet flavor of good shrimp. Brazil has many, many varieties of mangoes and not all work well in creating this type of sauce. The recipe calls for Haden (or Hayden) mangoes which are one variety that travels well, and thus is likely to be available in greengrocers and supermarkets in North America and Europe. The variety originated in Florida and is still widely grown there. The Haden mango is a rounded oval shape, and has a yellow color with blushes of red or pink. It is only slightly fibrous (which is why it is good in this recipe) and has a full, sweet flavor. For this recipe, approximately two good-sized mangoes are required.
Haden Mango

Shrimp with mango is easy to make, and additionally requires little cooking time. I think it is best served with plain long-grain white rice and a green salad. It's perfect for lunch, or a light supper, especially in times of hot weather.
RECIPE - Shrimp with Mango (Camarão com Manga)
Serves 6

2 lbs (1 kg) medium shrimp, with heads and shells, OR
1 1/4 lb (600 gr) cleaned and peeled medium shrimp
1/2 tsp salt
white pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup (3 oz) butter
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
1 cup Haden mango flesh, cut into 1 inch (2 cm) cubes
1 cup Haden mango flesh, pureed in blender or food processor
If using whole shrimp, remove heads shells and tails. Devein the shrimp, then wash in fresh cold water.
If using ready-peeled shrimp, rinse in fresh cold water, changing water once or twice. Drain.

Put the shrimp in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with half of the lime juice. Mix thorough, then place in refrigerator for up to one hour before cooking.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling but not browned, add the remaining lime juice, the grated ginger and the cubed and pureed mangoes. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the refrigerated shrimps, reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice to avoid sticking. Remove from heat.

Put the shrimp and sauce into a serving bowl and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Friday, September 17, 2010

Land of the Shrimp Eaters

While the United States just has one Rio Grande, along the border with Mexico, Brazil has two states called Rio Grande. Fortunately, they are quite far apart (nearly 2000 air miles between their respective capitals), and are located at two geographical extremes of the country, so they are identified as Rio Grande so Sul (Rio Grande of the South) and Rio Grande do Norte (Rio Grande of the North).

With names like these, one serious question becomes what do you call the inhabitants of these states? Imagine if the English names shown above were state names - would you call someone from Rio Grande of the North a Riograndeofthenorthian? Or would there be folks identified as Riograndeofthesouthites? Any way you look at it, for these places any demonym which employs the actual state name is a non-starter. In Brazil, they've solved this dilemma by creating demonyms that don't employ the name of the state. People from Rio Grande do Sul are knows as Gaúchos, which is term that relates to the cowboy culture that runs from the south of Brazil into Uruguay and Argentina, and which is familiar to North Americans and Europeans through its Spanish equivalent, Gaucho. People from Rio Grande do Norte take their demonym, Potiguar, from the name of a Tupi nation of Indians that have inhabited the territory since long before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. In the Tupi language, Potiguar means "eater of shrimp."

Shrimp abound in the seas, lagoons and creeks of this state, which occupies the eastern-most position in all of the Americas. Local cooking traditions revolve around this seafood as the prime source of protein, which has been the case since time immemorial. Shrimp has also always been of enormous economic importance to the state, an importance which has grown tremendously in the past 20 years, during which time the farming of shrimp has become the main industry in many parts of the state. The two largest sources of income in Rio Grande do Norte presently are tourism and shrimp-farming.

In addition to the shrimp industry, Rio Grande do Norte is a large producer of fresh fruits, both for the domestic and exports markets. This is due to the hot, sunny climate, and the abundance of groundwater for irrigation. Melons are of particular importance, and the state produces 95% of Brazil's total exports of melons.

The next few posts on Flavors of Brazil will concentrate on "potiguar" ways to cook and serve shrimp, including some that combine the shrimp with the cornucopia of tropical fruit that this land produces.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RECIPE - Guinea-fowl with Rice (Capote com Arroz)

This traditional Brazilian variation of the Spanish and Latin-American classic, arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) is made not with chicken but with guinea-fowl (capote in Portuguese). It can be made equally successfully, though, with standard chickens - as long as they are free-range. Battery-raised chickens won't have a deep-enough flavor profile to stand up to the seasonings.

