Sunday, October 31, 2010

RECIPE - Shrimp with Tomato Sauce (Camarão ao Molho de Tomate)

What's for dinner tonight? At my place, at least, it'll be shrimp with tomato sauce. I've got some guests coming over this evening for a Sunday supper and to watch the Brazilian presidential election results on TV. Being an election day, today is a "dry day" in Brazil, so I'll have to serve clandestine drinks to my friends. The common consensus is that current president Lula's anointed successor, a woman named Dilma Rousseff, will be elected in this second-round vote. She's shown to have an advantage in the neighborhood of 10-12% in most opinion polls. However, the polls also indicated she would win in the first round, which was a month ago, and that turned out not to be the case.

Even if Dilma's not a sure-bet to be elected, this simple and straightforward dish of shrimps cooked in a thick tomato sauce is statistically 100% likely to be served at tonight's dining table at my home. It's a favorite standby dish for an easy supper with guests. It doesn't take hours to prepare, it doesn't require exotic ingredients, yet it arrives at the table looking quite fancy and special.

This recipe comes from the small, historic northeastern city of João Pessoa, capital of the state of Paraíba. The short coastline of Paraíba is a stretch of sandy beaches, often backed by fresh or saltwater lagoons. The cuisine of this state relies heavily on crustaceans from both the open sea and the lagoons - shrimps, lobsters and crabs.

If you're making this dish, look for medium to medium-large shrimp. At that size, they will need to be deveined, but that extra step is worth the time and effort, and makes a much more appealing final dish.
RECIPE - Shrimp with Tomato Sauce (Camarão ao Molho de Tomate)
Serves 4

For the tomato sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, crushed
4 Tbsp. butter
6 large ripe tomatoes, diced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
3 cups canned tomato sauce
salt to taste
2.5 cups water
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the shrimp:
1.5 lbs (600 gr) medium shrimp, cleaned and peeled
4 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, grated
salte to taste
2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp. finely chopped green onion
Make the tomato sauce: Combine the flour and 1.5 cups of the water (at room temperature). Stir or shake to mix until you have a consistent paste, without lumps. Reserve.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter together until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot and bubbling. Add the diced onion and the garlic and sauté until the onions and garlic are softened and transparent, but not browned. Add in the chopped tomato, the sliced onion and the bay leaves, stirring to mix thoroughly. Then add the tomato sauce, 1 cup of the water, stir, then correct the seasoning with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then slowly add the flour and water paste, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Continue to cook and stir until the sauce thickens and loses its taste of flour. Reserve, keeping warm.

Make the shrimp: In a large pan, melt the butter, then add the shrimp, the onion, the cilantro and the green onion. Cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Then add the reserved tomato sauce, reduce heat, and cook with the pan partially covered for 5 more minutes.

Pour into a serving platter and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Saturday, October 30, 2010

RECIPE - Brazilian Chicken Salad (Salpicão)

As mentioned in this earlier post on Flavors of Brazil, the Brazilian chicken salad called salpicão can be wonderful when it's homemade and light, and can be dreadful when it's a commercially made stodgy mess. Sort of like North American potato salad, which can range from heavenly to hellish depending on who made it and what kind of profit margin was desired.

This recipe from the Brazilian food blog Frango com Banana is a good example of a homestyle recipe for salpicão. Being a very traditional recipe it called for canned corn and canned peas - both standard ingredients in salpicão. I'm not a fan of either, so in my translation of the recipe, I've substituted fresh or frozen corn and peas. If you want to duplicate an authentic salpicão, please feel free to open a can of corn and one of peas instead and add them to the mix.

This recipe, like many such recipes for salads and cold dishes, is a guideline not a template. Feel free to substitute and modify. If you want the final product to be salpicão, however, you may NOT omit the packaged shoestring potatoes. They're what makes salpicão salpicão and what prevents it from just being chicken salad.
RECIPE - Brazilian Chicken Salad (Salpicão)

1 whole chicken breast, boneless and skinless, poached, cooled and shredded
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peans, cooked and cooled
2 small green apples (Granny Smith or similar) cored, peeled an cubed
1/3 cup seedless raisins or sultanas
2 springs fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup good-quality commercial or homemade mayonnaise
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 standard package shoestring potatoes
In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, grated carrot, corn, peas, apples, raisins, parsley and red onion. Stir well with wooden spoon to combine. Add 1/2 of the package of shoestring potatoes, and stir again. Add the mayonnais and creme fraiche or sour cream, and stir until all ingredients are combined and coated with dressing. Taste for seasoning and and add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the shoestring potatoes and already salted, so be careful not to oversalt).

Put into a large serving bowl, or onto a serving platter, and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 package of shoestring potatoes over the top.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Salpicão - Brazil's chicken salad

In Brazil, any time you walk along the line of dishes at a buffet, whether it's a wedding reception, a birthday party or even a standard self-service restaurant, one dish you can assume you'll find among the choice of salads and cold dishes is called salpicão. Salpicão is to the Brazilian buffet table what molded-jelly salads were to church basement suppers in the USA and Canada in the 50s and 60s - ubiquitous and omnipresent. It is basically Brazil's version of chicken salad, and as such has multitudinous variations and takes on a central theme - cooked and shredded chicken mixed with some fruits and vegetables, all bound together with mayonnaise.

Like the little girl who had a little curl, it can be said of salpicão that when it is good, it is very, very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. And also potentially dangerous, for any mayonnaise-based salad that isn't properly refrigerated in Brazil's hot climate can turn bad almost instantaneously. I tend to avoid salpicão in commercial establishments for this and other reasons, but have eaten some wonderful versions in home buffets.

Less appetizing and cheaper versions of salpicão tend to load the mixture with a lot of canned corn and canned peas, whereas better ones feature more chicken meat and fresh vegetables and fruits. Although the number of recipes for salpicão is unlimited, there are, however, a few must-haves to make it a true salpicão. First, there has to be fresh fruit in the mix, usually diced apples but sometimes pineapple. Second, some sort of dried fruit much be added. This is usually raisins, but I've also seen chopped dried apricots. And finally, the salad must be topped with packaged commercial shoestring potatoes (sorry!) If you don't have these things, it's not really a salpicão at all.

In the next post Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a typical recipe for salpicão. If made at home with good ingredients and a light touch on the mayonnaise it can be very good indeed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Touch of Mother in Your Meals

Normally, Flavors of Brazil doesn't talk too much about frozen prepared meals - you know, TV Dinners, and Weight Watchers prepared meals; that sort of thing. In fact, this blog hasn't ever talked about them, even though they are as common in Brazilian supermarkets as they are in the Safeways, Albertsons, Tesco and Carrefours of the Northern Hemisphere.

However, the other day I came across an intriguing ad for a line of frozen prepared meals in the most recent issue of the Brazilian food and wine magazine Gula that brought such a unique and different take on food advertising that I decided to share it here. I somehow can't imagine a North American version of this advertisement - perhaps in Europe you might find something similar, I don't know.

