Tuesday, November 30, 2010

RECIPE - Risi e Bisi of Crab (Risi Pisi de Caranguejo)

This dish, which was recently featured at Fortaleza's Prazeres da Mesa Ao Vivo gastronomic trade-show and exposition, is a creation of European-Brazilian chef Bernard Twardy, one of Fortaleza's most successful and highly-regarded chefs. Sr. Twardy was born in Germany and grew up in France, where he was classically trained as a chef.  Many of Brazil's most famous chefs share a European background with Twardy. At some point in their lives these European chefs arrived in Brazil as tourists or immigrants, and for any number of reasons decided to make Brazil their home. As a unofficial group, they combine classical European techniques and dishes with Brazilian ingredients, techniques and dishes to create food that in many ways marries the best of the Old and the New Worlds. I hesitate to call it fusion cuisine, but it is a re-imagining of European gastronomy in a specifically Brazilian context.

Sr. Twardy's recipe for Risi Pisi de Caranguejo is an excellent example of this bi-continental style of cooking. His opening point of reference is the classic Venetian dish risi e bisi (rice and peas) - a risotto-style combination of Arborio rice and fresh green peas. Substituting orzo pasta for the rice and adding locally-caught crab, Brazilians herbs and spices, and livening the dish with coconut milk, he has created something that certainly is not Venetian, but not entirely Brazilian either. Whatever else it is, though, it's absolutely delicious.
RECIPE - Risi e Bisi of Crab (Risi Pisi de Caranguejo)
Serves 4

1 pound picked-over fresh or thawed crab meat
2 cups (500 ml) coconut milk
3 cups (750 ml) cooked orzo pasta, al dente, cooled to room temperature
2 cups (500 ml) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup (250 ml) mixed green and yellow bell peppers, finely diced
1/2 cup (250 ml) strongly-brewed lemon balm infusion
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup (250 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp habanero chile, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
crab claws to decorate
salt to taste
Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan, add half the garlic and all of the onion, and sweat them for a few minutes. Add the chopped bell peppers and habanero chile and continue to cook the mixture for about three minutes, or until the peppers have softened. Add the tomatoes, the the coconut milk and the lemon balm infusion and cook for about five more minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened, but not dissolved. Remove from heat and reserve.

In a medium saucepan heat the remaining olive oil, then add the remaining garlic. Cook until the garlic is softened, then add the crab meat and mix thoroughly. Remove from heat. Add the reserved tomato mixture, and let stand at room temperature for at least one hour, covered. Combine the crab/tomato mixture with the orzo pasta, and correct seasoning for salt. Mound the mixture into a decorative serving bowl, decorate with a sprinkling of finely chopped cilantro plus crab claws if desired and serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Prazeres da Mesa magazine - Oct. 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 3) Bases

São Luís, founded in 1621, is one of Brazil's oldest and most historic cities. In many ways, it's also one of the country's most traditional and culturally conservative cities. All of these factors make it a particularly interesting destination for a food-crazed blog like Flavors of Brazil. All of the cultural influences which combine to create Brazilian cuisine are present in Maranhense cooking - African, European and indigenous.

In order to learn as much as possible about food traditions in Maranhão in a very short time, and to sample as many traditional dishes as possible in a short time, Flavors of Brazil will be "basing" itself in the traditional restaurants of São Luís' historic center during the blog's upcoming visit. "Basing" is the appropriate word, indeed, as "base" is the local word used to designate a small homestyle restaurant, headed by a female chef/owner, serving traditional local cuisine. Normally the restaurant is named after the chef - e.g. A Base de Lenoca, meaning "Lenoca's Base" and one of the most well-known of the city's bases.

Bases in São Luís began a long time ago when manual laborers were accustomed take their daily lunch in the kitchen of a local woman - over time, they began to say they were "based" in such-and-such's restaurant for lunch. "I'm based at Dona Maria's" or "He's based at Lenoca's". Eventually, the most successful of these in-home restaurants outgrew their space and the cook/proprietors began to open small restaurants in commercial districts - but continued to use the name their customers used when they cooked out of their own home. Some of these restaurants are still owned by the owners, but now, some have past on to daughters, nieces, or even grand-daughters.
Vintage Photo - Base Rabelo, São Luís

Dining at a base is an essential part of the São Luís gastronomic experience, and Flavors of Brazil will resport back next week on it's experiences in the bases of São Luís.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 2) Links

In preparation for Flavor of Brazil's upcoming trip to São Luís, Maranhão (click here to read about it), I have been reviewing previous posts on this blog about the cuisine and culture of the state of Maranhão.

Here is a brief list of earlier posts on Flavors of Brazil which concern Maranhão, all of which are clickable links to the post listed:

Taste-test - Guaraná Jesus 
Red Rice (Arroz Vermelho)
RECIPE - Rice with Kale (Arroz de Couve)
RECIPE - Rice with Cuxá
INGREDIENTS - Vinagreira, a Versatile Hibiscus
Guaraná Jesus - Brazil's "Holy" Soft Drink


Friday, November 26, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 1)

When I began Flavors of Brazil a year or so ago, one of the things I hoped to do with this blog involved traveling to cities and regions of culinary interest in this vast country, and passing on what I saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted while traveling to the readers of the blog. A more local, less extravagantly exuberant, perhaps less talented definitely less famous, Anthony Bourdain was how I pictured it. (Dream big, I always say)

Soon those plans will come to fruition, if all goes according to plans. A few weeks ago, I happened to note on the internet that the upstart Brazilian airlines Azul (owned by the Brazilian-American owner of JetBlue) was opening new routes from Fortaleza in December with tremendous promotional prices during the first couple of weeks of operation. One of the routes was from Fortaleza to São Luís, the capital of nearby Maranhão state. Only an hour's flight away, tickets were R$80 (USD $50) each way. At that price, there was no excuse for Flavors of Brazil not to experience the city and the unique cuisine of Maranhão. So, at the end of next week, Flavors of Brazil will zoom off to São Luís, then return a few days later loaded with photos, videos, stories and taste-memories to share here on the blog.