This dish comes from the northeastern Brazilian state of Piauí, one of the hottest, driest and poorest regions in the country. Its capital, Teresina, is famous (infamous) for being one of the hottest cities in Brazil, with mid-day temperatures during the hot season regularly reaching above 40C (105F). Being almost landlocked, Piauí doesn't have the trade winds from the sea that cool neighboring states, resulting in the oven-like temperatures.

In Piauí this dish is often cooked early in the morning when temperatures are relatively cooler, and served at room temperature at mid-day. In the noontime heat, there is no premium placed on steaming-hot dishes, unlike in temperate and colder climatic conditions.
RECIPE - Guinea-fowl with Rice (Capote com Arroz)
Serves 4

1 guinea-fowl (or chicken), approximately 3 lbs (1.5 kg), cut into serving pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. annatto paste or powder (sweet paprika can be substituted)
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and minced
salt to taste
1/3 cup neutral vegetable oil
4 cups water
3 cups long-grain rice, washed and drained
In a large mixing bowl, combine the meat with the garlic, annatto, tomato, onion, bell pepper and salt. Mix with hands, pressing the seasonings into the meat and ensuring that it is all covered with seasonings. Let stand for 30 minutes, covered, at room temperature, or up to 3 hours in the refrigerator.

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the seasoned guinea-fowl and brown thoroughly on all sides, approximately 15 minutes. Add 4 cups cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and tender.

Add the washed rice, bring once again to the boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender. Remove from heat, leave covered, and allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a serving platter and serve immediately.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

POULTRY - Guinea-fowl, from Africa to Brazil

Although human beings have been known to eat almost everything that walks, hops, or squiggles its way across the earth, most animal sources of protein come from three large groups of animals - fish, birds and mammals. Archeological studies show that from earliest days humans have eaten widely from these groups and that our species has always deserved to be called omnivorous.

Among the birds eaten by humans, by any stretch of the imagination the most commonly consumed is the chicken. Today the chicken population of the world outnumbers the human population by about four-to-one, with an estimated 24 billion chickens cohabiting the planet with us humans at any given time. But chickens are not the only birds eaten by humans - ducks, geese, swans, , pheasants, pigeons, even songbirds are all to be found on human dining tables.

In a few very specific places on Earth, a distant cousin of the chicken occupies a place of honor on the human table. It is eaten commonly in Africa, where it originated, in the south of France, in the Caribbean and southern USA, and also in Brazil's Northeastern region. In English, it is usually called guinea-fowl (guinea hen) in reference to its African origins, though other English names abound. In Brazil it is known as galinha d'Angola (Angolan hen), galinha-do-mato (forest hen), capote (caped), guiné (Guinea) or pintada (dotted).

These strange-but-beautiful birds come originally from tropical Africa, and are well-acclimatized to hot weather. They are not a cold-climate bird, though they can be successfully raised anywhere in North America or Europe as long as they have some protection against cold. They are slightly larger than a chicken, weighing up to 1.5 kg (3.5 lbs) at full weight.

In Brazil's northeast, where this bird is called a capote, it is highly valued as an eating bird, and is often used as a centerpiece of a family or holiday celebration, much as a turkey is used in North America. It can be roasted, stewed, or fried, and with an allowance for additional cooking time, it can be substituted for chicken in almost any recipe. It's flavor is richer than a chicken, with a slightly higher fat content, although not nearly so much as in a duck or goose. Some people consider it to have a slightly gamy taste, although others don't notice this at all.

I have seen guinea-fowl for sale at poultry shops and farmers markets in Canada and the USA. It's worth searching out for a different take on the taste of chicken. In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a traditional recipe from northeastern Brazil for guinea-fowl with rice, but one needn't feel restricted to recipes that are specifically for this bird. Just adapt your favorite chicken recipe for guinea-fowl for an exotic and delicious variation.

Happy National Cachaça Day!!