Brazilian culture, for some reason, has always had a predilection for, and an appreciation of, cross-dressing. There have been numerous doctoral theses and many academic tomes written about why this is so, and the reasons posited are complicated and complex. There certainly are some less savory aspects to this, such as the huge number of transvestite and transsexual Brazilian prostitutes inside and outside Brazil, but for the most part, cross-dressing Brazilians view cross-dressing as something lighthearted and comic. TV comedy shows in Brazil have many characters who cross-dress for comedic purposes. It's as if the earlyTV culture of Milton Berle in the USA still existed. At Carnaval time, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian men - most of them heterosexual and masculine in demeanor - can be seen dancing, drinking and singing in huge wigs, lots of make-up, a perhaps a tubetop and mini-skirt. And on a more serious note, the ceremonies of the Afro-Brazilian religion, candomblé often include male participants in female attire.

All of which brings us to the interesting point as to why the advertisement for Perdigão frozen entrées shown below would choose to highlight their slogan "Um toque de mãe nas suas refeições" (A Touch of Mother in Your Meals) in the way they have. I have to say the ad brought a smile to my face, and I definitely noticed and remember it, which is just what the ad agency who sold the idea to Perdigão told the executives of that company would happen. And that's what makes a successful ad, right?

Somehow, I can't imagine Swanson's or Weight Watchers taking a similar approach to selling their products in the pages of Bon Appetite, or any other North American food and wine magazine. The whole business of cross-dressing has become too serious and politicized by all sides of the cultural divide there to be treated as lightly and good-naturedly as it is here. I hope the ad brings a smile to your faces, too. (click on the ad to enlarge it)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

RECIPE - Spicy Stuffed Gilo (Jiló com Pimenta)

The African-born and Brazil-raised bitter vegetable gilo (jiló in Portuguese) like its close relative the eggplant is an extraordinarily adaptable and versatile food. It can be cooked in almost any way - boiled, baked, steamed, stir-fried, deep-fried, stewed. It just can't be eaten raw. Like eggplant, there is a natural bitterness to jiló. For aficionados of this egg-shaped fruit, the bitterness is part of the attraction. For those who are less keen on it (or even more so for those who detest it) the bitterness is what drives them away.

This recipe highlights the flavor of jiló, but by adding other strong flavors, like bacon, onion, and garlic, and by spicing it up with the heat of the dedo de moça pepper, that flavor is tempered and doesn't dominate on the palate as it does in a less-complex presentation of jiló. I discovered the recipe online on the website of the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Dia, in the blog-column of food critic Pedro Landim. The translation and adaptation are mine, and the photos accompanied the original blog posting.
RECIPE - Spicy Stuffed Gilo (Jiló com Pimenta) 

5 gilos (jiló)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. small cubes of bacon
4 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 small chili pepper (dedo de moça, serrano, jalapeno), seeded and minced
home made or well-made commercial tomato sauce
grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

Wash the gilos, then cut off the top (stem) end and the bottom of each, creating a cylinder shape. Using a sharp paring knife, cut around the central pulp of the gilo, and extract the pulp, leaving round cylinders. Reserve. Finely chop the pulp that was removed and reserve.

In a small frying pan, cook the bacon cubes until crispy, then drain on paper towels. Drain any bacon fat remaining in the pan, but do not wash it. In the same pan, fry the onion and garlic until soft and transparent but not browned in a bit of olive oil. Add the gilo, the bacon and pepper and continue to cook until the gilo is soft and tender.

Stuff the gilo cylinders with the mixture from the frying pan. Place them open end up in a small baking dish. Top each with a small amount of tomato sauce, then sprinkle parmesan cheese over.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve immediately as a vegetable or side dish.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


These small, green, egg-shaped cousins of the tomato and the eggplant (all members of the Solanaceae family) are a common sight in the markets and supermarkets of Brazil. In English it's known variously as Gilo, Scarlet Eggplant, and in West Africa where it originated, it's often called "garden egg." In Portuguese, they're called jiló. As with so many other foods, it was carried to the New World by slaves being transported to the sugar cane plantations and the gold mines of Brazil.

Whenever I've seen jiló in the market, it's always been a brilliant kelly green, and I assumed that was the mature color of this fruit - it is a fruit, although it's used culinarily as a vegetable, just like it's Solanaceae cousin, the tomato. It turns out, however, as I discovered while researching this piece for Flavors of Brazil, that when mature the jiló is red or yellow. The jiló that is sold commercially is unripe, and thus green. Apparently, Brazilian consumers will not accept a red or yellow jiló, and so by the time these colors appear, jiló has no commercial value.

Its immaturity might explain the primary flavor characteristic of the jiló - bitterness. If you have a taste for bitter food or drink - let's say you LOVE Campari - you're likely to enjoy jiló on the first try. If you don't, it's likely to be an acquired taste, or perhaps a taste you'll never grow to like.

Jiló is particularly associated with the cuisine of the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and with the traditional foods of descendants of slaves from that region. There is a very large number of Brazilians from Minas Gerais (mineiros) living in the state of Massachusetts, and according the the University of Massachusetts Agriculture Department, jiló can be, and is, grown successfully in Massachusetts. It seems that it can be grown in any region where eggplant cultivation is possible. Seeds are available online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Jiló can be cooked in any number of ways - stir-fried, oven roasted, gratinéed, a la parmigiana, etc. etc. It can even be made into very nice chips. I'll add some recipes for jiló shortly.

Monday, October 25, 2010

RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque (Ragamuffin's Foot), Version 3

Sofia Mota
Unlike the previous two recipes posted here on Flavors of Brazil, this version of Brazil's pé-de-moleque has nothing to do with traditional cooking, other than in inspiration. Created by chef Sofia Mota of Recife's Jalan Jalan restaurant, and featured at the Prazeres da Mesa Ao Vivo trade show and exhibition, this is a very up-to-date, deconstructed pé-de-moleque. Although the list of ingredients resembles the northestern version of traditional pé-de-moleque, the cooking techniques and the presentation make it very 21st Century.

(As in the northeastern version of pé-de-moleque, this recipe requires manioc-flour dough, unobtainable outside Brazil. For most readers of this blog, therefore, this is a recipe to fantasize about, not to make at home.)

RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque Graças ao Açúcar
15 portions

500 gr manioc dough
400 gr roasted, unsalted cashew nuts, broken into chunky pieces
200 gr salted butter, at room temperature
200 gr mascavo sugar
150 gr grated, unsweetened coconut
100 gr good-quality instant coffee
100 gr roasted, unsalted cashew nuts, whole
2 gr baking powder
5 gr ground fennel
5 gr ground cloves
250 ml honey
200 ml coconut milk
150 ml water
50 ml molasses
4 small cinnamon sticks
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
butter and all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the mascavo sugar and butter until homogenous. Add the manioc dough, the salt and baking powder and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the whole eggs and the yolks, blending them into the batter until completely incorporated. Add the coconut milk and the ground fennel and cloves, stirring and mixing constantly and completely. Reserve.

Make a strong cup of coffee with the instant coffee and the water. Add to the reserved batter, along with the honey and the broken cashew nuts. Blend in completely.

Grease a tube cake pan, or muffin tin, with butter then dust with flour. Decorate the bottom with whole cashews, then sprinkle on the grated coconut and pour over ribbons of molasses. Carefully pour in the batter. Place in the oven and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. (Individual cupcakes will take less time than a large single cake.)

Remove from oven, let partially cool in pan, then turn out onto cake rack and let cool completely.

Serve with cachaça ice cream decorated with spun sugar and mel-de-engenho (concentrated sugar cane juice).

Recipe translated and adapted from Prazeres da Mesa, September 2010.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque (Ragamuffin's Foot), Version 2

Yesterday Flavors of Brazil published a recipe for a peanut brittle-type candy from Brazil called pé-de-moleque. In that post, and in this post all about pé-de-moleque, it was specified that the recipe was for the "southern version" of pé-de-moleque, and that in the north and northeast of Brazil, the name pé-de-moleque was applied to something quite different.

In the more northerly regions of Brazil, locals apply the name pé-de-moleque to a rich and dense spice and nut cake. It's served with afternoon tea throughout the year, and is particularly associated with the Festas Juninas, the season of June festivals. During those festivals, homemade-style pé-de-moleque cake is served at fairs and dances throughout the region.

This cake is made not with wheat flour, as North American and European cooks are used to using, but with manioc flour - available for purchase ready-to-go as a dough in northern Brazil, similar to the ready-to-go pizza dough often available at Italian bakeries. As this dough is an essential ingredient, and it's unlikely that it can be found in North America, Europe or elsewhere, I'm including this recipe only for pure interest - don't try to make this substituting any other type of dough or flour as Flavors of Brazil won't be responsible for the results!
RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque (Ragamuffin's Foot), Northeastern Version

3 cups ground, roasted cashew nuts
2 1/2 cups boiling water
2 cups canned coconut milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 Tbsp. good-quality instant coffee
1/2 Tbsp. powdered cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground fennel
1/2 tsp. salt
2.2 lbs (1 kg) premixed manioc (macaxeira) dough
1 lb (500 gr)  rapadura, cut into small pieces
4 eggs
Put the pieces of rapadura into a blender, pour the boiling water over, then blend at low speed until the sugar is completely dissolved. Be careful when blending hot liquids. Pour the mixture into a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the butter, the coffee, cinnamon, cloves and fennel. Stir to dissolve the butter, then reserve, letting cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

With a cake mixer, whip the eggs and salt together in a large mixing bowl until light and frothy. Add the manioc flour and blend with the beaten eggs using a wooden spoon. Using the cake mixer, on low speed, add the coconut milk gradually. Continue to mix until you have a homogenous batter. Turn off the cake mixer, add the dissolved rapadura, and stir in with the wooden spoon. Again using the mixer on low speed, beat the batter, gradually adding the ground cashew nuts.

Generously grease a tube-style cake pan with unsalted butter. Pour in the batter, then cook on a center rack for approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from heat, let cool partially in pan, then turn out onto a cake rack to cool completely. If desired, decorate with whole roasted cashew nuts.

Recipe translated and adapted from NordesteWeb.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque (Ragamuffin's Foot), Version 1

Although it's not known as such in Brazil, let's call this version of the traditional sweet pé-de-moleque the "southern version". In this post on Flavors of Brazil, I mentioned that the name pé-de-moleque was applied to different things in different regions in Brazil. What the word means in Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte is not the same thing as what it means in Recife or Fortaleza. What it means in all southern and central regions of Brazil is a sticky, chewy candy that is very similar to North American peanut brittle - intensely sweet and full of caramel flavors and packed full of roasted, unsalted peanuts.

Whether to use peanuts with or without skins is entirely up to the cook - I've seen it offered both ways, and a quick search of online recipe shows just about equal numbers called for peanuts with skins and for those without. I think that the version with skins is more visually in the end, but it's really a minor detail. Have it your way.
RECIPE - Pé-de-moleque, Southern Version

2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts (with or without skins)
1 cup water
600 gr rapadura (3 cups dark brown sugar may be substituted)
unsalted butter to grease cookie sheet

Generously grease a cookie sheet with softened butter. Reserve.

If using rapadura, cut it into small cubes. Place the rapadura or sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan, and add the water. Stir to mix, and heat over high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid begins to boil. Stop stirring at that point and continue cooking until the syrup reaches the hard ball stage - 250-265F or 120-130C (click here for an explanation of cold water test for sugar syrups).  Add the peanuts, remove the syrup from heat, and stir briefly with a wooden spoon to coat the peanuts with syrup. Continue stirring the mixture slowly until the syrup begins to thicken and become opaque.

Pour the thickening mixture onto the cookie sheet, and spread it with a rubber spatula. Let it continue to cool, and when it is beginning to harden, cut it into pieces of whatever size you desire with a sharp knife dipped in boiling water. Let it harden completely, then break it into the pieces you have cut. Let them cool completely, then put them in a wax-paper lined cookie tin or plastic container.

Keeps for up to one week.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mdemulher Culinaria.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ragamuffin's Foot - Pé-de-moleque

One of the most interesting words in common usage in Brazilian Portuguese, to my mind, is moleque. It's pronounced mo-LEH-key, and the word originally came from the African language Kimbundu where it meant simply "boy." In colonial Brazil it took on the meaning of "black boy" or "slave boy", and was used to designate child-slaves who worked in the kitchens and laundries of the owner's mansions on sugar cane plantations. In time, it lost its connotations of race and slave status, and today it generally means a young boy, often a street kid, who is playful, impish, knavish and often dirty - a ragamuffin.