Today, September 13, is the unofficial but increasingly-recognized Brazilian National Cachaça Day (Dia Nacional da Cachaça). The date was chosen because way back in 1661, on September 13, 1661 to be precise, the Portuguese crown authorized the production of cachaça - a distilled liquor made from sugar cane juice. Apparently there had already been many years of clandestine cachaça production in Brazil, and under pressure from producers and consumers, the king of Portugal decided to legalize (and tax) the drink in 1661.

Since that date, uncountable billions, or possibly trillions, of gallons of cachaça have been consumed in Brazil, and in recent years, around the world. Even with a growing export market, however, Brazil manages to drink 99% of its cachaça, sending a mere 1% overseas. Long considered a workingman's drink, cachaça has steadily been working its way upmarket, and most of the growth in the market is in aged and premium cachaças.

Of course, it's impossible to celebrate National  Cachaça Day without toasting it with a caipirinha - THE iconic cachaça cocktail that's Brazil's contribution to the Cocktail Hall of Fame. To honor the 2010 edition of the holiday, noted Brazilian drinks consultant Márcio Silva has divulged his recipe for "The Perfect Caipirinha (A Caipirinha Perfeita). It differs from the classic recipe for a caipirinha (which can be found here on Flavors of Brazil) primarily in the use of simple syrup instead of granular sugar. According to Silva, the use of syrup allows the sweetness of sugar to integrate totally into the drink and makes it easier for the mixologist to control the sweetness of the cocktail.

Here is the recipe for a Perfect Caipirinha (translated and adapted from Folha de S. Paulo)

RECIPE - Perfect Caipirinha

For the simple syrup:
1 lb (500 gr) granulated white sugar
1 cup cold water

For the caipirinha:
1 large juicy lime
1 1/2 oz (50 ml) good-quality cachaça
cubed ice, broken
Make the syrup: Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the sugar and continue to boil, stirring constantly, until it is totally dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Put the syrup into a clean bottle or jar and refrigerate. Can be kept up to one month in the refrigerator.

Make the caipirinha: Wash the lime well. Cut in half, then cut each half into four pieces. Put the wedges of lime in a tall glass, then add 2 Tbsp. (20 ml) simple syrup (more or less, to taste). With a pestle, or the handle end of a large wooden spoon, crush the lime wedges, making sure to extract all the juice. Add the cachaça and the chunks of cubed ice. With a long cocktail spoon, mix the drink until all the ingredients are combined and the drink is cooled.

Serve immediately.

(A previous version of this post referred to September 15 as National Cachaça Day in error.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Bible of Brazilian Historical Gastronomy

A few months ago Brazil's best and largest chain of big-box bookstores, Livraria Cultura, finally opened a branch in Fortaleza, my hometown here in Brazil. When I was in São Paulo I always tried to save an afternoon free to wander their branch on Avenida Paulista, and I had from time to time used their online bookstore to buy books. But neither is the same thing as having a local store just a few kilometers from home, open 7 days a week, with aisles and aisles of books just begging to be perused. For a bookstore junkie like me, it's heaven to have Livraria Cultura in the neighborhood.

It might be heaven to have an easily accessible mega-bookstore, but it's dangerous for one's bank balance. Online shopping is one thing, but when there's a book in your hand that you've lusted after for a long time, it's almost impossible to resist the temptation to buy it. Particularly when it seems to be the only copy in the store. That's what happened to me recently when I spotted a copy of História da alimentação no Brasil (in English: The History of Brazilian Food) by Luís da Câmara Cascudo lying in wait for me in the gastronomy and cookbook section of the store.

Generally acknowledged as the authoritative book on the history of Brazilian food culture,  História da alimentação no Brasil was first published in two volumes in 1967/1968. The author was already considered one of the top scholars and authorities on Brazilian folklore and traditional culture, but had not previously written anything on the subject of food or gastronomy. There was a second edition, this time in a single volume, in 1983, and a third, posthumous, edition in 2004.