Interesting etymological discussion, you might say, but what does it have to do with Brazilian food culture? Well, one of the most traditional and common sweets in Brazil is called "pé-de-moleque" which when translated into English becomes Ragamuffin's Foot, or Street-urchin's Foot. Legend has it that the name was first applied to the treat in the northeastern State of Pernambuco in the 18th Century. As the story goes, a woman who often made a treat out of rapadura (raw brown sugar) and peanuts was in the habit of leaving it on her kitchen windowsill to harden and cool. There was a street kid who lived in her neighborhood who loved sweets, and who sometimes would run up to the windowsill, grab a piece, and run away. One fine day, the woman happened to see the thief in action, and as he ran barefoot down the street, she leaned out the window and shouted: "Pede, moleque!", which means "Ask for it, kid!". The name stuck, and over time "pede" (ask for) become corrupted and confused with "Pé de" which means "foot of." Thus, "Ask for it, kid!" became "Ragamuffin's foot." Or so the story goes. True or not, it's a charming story and has given a memorable name to this delectable treat.

pé-de-moleque southern-stye
Actually, I should say that it has given it's name to these delectable treats, because today the name pé-de-moleque refers to one of two entirely different sweets, depending on in which region of Brazil one is speaking. In most of Brazil, the south, southeast and center, pé-de-moleque is a mixture of melted rapadura or brown sugar with peanuts - kind of like peanut brittle. Hard, chewy, sticky and very sweet. In the northeastern region of Brazil, however, pé-de-moleque is a dense cake made with rapadura, manioc flour and nuts, similar to a molasses cake. What both versions have in common is the dark, rich raw sugar and the presence of nuts. They differ in whether flour is added to make a cake or not.

pé-de-moleque northeastern-stye
Shortly, I'll post recipes for both styles of pé-de-moleque, as well as a chef's contemporary take on a deconstructed one. Get out your sweet-tooth, as pé-de-moleque is always achingly sweet - just as sweet as that 18th Century street kid who gained immortality by stealing candy from the old lady up the road.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Picadinho – Brazil’s Second-favorite dish

Article first published as Picadinho - Brazil's Second-favorite dish on Blogcritics.

There’s no such thing as a National Dish. Most countries have a National Bird, a National Symbol and a National Anthem, all establish by act of law, but in most regions of the globe legislators have other things on their minds than arguing about what dish best represents their national spirit. That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as a small-case national dish – one that almost everyone inside a country holds dear, and one that foreigners associate with that country. Think Greece and moussaka, or India and curry. In that sense, few would deny that Brazil’s national dish is the party meal, centered on black beans and a number of pork products, called feijoada. Generally served at mid-day to mid-afternoon on a weekend or holiday, accompanied by lots of caipirinhas to drink, feijoada makes the party.

In a recent article in the food section of the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, writer Dias Lopes makes a strong case for a dish from Rio de Janeiro called picadinho to be Brazil’s national-dish-runner-up. Picadinho is one of the few Brazilian dishes that are encountered everywhere in the country, as culinary and gastronomic traditions are strongly regional in this huge half-continent, and not many dishes cross regional boundaries. Even though it’s enjoyed throughout Brazil, picadinho still carries a strong association with Rio de Janeiro, for it was there at the end of the 19th Century, in the bohemian district of Lapa, that the various components of a plate of picadinho first came together and the dish was baptized “little chopped thing”, which is how the Portuguese name would be translated into English.

So what exactly is picadinho? Certainly, nothing very fancy. If one was to categorize it at all, it would have to go in the category of “blue-plate specials.” It’s not one food or dish; it’s a combination of foods ON a dish. Some of these foods are optional, but picadinho must have hand-chopped beef (not ground beef), seasoned and cooked in a brown sauce, rice, sautéed kale, boiled potatoes, and a poached or fried egg. Optionally, a fried banana or plantain and seasoned manioc flour can be added.

Just as feijoada is a dish for mid-day, picadinho is a dish to eat late at night – very late at night. In Rio’s heyday in the 30s and 40s, swank supper clubs, bars and late night restaurants served picadinho from midnight on. It’s a stick-in-your-ribs plate, and it serves the same excess-alcohol-sponging purpose as does a 3 a.m. breakfast in a truck stop, or enchiladas from a Mexican food-truck. Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s why the dish is so well loved in Brazil – it’s associated with good friends and good times. Party the night away in a club or bar, stop afterwards for a plate of picadinho then head home to sleep it all off, just as the tropical sun is coming up. That’s the whole picadinho experience, kit and caboodle, or as they say herein Brazil “É tudo mesmo!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

RECIPE - Mashed Sweet Potatoes (Purê de Batata-doce)

This simple recipe for mashed sweet potatoes, made more interesting with the addition of green apple, onions and spices, comes from the northeastern Brazilian state of Piauí. It can be made with either white-fleshed or yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes. I've made it with the white-fleshed variety, which is all that is available in my local markets here in Fortaleza, but I'm sure it would be delicious with the yellow-fleshed type as well. It's great with roast chicken or pot-roasts of beef. Since sweet potato is so nutritious, serving it alongside a protein, then adding a green salad, is all that's needed for a quick, well-balanced meal.
RECIPE - Mashed Sweet Potatoes (Purê de Batata-doce)
Serves 4

2 lbs (1 kg) sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium green apple, peeled and cubed
3 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
3 Tbsp. whipping cream
Boil the sweet potatoes in plenty of water until they are very tender. In another small pan, do the same with the apple cubes - they will take much less time. While they are cooking, melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and transparent but not browned. Reserve.

Drain both the sweet potatoes and the apple, combine them in a large bowl, and mash them, by hand or with a mixer, until they are fluffy and light. Add to the mashed sweet potatoes, then stir in the nutmeg and ginger. Finally, add the cream, and stir until you have a homogenous mixture.

Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

INGREDIENTS - Sweet Potato (Batata-doce)

The lowly sweet potato (batata-doce in Portuguese) is one of the oldest-cultivated foods in the history of the world, and in the area of its origins, the high Andes of Peru, remnants of sweet potatoes have been found that date back over 8000 years. Long before Europeans even dreamed of continents on the other side of the Atlantic, Native Americans passed techniques for cultivating sweet potatoes along trade routes between the heights of the Andes and the tropical forests of Brazil, and the sweet potato became a primary nutritional source for many native populations in the areas that today constitute Brazil. It also spread elsewhere in the New World, including the rest of South America and throughout the Caribbean islands, which is where Columbus was introduced to this tuber. The Spanish took the local Taino name for this plant, batata, into their own language, and later applied that name to another non-related tuber, the common potato, thus engendering linguistic confusion that exists to this day. To make linguistic matters worse, when the yellow-fleshed variety of the sweet potato was introduced into the southern sections of the United States, producers and shippers chose to differentiate it from the original white-fleshed variety by calling it "yam", which is the name of an entirely different tuber of African origin. In fact, the tubers that are sold as yams in the USA and Canada are actually yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes and are not yams at all. Because of this USDA regulations require that the label "yam" always be accompanied by the words "sweet potato", although this is often disregarded in shops and markets, at least in my personal experience.

In most of Brazil, the yellow-fleshed sweet potato, the one that is mislabeled yam in the USA and Canada, doesn't appear at all in markets and supermarkets. The sweet potatoes I've seen in this country are invariably purple skinned and with a greenish white flesh. Yams (inhame) are also eaten in Brazil, having been brought from Africa with slave populations, but there's none of the confusion that exists in English between these two tubers.

Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, and a valuable addition to the Brazilian diet. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to a number of other vegetables. They looked at fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and the sweet potato scored highest of all the vegetables studied, with a score of 184. The standard score, 100, represented the nutritional value of the common potato.

In traditional Brazilian cooking, the sweet potato is served in many ways and in many dishes. It can be simply boiled or mashed, it can be roasted, it can be added to soups and stews, and as in the southern US (sweet potato pie) it can be an ingredient in desserts. The sweet potato is an essential ingredient in many dishes that bear African influence, as the slaves who cooked in the great houses and shanties of sugar-cane plantations arrived in Brazil already familiar with the yam, which can be used in very similar ways.

Today, in Brazil, the sweet potato is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Long considered a low-class and low-interest vegetable, batata-doce dishes are coming out of some of the most creative and inventive restaurant kitchens in the land. The next few posts here on Flavors of Brazil will feature a couple of the many faces of this delicious and extremely-nutritious tuber.

Monday, October 18, 2010

RESTAURANT REVIEW - Sorveteria 50 Sabores (Fortaleza, Brazil)

Although you can't really call an ice cream shop a restaurant, Flavors of Brazil doesn't have a category for ice cream shop reviews, so I've decided that for the moment Sorveteria 50 Sabores (meaning Ice Cream Shop 50 Flavors) will qualify as a restaurant for reviewing purposes on this blog. The small local chain of ice cream shops in Fortaleza is regularly honored by the well-known Veja Guides to food and drink, and others, as having the best ice cream in Fortaleza. Brazilians are ice-cream (sorvete) mad, and local residents must agree with the guide books, since  Sorveteria 50 Sabores business appears to be booming, even though their ice cream is just about the most expensive in the city. On Fortaleza's waterfront promenade, called Beira Mar, this chain just opened its third location - within 1 kilometer of each of the two other already-existing branches on the seafront. And it already appears to be doing land-office business, especially in the evenings when thousands of residents stroll the promenade in the warm tropical night.

Basically, this chain sells ice cream, in cones or cups, with or without topping, and nothing else. The shops are open to the street, and most customers take their purchases across the street to the promenade where they stroll and eat, or sit and eat, their ice cream - rather quickly, as ice cream doesn't stay solid long in 25-30C (80-88F) heat.

Fortaleza - Beira-Mar
The chain was founded 34 years ago and is still owned by the family of the founder. All the ice cream they serve are made by the company itself, and served only in their own shops. Although the name would seem to indicate that there are 50 flavors available, that is no longer the case. At any one time there are approximately 80-90 flavors for sale, and the current list of flavors they work with is about 110. Some flavors are always available and others come and go. According to Sorveteria 50 Sabores's website, over the years they have developed an archive of nearly 300 flavors that have been offered at one time or another. Many of the flavors of ice cream sold at Sorveteria 50 Sabores would be familiar to ice cream fans around the world, and all the classic chocolate, cream, nut and fruit flavors are available. What makes this chain more interesting and unique is the range of tropical fruit flavors that they offer. Many of the fruits which have been featured here on Flavors of Brazil - fruits like buriti, maracujá, açaí, cacau - are represented on the board which announces available flavors. For someone who is visiting Fortaleza, or Brazil, from outside the region, I'd highly recommend that these are the flavors to try. The chocolate ice cream at Sorveteria 50 Sabores is excellent, but it is nothing new for almost anyone who appreciates good ice cream. Nor is the vanilla or the strawberry. But where else are you going to be able to sample cajá, caju, murici or sapoti ice cream? Not at Baskin-Robbins, that's for sure! Beside the fruit flavors, there are some other distinctively Brazilian flavors that shouldn't be missed - caipirinha, which is made with cachaça and is only sold to persons over 18 years of age, or brigadeiro, based on Brazilian's favorite chocolate treat.
Cashew-nut Brittle Ice Cream

The shops are spotlessly clean, and there are no worries that the ice cream might not be hygenic. The only worry involved with having ice cream is which flavor(s) to have. Fortunately,   has a policy of allowing unlimited sampling before purchasing, and I recommend that everyone take advantage of that - not to excess, of course. But it's a perfect opportunity to try out one, two or three exotic and possibly even mysterious flavors before making a purchasing decision. After all, exactly what it Obama-flavored ice cream?

If you're interested in seeing the complete list of current flavors, with sometimes charmingly-inaccurate English translations, click this link to the company's website, then choose "produtos" from the menu choices.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Buriti, Another Superfruit from the Amazon

Anyone who cares about environmental issues and who has read anything about the environmental threat to our planet that the appearance of Homo sapiens has engendered knows that one of most essential environments, and one of the most threatened, is the tropical rain forest. The largest of these, the Amazonian forest, is found mostly in Brazil though other South American countries share in it. This environment is vital to our survival as a species because of its ability to counteract some of the worst of the causes of climate change, but is also important as a stronghold of biological diversity.

In previous posts, Flavors of Brazil has talked about some of the food products of this regions, principally fruits such as açaí and guaraná which have important cosmetic and medicinal properties in addition to their culinary importance. Such fruits, which have valuable nutritional properties, are sometimes known as "superfruits" for the multitude of beneficial properties they possess. Outside Brazil, the two fruits mentioned above are the most well known and have become nutritional buzzwords in North America and Europe.

In the same rain forest where açaí and guaraná grow there is another species of palm tree, the Mauritia flexuosa, which provides a large variety of economically, culturally and nutritionally valuable products, but which is much less known outside Brazil. It's English name is moriche palm, but it Brazil it's called buriti. This beautiful palm tree grows in swampy and flooded areas in the rain forest, and it is the source of numerous useful products:

1. The fruit of the tree. Rich in vitamins A and C with high levels of calcium, iron and protein, buriti fruit is traditionally eaten fresh, but is also turned into sweets and juices, flavors popsicles and ice cream, cooked in desserts, and is an important source of animal nutrition.
2. Oil extracted from the fruit. This oil is rich in carotene, and is used in traditional medicine as a vermifuge, to encourage healing of wounds and burns, as a source of physical energy, to tan and soften leather, and as a cosmetic, providing color and aroma to a number of creams, shampoos, and soaps. There is also anecdotal evidence that it has sun-blocking properties.
3. Palmito (hearts of palm). The buriti palm can be harvested at a young age and the growth point eaten as hearts of palm.
4. Wood. The tall tree is a good source of high-quality lumber.
4. Fibers from the fronds. These are used to make ropes, thatched roofs, hammocks, mats, baskets, toys and other artisanal products.

The fruit, which is also called buriti, is the seed of this palm and in the swampy environment in which the tree grows has the valuable property of floating, thus allowing the tree to propagate. It resembles a scaly pine-cone, and when the scales are peeled away a bright-yellow flesh is revealed. This flesh surround a hard nut, the actual seed of the plant. Sweet and creamy, with a distinctive taste and aroma, it is this flesh which flavors such a wide spectrum of foods and drinks.