Luís da Câmara Cascudo
Enormous in scope and size (my edition runs to 954 pages) this book encompasses the foods and food traditions of Brazil from pre-historic times to the time of writing. It covers in great detail the botany and zoology of food sources, and deals with the three main traditions, Indian (Native American), African and European, that combined to create the unique cuisines of Brazil. It is chock full of detailed scienctific and cultural facts, but the author's style makes it very enjoyable to read. It has quickly become my go-source for answering questions or researching facts relevant to Flavors of Brazil.

As far as I can tell História da alimentação no Brasil has never been translated in English, and so this vast repository of information remains, at present, only available to Portuguese speakers. Perhaps, one day when I've got a bit of time, I'll have a go at translating it! In the meantime, I hope to give readers of this blog just a bit of the mountain of interesting and important information contained within its pages.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

RECIPE - Creamy Black-eyed Peas (feijão verde cremoso)

In the last post on Flavors of Brazil, I mentioned that the most famous dish on the menu at Fortaleza's Docentes & Decentes restaurant was a creamy dish of fresh black-eyed peas (feijão verde). It has been chosen a number of times and by a number of critics as the best version of this traditional dish to be found in the city's restaurants. The restaurant's logo even includes the phrase "o melhor feijão verde da cidade", which means "the city's best black-eyed peas."

Although the exact recipe used by Docentes & Decentes is a closely-guarded secret, the following recipe, translated and adapted from the Brazilian website Tudo Gostoso, is a very close approximation. The recipe calls for fresh black-eyed peas, but if you cannot find them, you can use a equal quantity of dried black-eyed peas that have been soaked in cold water for 24 hours to rehydrate them. The quantity of black-eyed peas should be measured from their reconstituted weight in this case, not from their dry weight.
RECIPE - Creamy Black-eyed Peas (feijão verde cremoso)
Serves 10

2 lbs (1 kg) fresh or rehydrated black-eyed peas
3 small sausages - linguica or chorizo-style, sliced thin
fried bacon to taste
2 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 small chili pepper - serrano or japaleno
2 cloves garlic,minced
1 sprig Italian parsley, minced
4 oz. (200 gr) cubed mozzarella cheese
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/2 cup Philadelphia-style cream cheese
salt to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 green onion, green portion only, minced
In a large heavy saucepan, place the peas and add cold water to cover by 2" (4 cm). Add one or two strips of bacon to the pot, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat until the peas are tender (about 30-60 minutes, depending on whether fresh peas are used, or the age of rehydrated peas). Remove from heat, remove the bacon,drain the peans and reserve.

In a small frying pan, fry the sausage slices until cooked through and browned.

In another heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, then add the chopped tomato, onion, garlic, chili pepper and parsley . (For a milder dish, leave the chili whole - for a spicier dish, seed the pepper, then chop before adding to the pot.) Saute this mixture until the onions and garlic are transparent but not browned and all the other ingredients are softened. Add the drained peas and sausage slices.

Stir in the sour cream and mozzarella and mix completely. Taste for salt and add if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool.

Put the pea and cheese mixture into a ceramic or glass baking dish. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Cook for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is hot, bubbling, and beginning to brown on top. Remove from over, sprinkle grated parmesan and chopped green onion on top, then serve immediately in baking dish.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RESTAURANT REVIEW - Docentes & Decentes (Fortaleza, Brazil)

One of the most popular styles of restaurant in Brazil is a combination bar-restaurant where people can go after work, with a group of friends on the weekend or with the extended family to celebrate a happy event in a large, animated, and often noisy atmosphere. These restaurants serve a variety of drinks, although beer (cerveja) is by far the largest seller, and casual food ranging from finger-food snacks to full course meals of local favorites. In my Brazilian hometown, Fortaleza, these bar-restaurants are all open-air, as the year-round tropical climate allows outdoor dining almost every night of the year. In cooler regions of Brazil, they often have both indoor and outdoor spaces. Such restaurants are often enormous establishments, and some of them seat several hundred customers at a time.