In Fortaleza, my Brazilian hometown, I've never seen fresh buriti at the markets. I only know the flavor through jams and preserves, and though my personal favorite, buriti ice cream. My local ice cream store, located on the city's seafront promenade, has many, many flavors of ice cream. It's always a difficult choice for me to make when deciding on which flavor to order, but more often than not, I go back to buriti. I should probably try something new and untested, but since buriti is  delicious, AND good for you, why not?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

RECIPE - Cachorro Quente - The Brazilian Hot Dog

You can find a hot dog, or a facsimile of one, in almost any corner of the world. But it's only in Brazil, at least in my own limited linguistic experience, where you find on a menu a literal translation of the English-language term "hot dog." In Brazil these little puppies are called "cachorro quente" which is pronounced ka-SHO-ho KEN-tche and which literally means "dog hot."

Hot dogs are tremendously popular in Brazil, and commercial streets are full of hot-dog stands which normally sell the dogs, soft drinks, french fries and most likely hamburgers as well. They're cheap, they're filling, and Brazilians love them as much as people do elsewhere in the world whether they're good for you or not. (They're not.)

Although the basic sausage in a hot dog doesn't vary much from region to region and country to country, how the hot dog is dressed and presented can differ in large degree from one city to another. In the USA there's the Chicago dog, midwestern Coneys, Los Angeleno chili dogs, Rhode Island's "New York System" etc. etc. etc. Montreal has its"steamé" and Berlin its currywurst. None of these however, in my opinion, outdo the Brazilian cachorro quente in sheer excess and extravagance - a "completo" almost literally has everything but the kitchen sink. Very early on weekend mornings, say 3 to 5 a.m., people leaving bars and clubs all over Brazil find their favorite hot dog vendor somewhere on the street - just a cart and maybe some small plastic stools - and stuff themselves before they head home to sleep it off. During big street parties like New Year's and Carnaval these vendors sell their hot dogs, and customers buy them, 24 hours a day.

This week, the reputable food section of the Folha de S. Paulo, the largest newspaper in São Paulo, featured the recipe for a typical Brazilian fully-dressed hot dog. If the cachorro quente is good enough for the gourmet section of this newspaper, it's good enough for Flavors of Brazil, so I'm providing the recipe here, in my own translation and adaptation. This dog is featured at a chain of fast food restaurants called General Prime Burger, and it's called the "cachorro quente turbinado" meaning "jet-propelled hot dog".

This is easy to make anywhere in the world, as none of the ingredients are exotic or difficult to source in most places. Next time there's a pool party, backyard bbq, or block party in your neighborhood, bring some Brazilian folk-culture along and serve "cachorros quentes."
RECIPE - Cachorro Quente Turbinado

For the hot dog:
hot dog bun
hot dog, steamed or boiled
mashed potatoes (see recipe below)
crunchy bacon bits (see recipe below)
vinagrete (see recipe below)
shoestring potatoes, commercially packaged

Cut the hot dog bun open from the top, but do not cut it into two. Fill it with mashed potatoes, push a hot dog into the potatoes, then top with bacon bits and shoestring potatoes. Serve with mayonnaise and vinagrete.

For the mashed potatoes:
2 medium boiling potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
ground nutmeg to taste
salt to taste

Boil the potatoes until very tender, then mash with masher or mixer. Add the cream, butter and olive oil then whip the potatoes until light. Add nutmeg and salt to taste.

For the bacon:
Two thick slices smoked bacon

Cut the bacon into small cubes. Fry until crisp, then drain on paper towels.

For the vinagrete:
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 small onion, minced
2 Tbsp. vinegar
olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley to taste

Mix the chopped tomato and onion in a small bowl. Add the vinegar and stir to mix. Add oil as desired, then salt and pepper. Mix again, then sprinkle the chopped parsley on top.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feliz Aniversário, Flavors of Brazil!

Today, October 15, marks a milestone in the "life" of Flavors of Brazil - its very first birthday. It was a year ago today that I posted the first article on this site - the first of what would turn out to be almost 300 posts in the following twelve months. In that article (click here if you'd like to read it) I wrote of what I hoped to do with the newborn blog, and what I wanted it to be.

I began Flavors of Brazil primarily for personal enjoyment and because I was passionate about the subject - the fascinating and relatively unknown world of Brazilian gastronomy in all its forms, from traditional dishes cooked in farmhouses, to snacks and drinks available from street-side vendors, to the creative gastronomy of cutting-edge chefs in the metropolises of this nation of 200 million souls. I didn't know how long I would stick with it, or if anyone would read the blog, but what has happened in the past year far surpassed whatever amorphous expectations I had at the time.

In the year of its existence, Flavors of Brazil has gained 61 followers and approximately 90 subscribers through its feeds. According to the fun and colorful Flag Counter gadget (on the right side bar at the bottom of this page) which has been up and running on this site for about six months, I've had visitors from 149 countries and territories. Just under half of those visitors have been from the USA, but other countries which have high visitor counts are Brazil, UK, Canada, Australia and France. For the past three and a half months, Google's blogging service, Blogger, which hosts this blog, has been recording all visits to Flavors of Brazil and providing me with some very interesting data. Over that period, the blog has received approximately 20,000 page visits and currently is averaging about 250 page visits per day, or 7500 per month. And the average is increasing every month. The blog-rating website Technorati ranks blogs in terms of what it calls "authority", meaning trustworthiness, accuracy and popularity. According to Technorati, among the 11,783 food blogs that it rates, Flavors of Brazil ranks 296 - that is to say it's in the top 3% of food blogs in terms of authority.

One of the most interesting statistics that Blogger offers is visit counts for individual postings. When I'm writing an article, I have absolutely no idea if it will be popular, if other sites will link to it, if search engines will refer to it, and it's been a constant surprise to me which articles have received the most visits. The "champion" article on this site, mostly surprisingly to me, turns out to be an article I posted on the humble snack esfiha. This samosa- or empanada-like filled pastry has had almost twice as many visits as any other article on Flavors of Brazil. Don't ask me why because I don't know. On the other hand, I know exactly why the number-two article, about the giant Amazonian fish pirarucu, received so many visits. A French website called (Go to bed less stupid) put a link to that article on its site and lots of people decided to learn about the pirarucu in order to sleep more intelligently.

I want to thank everyone who has visited Flavors of Brazil, who has read the articles, and particularly thank those who've commented on my postings. It's very gratifying to know that there's an audience for this blog, and I hope you all find something interesting or informative when you visit. Now that the blog is up and running, you can count on a second edition of this "Happy Birthday" article on October 15, 2011. Muito obrigado, todos!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Aluá is a homemade fermented (and therefore slightly alcoholic) drink that has a long history in Brazil. You can read more about it here. It is particularly popular in the north and the northeast of the country and it has many different variations - different recipes with different ingredients. What all forms of aluá do have in common is that they are naturally fermented for a short time only, using either fruit or grain as the basis for fermentation, and that they are served without further processing, such as filtering, distilling or aging.

Here are two recipes for aluá - one made with pineapple peelings and one with dried corn and ginger. I've always thought it was a shame to throw away just a large portion of a fresh pineapple, so I'm really looking forward to making the first recipe next time a buy a pineapple. I will duly report on the results. If you make aluá from one of these recipes and enjoy it, try it another time with a different grain, or a different fruit. These recipes are more guidelines than instructions.

In Brazil, the normal time to allow for fermentation to occur is one day. Fermentation occurs rapidly in the tropical heat of this country, so if you live in a cooler climate it may take longer for the fermentation process. Remember, however, that aluá is meant to be only slightly alcoholic, so don't let it ferment too long!  Make it, let it ferment, cool it in the refrigerator, and enjoy...


RECIPE - Pineapple Aluá (Aluá de Abacaxi)

1 medium pineapple
2 quarts (liters) fresh water
brown sugar (optional)
cloves to taste
Cut the pineapple in quarters, and remove the flesh, reserving it for another use. Cut the peelings into coarse slices. Put the peelings in a large glass or ceramic jar, and cover with the 2 quarts of water. Place a dry clean dish-towel over the jar, and leave to ferment for a minimum of 24 hours. The longer it is left, the higher the percentage of alcohol will be. Sample after 24 hours, and continue fermentation if desired, checking frequently. When fermented to taste, drain through a sieve into another jar, discarding the peelings. Add sugar if desired and cloves. Place in refrigerator to stop fermentation and serve cold or over ice.

RECIPE - Red Corn and Ginger Aluá (Aluá de Milho Vermelho)

1 pound (450 gr.) dried red corn kernels, soaked overnight (can substitute yellow or white corn)
1 piece ginger root, 3 inches (5 cm) long, peeled and grated
2 cups brown sugar
2 quarts (liters) fresh water
In a food processor, in batches, process the corn and ginger together. Put the corn, ginger and sugar in a large glass or ceramic jar, and cover with the 2 quarts of water. Place a dry clean dish-towel over the jar, and leave to ferment for a minimum of 24 hours. The longer it is left, the higher the percentage of alcohol will be. Sample after 24 hours, and continue fermentation if desired, checking frequently. When fermented to taste, drain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into another jar, then discard the corn. Place in refrigerator to stop fermentation and serve cold or over ice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aluá - Brazil's Traditional Homemade Moonshine

To call aluá "moonshine", as Flavors of Brazil has done in the title of this article, is to do it an injustice, as moonshine is normally of high alcoholic and of low gastronomic value - a vehicle for getting drunk, not a fresh and refreshing drink with a bit of sparkle due to fermentation. But by comparing the Brazilian drink aluá to the white-lightning that is moonshine, the similarities between these two beverages are highlighted - their antiquity, their homemade character, their regionality, and the grand variety of ingredients that can be fermented to create the drink.

The history of aluá in Brazil is long, but it is dim and unsettled. Some authorities say that the technique of fermenting grains or fruits mixed with water and sugar came to Brazil with the Portuguese and that they in turn learned it from the Moors. For these folks, the word aluá derived from the Arabic word "heluon" meaning "sweet." Other food historians think that it was the slaves from Africa that brought aluá to Brazil, and that the name comes from an African tongue. Still others think that indigenous peoples of the Americas were making aluá long before either the Portuguese or the African arrived.
Freed slaves selling aluá - 19th cent.

In any case, aluá has been a popular drink for centuries and remains so today, particularly in the North and Northeast of Brazil. In the semi-arid interior of the Northeast, the sertão, the drink is particularly associated with the Festas Juninas, the cycle of festivals that occurs in the month of June. People make a supply of aluá to serve to the steady stream of visitors to their homes during the festivals, and it is shared by dancers and spectators at quadrilhas, which are folk-dancing exhibitions and contests. In the state of Minas Gerais, tradition forbids the sale of aluá. It must be given or shared in a spirit of conviviality. Because it's alcoholic content is quite low, normally around 3%, aluá can lighten and animate the spirit without causing the drinker to exhibit any of the negative signs of drunkenness.

In the state of Bahia, aluá is associated with the ceremonies and rituals of candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion of the region. There, it is traditionally served in enormous jars, and offered to the twin divinities Ibeji (although consumed by the celebrants).

The basic concept of aluá is to create a mixture of either fruit or grain plus water, then let it ferment naturally for a short time before drinking. Normally it only takes about a day for the fermentation process to occur naturally in the heat of Brazil, so the drink is most often made the day before it is to be served. In cooler climates, fermentation will naturally take a bit longer. Unless the drink is refrigerated, however, it will continue to ferment and increase in alcoholic content, so it is best drunk when it is still at an early stage in the fermentation process - otherwise, it can become unpleasant and dangerously high in alcohol.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide two recipes for aluá; one made with fruit and one with grains.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guaraná Pureza - A "Micro-Brewed" Soft Drink

In previous posts Flavors of Brazil has focused its eye and its palate on a Brazilian soft-drink called guaraná. Almost unknown outside Brazil outside the immigrant communities of the Brazilian diaspora, guaraná is hugely popular within the country. The market for this drink, which takes its name from and is flavored by a fruit from the Amazonian rain forest, is dominated on the national scene by two major brands - Antartica, owned by the world's largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Kuat, owned by Coca-Cola Brasil.

Along side these two giants exist regional brands of guaraná, which are often extremely popular within their own geographical territory, but which are unknown elsewhere in the country. Probably the most popular of these regional brands is Guaraná Jesus, from the state of Maranhão, which was the subject of this article on Flavors of Brazil. It, of course, is dwarfed even in its home state by the two major brands.

Interestingly, I have recently discovered, thanks to an article in the most recent edition of Gula, a Brazilian culinary magazine, that there is a brewery in the southern state of Santa Catarina which is so small that it makes Guaraná Jesus seem like a multinational producer. It's continued existence and its continued success after 105 years of production show the power that a local brand can have within a limited territory, and makes a heartwarming story in the way that a product from a consortium with the unwieldy name of Anheuser-Busch InBev could never have.

This drink is aptly called Guaraná Pureza, which translates into English as Purity Guaraná. The drink was developed by brewer Alfredo Sell in the small German-immigrant village of Rancho Queimado, Santa Catarina, in 1905, and has been manufactured there, and only there, ever since. In fact, the water used in making this drink still comes exclusively from a well on Sell family property. Rancho Queimado is located 60 km. (35 miles) from the capital of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, and that city constitutes almost 100% of Guaraná Pureza's market. The company is currently owned by the fourth-generation of the Sell family, and they have resisted various offers to sell the company. Current production of Purity Guaraná is 300,000 liters per month, compared to the 66 million liters of Guaraná Antartica that are produced in the same time frame.