One of the best Fortaleza restaurants of this type is called Docentes & Decentes (which somewhat enigmatically translates in English as "Academicians & Decent Folks). It has been around for 23 years, and has two branches, one on a major commercial avenue, and the other in neighborhood Varjota, which is Fortaleza's "restaurant mecca".

I've only visited the Varjota branch, but I'm told that the menu and ambiance is the same in both branches. Docentes & Decentes is open all day and late into the night - from 10 a.m. until the final client decides to call it a night - and it's busy at almost all times. Evenings there is live acoustic music, usually a group playing Brazilian pop standards. The place has indoor and outdoor dining spaces, though the interior space is usually reserved for family, school or work celebrations. Outside there is space for about 250 people, and there is a large number of tables that seat groups for 6-10 persons. Most of the outdoor space is a large patio space, open to the air, though there is one section that has a roof - perfect for those few nights of the year when it rains.

The all-male waitstaff is very fast and efficient and is kept hopping by the Brazilian habit of ordering additional drinks and dishes throughout the meal. Beer is served in 600 ml (20 oz) bottles, which arrive in thermal covers to keep the beer icy-cold and which are shared by everyone at the table. Docentes & Decentes' customers seem to be of two minds as far as dining goes. There are those who look at the menu, order a complete meal, and leave it at that. They are far outnumbered by those who keep a menu handy at the table, ordering dish by dish as the mood strikes, always to be shared by all the diners at the table. It could be french-fries, pastels, bolinhos and other snack food, or it might be something more hardy, like crabs, a kilo or two of shrimp with garlic, carne de sol, or the house's signature dish - fresh black-eyed peas (feijão verde).

No one would consider Docentes & Decentes a temple of gastronomy - the whole point of the place is to meet friends and family, share drink, food and chat, hear some good music, and have a fun night out. However, the restaurant does put more thought and care into their food than many of its competitors, and there is rarely a dish that disappoints.  In many visits, I've never received cold fries, less-than-fresh shrimp, or warm beer - things which can ruin the experience at some other similar restaurants in Fortaleza. The service is friendly and professional. And the prices are fair - it's easy for a group of four or five to spend an evening at Docentes & Decentes, have several dishes of good food, and more than several beers, and end up paying about R$25 (USD $15) per person.

Docentes & Decentes, being situated away from the beachfront and major hotels, is not a tourist-oriented restaurant. It's a local's hangout. This means that the menu will be only in Portuguese, and the waiter is likely to speak that language only. However, for an authentic Brazilian night out, I'd highly recommend visitors to Fortaleza to try it out. Anyone at a neighboring table will help you out with ordering, even if there is a language barrier, and you'll soon end up a new set of Brazilian friends. Taxis in Fortaleza are safe and not expensive - from the beachfront hotel district to Docentes & Decentes, you can expect to pay R$10-15 (USD $6-10). If you go, remember to do yourself a favor, and order feijão verde - I can guarantee you'll love it.

In the next Flavors of Brazil post, I'll include a recipe for feijão verde Docentes & Decentes style.

Docentes & Decentes
Avenida Santos Dumont 6180
Bairro Papicu
Fortaleza, Brazil

Docentes & Decentes
Rua Ana Bilhar 1445
Bairro Varjota
Fortaleza, Brazil

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

RECIPE - Pirarucu a Casaca (Pirarucu in a Tail-coat)

One of the most popular ways to serve pirarucu all throughout the Amazon basin, pirarucu a casaca is a traditional dish at holidays, celebrations and parties. I'm not sure why it's called "pirarucu in a tail-coat" but perhaps it's so-called because it's often served at important functions.