In an age of logos created with the help of focus groups, market-saturating ads and commercials, sales promotions and imperative social media presence, Guaraná Pureza chugs along as it always has done, resisting change and "modernization." The logo and the label that the company uses today has not changed in 105 years, and the company does NO marketing, advertising or promotion. None. The reason? According to Ricardo Sell, the current general-manager, Guaraná Pureza does no advertising because, "We don't have to. Without exaggerating, we can speak of generations that grew up drinking [Guaraná Pureza] and it's become established as a family custom. Those who like it only drink Guaraná Pureza, even though it's a bit more expensive than other guaranás." I, for one, love the fact that a company that has never "updated"  it's product, never marketed it, and even charges more for it than the brand-leaders do, can still find a niche in the marketplace and successfully exploit it. I say "Bravo, Guaraná Pureza!"

Monday, October 11, 2010

RECIPE - Cockles in Coconut Milk (Maçunim ao Coco)

This recipe, from the tiny state of Alagoas in Brazil's Northeast, is made with a typical shellfish from that region, called maçunim in Portuguese, and cockles in English. Here shelled maçunins are cooked in a sauce that uses seasonings common to the region, like cilantro, onion, tomato, green pepper and the red-orange coloring ingredient known as urucum, achiote or annatto.

As I mentioned in the previous post here on Flavors of Brazil, if cockles aren't available in your local market or at the fishmongers, I'd suggest using whatever type of clam is best in your region. The dish would probably also work well with mussels, but the result would be more distant from its origins on the beaches of Alagoas.

RECIPE - Cockles in Coconut Milk (Maçunim ao Coco)
Serves 2

2/3 lb (300 gr) precooked cockles, without shells
juice of one lime
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. cilanto, finely chopped
1 tsp. annatto powder (sweet paprika may be substituted)
1 medium green pepper, finely diced
1 medium tomato, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup canned or freshly-made coconut milk

Wash the cockles well in several changes of cold water to remove all traces of sand. Season them with the lime juice and salt to taste, and let stand for 15 minutes. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the cockles, the onion, cilantro, annatto, green pepper and tomato and cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and tomato begins to cook down. Add the coconut milk, bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium low and cook for 10 more minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove from heat, and serve immediately, accompanied by white rice and a green salad.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another Food Mystery Solved - Maçunim

One of the things I find really enjoyable about doing Flavors of Brazil is discovering a new ingredient here in Brazil, and then "tracking it down" - that is, finding out exactly what it is botanically or zoologically, and what's it's name is in English. This is sometimes a more difficult task than one might think. There are various English-Portuguese dictionaries and glossaries, but often the word I'm looking for isn't listed, particularly if the Portuguese word is regional, as is often the case. So then it becomes an internet hunt, using search engines, tags on food sites and blogs, or linguistic search tools.

This weekend, at a simple waterfront restaurant just outside Fortaleza, I ate a seafood dish made from an ingredient that I wasn't familiar with, but which was highly recommended to me by friends. It was called maçunim (pronounced mah-soo-NEEM in Portuguese). The dish consisted of what were obviously bits of meat that had been extracted from an animal that was in the clam/mussel family, having the size, shape and texture of those little creatures. They were cooked in a sauce based on coconut milk, a typical technique from Northeastern Brazil. There were no shells present in the dish, which perhaps could have helped me track down the identity of the maçunim, so my curiosity, if not my appetite, went unsatisfied.

Back home, it took a short while to find out what maçunim is, but I've been able to solve the mystery. There was no Wikipedia listing for it, either in the English or Portuguese versions of that online encyclopedia. There were some recipes in Portuguese, which told me that the animal needed to be removed from the shell after cooking, and there were some photos. I knew through the photos that it was a bi-valve mollusk, as are clams, mussels and oysters. I know the Portuguese words for those three animals, and none of them are called maçunim . Finally, from searching articles on Google, I found an article from 2008 on the site BBC Brasil, an excellent news and information site in Portuguese from "Auntie Beeb."  In an article entitled "O Paraíso Foodie e o Maçunim" author Thomas Pappon wrote about a gastronomic trip he had taken to the Northeastern state of Alagoas, where he discovered a local delicacy called maçunim. Somehow he knew what they were, for in the article he said that this seafood was common England where it was known as "cockles." Bingo! There was the answer I'd been searching for - maçunim are the same little delicacies that Molly Malone sang about all those years ago in Dublin's Fair City. "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

Mark down one more victory for Foods of Brazil in it's eternal quest to solve the food mysteries of Brazil. And one more term for the Foods of Brazil's bi-lingual gastronomic glossary.

In the next post on this blog, I'll provide a recipe for maçunim with coconut milk. I have seen cockles available in fish markets in North America and Europe, and I'm sure the dish could also be made with almost any variety of clam.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Brazilian Chocolate Goes Architectural

Palácio da Alvorada, Brasília
Most certainly the most famous architect that Brazil has ever produced, and also one of the best-known 20th-century-modern architects in the world, Oscar Niemeyer is still going strong at the remarkable age of 102. His genius in creating the architectural design of Brazil's capital city, Brasília, built between 1956 and 1960, was recognized by UNESCO when it designated Brasília the newest place in the world worthy to be a World Heritage Site. The outlines and shapes of his monumental public buildings for Brasília are stamped on the Brazilian consciousness, and are as instantly recognizable for Brazilians as the shape of the Eiffel Tower is for the French, or the Sydney Opera House is for Australians. He has also worked extensively outside Brazil, where perhaps his most well-known work was as part of the team that created the UN Headquarters in New York City.

Although he no longer designs buildings, Sr. Niemeyer isn't vegetating during his "retirement." His eye for design is still wickedly strong, and he has recently designed such things as T-shirts for Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval band, Banda de Ipanema and pieces of furniture created from molded wood.

Recently, his latest project was announced in newspapers throughout the country. It's being reported here at Flavors of Brazil because Niemeyer has now extended his designs beyond furniture and clothes into the world of gastronomy. For the gastronomic boutique Aquim in Rio de Janeiro's tony Ipanema district he has designed a chocolate bar which echoes the distinct curves of his architectural work.

The chocolate is called, simply, Q. It is a purely Brazilian product made with chocolate from the city of Ilhéus, in the state of Bahia, with the addition of selected almonds. The chocolate is sold in a specially designed tasting-box which contains three bars of chocolate plus 42 individual chocolates in six strengths ranging from 30% to 70% cacau. Only those who have bought the box will be able to have it refilled at the store, according to Aquim .

I've no idea how Q tastes, but I imagine it must be heavenly. I do know for certain though, that it's the most beautiful chocolate bar I've ever seen. Let's hope that Sr. Niemeyer continues designing new products well into "old age." At 102, he should be an inspiration to all of us.