Pirarucu, the giant Amazonian freshwater fish, has been eaten since long before electrical refrigeration reached the Amazon, and in earlier times it was often salted and dried to preserve it from the heat of the tropics, using techniques similar to those employed to make salt-cod (bacalhau). This dish is made of rehydrated salt-pirarucu combined with fried bananas, manioc flour and sauteed shoestring potatoes. In areas where it is impossible to obtain manioc flour, the dish can successfully be made with out it, and salt-cod can be substituted for salt-pirarucu.
RECIPE - Pirarucu a Casaca (Pirarucu in a Tail-coat)

1 lb (500 gr) dried, salted pirarucu (salt-cod may be substituted)
2 cups (500 ml) canned unsweetened coconut milk
5 ripe bananas, peeled
1 lb (500 gr) boiling potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb (250 gr) fresh or frozen green peas, cooked
4 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup (200 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb (250 gr) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 oz (50 gr) pitted green olives
4 oz (50 gr) pitted black olives
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 cups (500 ml) neutral vegetable oil
1 lb package (500 gr) commercial shoestring potatoes
1/3 lb (200 gr) farinha (manioc flour)
The day before, cut the salt fish into fish-stick-sized pieces. Cover with cold water, and soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator, changing the water at least four times.

Remove the de-salted fish from the water, let dry, then fry in the olive oil until tender and just starting to flake. Remove from heat, let cool. Remove skin if present. Reserve.

Cut the peeled bananas into thick rounds. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan, and when hot but not smoking, deep-fry the banana rounds. Remove from oil, drain on paper towel, then reserve.

Cut the peeled potatoes into 1 inch (2 cm) cubes. Cover with cold water in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, and when just tender, remove from heat. Immediately plunge into cold water to stop cooking, then drain and reserve.

In a large frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, then saute the onion and garlic until transparent, but not covered. Add the potatoes, then the chopped tomatoes, plus half of the parsley and green onion. Cook, stirring constantly until the tomatoes soften and the potatoes are heated through.

Combine the manioc flour, a few tablespoons of olive oil, the coconut milk, the hard-boiled eggs and the remaining parsley and green onion. Heat in a large saucepan until the flour absorbs all the liquid and is heated through.

Cover a large platter with the manioc flour mixture. Place the fish decoratively on top, the add banana slices and the the sauteed potatoes. Cover all with sprinkled shoestring potatoes. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pirarucu - An Endangered Giant

The world's largest river system, the Amazon, has the world's largest number of freshwater fish species, and most likely the world's largest freshwater fish population. The fish that are found in the lakes, lagoons, streams, creeks and in the large river itself have always been the most important source of animal protein for inhabitants of the region. From tiny minnow-like species to large predatory fish, these animals have been eaten fresh, been smoked or salted, or simply air-dried for countless millennia and continue to be consumed today through the Amazonian basis. Unfortunately, with the large increase in human population, and with modern-day fishing techniques, for many species the 20th and 21st centuries have brought them extreme pressure, and extinction is a distinct possibility for many types of Amazonian fish.

One fish of the Amazonian basis, the pirarucu (known as the arapaima in English), which has become endangered due to its desirability as a food fish, has been adopted by Slow Food Brazil as part of the Brazilian Ark of Taste - a "repository" of at-risk food species and cooking or preserving techniques worthy of protection. Its inclusion on this list is the first step in the development of preservation projects designed to ensure a sustainable fishery for this fish.

The piracuru is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. It has anecdotally been reported to reach up to reach up to 14 feet (4.5m) in length, with a maximum confirmed weight of almost 450 lb (220 kg). It is a living fossil, having existed essentially unchanged since the Jurassic era. It has successfully adapted itself to life in the slow-moving waters of the Amazon's lakes and lagoons through the development of a rudimentary type of lung, which allows it to breathe air directly when the surrounding water is oxygen-deprived.

The piracuru is an important part of the nutrition of the riverside human population of the Amazon. The flesh has very few bones, and piracuru is eaten fresh, smoked, or salted and dried somewhat like salt cod (bacalhau). Besides the meat, other parts of the fish are used by locals - the piracuru's bony tongue is used to grate guaraná, and the skin, once dried, is used like leather in the fabrication of clothes and artisanal arts and crafts.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, there will be a recipe for one of the most well-known local dishes made from piracuru - piracuru de casaca.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ranking chilis - The Scoville Scale

A while ago, I posted an article on Flavors of Brazil detailing the antics and activities of a group of hot chili fans from São Paulo, the Jolokianos. They are united in their love (and tolerance) for the world's hottest pepper, the Bhut Jolokia. The status that this chili enjoys as the top dog of the the world's hot peppers isn't merely an impression, it's a proven fact. In 1912, an American chemist, Wilbur Scoville developed a scale for determining the relative hotness/pungency of any species of chili pepper, and he called it the Scoville Organoleptic Test.

The Scoville Organoleptic Test is not infallible, as it based on the taste perceptions of five human tasters, but it does provide a reliable guide to the relative strength of the capsaicin oil content of a species or hybrid of chili pepper.

Although the Bhut Jolokia is the "hottest" chile in the world, with a Scoville rating of 1 million, it is not common in Brazil, nor is its use traditional. Certain regional cuisines of Brazil do make extensive use of chilis, and chili "heat" is an important part of their flavor profiles. It's interesting to see where the chilis commonly used in Brazilian cuisine fit on the Scoville scale, in comparison to other Brazilian chilis, and to other chiles used elsewhere in the world.

Here is a basic rundown of the relative "heat" of a number of Brazilian and non-Brazilian chilis, starting with the Bhut Jolokia, the world's hottest, with following chilis becoming progressively milder. The chilis are broken into three group: hot, medium, and mild.

Bhut Jolokia (Scoville 1,000,000)
The hottest in the world, colored red and brown. Don't try to eat uncooked.
Bhut Jolokia

Red Savina (up to Scoville 580,000)
Hybridized in California, with undulating shape. Makes good sauces and preserves.
Red Savina

Habanero (Scoville 500,000)
When ripe very hot. Various colors. Used in making salsas, moles and chutneys.

Scotch Bonnet (Scoville 250,000)
Flattened and irregular. Fruity aroma. Used in Caribbean sauces, like jerk.
Scotch Bonnet

Malagueta (Scoville 100,000)
Hottest Brazilian chili on this list. Iconic chili of Bahia. Goes well with fish and meat dishes.

Murupi (Scoville 60,000)
Aromatic. Abundant in the north of Brazil, where it is preserved in whey.

Fidalga (Scoville 50,000)
Common in the states of Mato Grosso and São Paulo. Makes good sauces and preserves, and accompanies salads.

Pimenta-de-bode (Scoville 50,000)
In the state of Goiás it is used to flavor almost all of traditional daily dishes.

Cayenne (up to Scoville 50,000)
Eaten dried and ground in Africa and India. Indispensable in Cajun cooking.

Tabasco (up to Scoville 50,000)
Elongated, colored red or yellow. Highly flavored, used primarily in sauces, including Tabasco Sauce.

Cumari (up to Scoville 50,000)
Brazilian green chili, with small egg-shaped fruit. Can be eaten fresh or cooked in sauces.

Pimenta-de-cheiro (Scoville 20,000)
Color varies from light green to bright yellow. Common in the north and southeast of Brazil. Aromatic.

Dedo-de-Moça (Scoville 15,000)
Green and elongated. When dried and ground it is known in the south of Brazil as pimenta-calabresa.

Jalapeño  (Scoville 5,000)
Along with the tabasco chili, it is the most consumed in the USA. Makes excellent sauces.

Biquinho (Scoville 1,000)
Very mild. Small and sweet, it is used in sauces, pickled or eaten raw.

The chilis in this list that are used most in Brazilian cuisine represent a good sampling of Brazil's chili harvest, but certainly not the totality. There are literally thousands of varieties of chili peppers that are used daily by chefs and cooks in the creation of Brazilian cuisine, both traditional and contemporary. From the relative ranking, you can see that Brazilian gastronomy is not afraid of hot chilis; on the other hand, with the exception of the Bahian regional cuisine, is it among the world's "spiciest" cuisines. The contribution of chilis to the flavors of Brazil is most often in the form of a hot chili sauce, and thus the amount of heat desired is very much a personal one. One person at the table might want to add 500,000 Scoville units to his or her meal, another 5,000 and another none at all. By keeping the "heat" in a tabletop sauce, all these options are open to the Brazilian diner.