Maranhão is culturally unique among the states of Brazil in lots of ways, including traditional gastronomy. Early European exploration and colonization was not by the Portuguese but rather by the French, and São Luís was founded in 1621 by the French who named it after their saintly king St. Louis. Later the Portuguese expelled the French and then were expelled themselves by the Dutch. Finally, Portuguese forces conquered the state one last time from the Dutch and were able to retain possession. Because of transportation and communication difficulties with other Portuguese possessions in South America, Maranhão was an independent Portuguese colony until the late 18th century, and was not a part of newly-independent Brazil at the time of its formation in 1822. It joined Brazil two years later.
São Luís, Centro histórico

São Luís is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, and its historical center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Narrow cobblestone streets, buildings faced with blue and white tiles, baroque palaces - all give São Luís a distinct architectural personality, making it look very European, and more specifically Portuguese.

Maranhão's demographics differ from neighboring states, with significant black and native Indian populations - though the large majority of the population is of mixed heritage. The state has its own distinct way of speaking, and the Portuguese of Maranhão is considered the closest of European Portuguese of any state of Brazil.

The state is among the poorest in Brazil, with the second-lowest per capita GDP in Brazil. In 2007, the latest year available statistically, Maranhão's GDP was only R$5,165. That's approximately USD $3000 per year.

In upcoming posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll discuss the cuisine of this intriguing state in preparation for the visit. And when I'm back, readers of this blog will be the first to hear all about it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkey - Peru do Dia de Ação de Graças

Flavors of Brazil wishes our American readers a very happy "turkey day" today, and a great long weekend.

Although Thanksgiving isn't a holiday that's celebrated in Brazil, most Brazilians are familiar with the day and with the American tradition of eating turkey. (Not to worry, Brazil has plenty of statutory holidays, so the country is not suffering by missing one!) And Brazilians are certainly familiar with the traditional main course for the Thanksgiving feast - roast turkey.

Eating turkey is associated with holidays here in Brazil too, primarily with Christmas (Natal). I would guess that it's the size of a roast turkey that first linked it to large feasts and holiday celebrations, but the connection seems to be universal. Although it's not clear whether turkey was, in fact, served at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, the bird is one of the many culinary gifts of the New World, as it comes originally from Mexico and North America, and was eaten throughout the Americas before the arrival of Europeans in 1492.

The Portuguese word for the turkey is peru (just like the country). In 16th century Portugal, when turkeys were first brought to Europe, there was some confusion as to exactly where in the Americas they originated, and they were named after the Spanish colony of Peru. It's very interesting that the word for this bird in at least three languages, English, French and Portuguese, comes from its supposed country of origin and that none of these languages gets it right.

Portuguese certainly has it wrong with peru. In French, the word is dinde, which is a shortened form of poulet d'inde (meaning "chicken from India"). Wrong again. And of course, the English name, turkey, also points to the wrong country. I'm not a linguistic expert, but I don't think the bird is called "mexico" in any language, which is should be by geographic standards. I don't know if there are other languages in which the common turkey has a toponym, but I'm curious as to other geographical mistakes in naming the animal.

Enjoy your turkey today, or your peru or your dinde or whatever else you choose to call it. And save some leftovers for me.

(PS... I've looked around the internet a bit more since this article was published, and it turns out that in fact other languages have chosen a toponym when naming this bird, and they too get it wrong. In Turkish the word for turkey is hindi and in Hebrew it's hodu. Both of these words mean "India" in the respective tongues.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

RECIPE - Grilled Seafood Salad with Parsley and Mint Pesto

This simple, elegant and light salad features a variety of grilled seafood dressed with a pesto made from fresh parsley and mint, drizzled with best-quality olive oil, and served with a wedge of lime. the recipe comes from Prazeres da Mesa, a Brazilian food and wine magazine, where it was suggested as an first course for a formal Christmas dinner. I think it would also make an excellent main-course salad at lunch, as it's rather substantial.

As originally published, the recipe calls for large shrimp, rings of squid cut from the tube, and rabalo (snook) fish. (Click here to read about rabalo on Flavors of Brazil.) Any firm-fleshed white fish, such as halibut, can be substituted as long as it isn't a fish that would flake if grilled. Although neither parsley nor mint are native to Brazil, both herbs are an essential part of Brazilian cooking traditions and are established as integral parts of the Brazilian flavoring spectrum.
RECIPE - Grilled Seafood Salad with Parsley and Mint Pesto
Serves 6

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Brazil nuts, roasted but unsalted
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint

12 large shrimp, headless, peeled but with tails left on, deveined
6 small squid tubes, cut into thick rings
1 lb (500 gr) robalo or other white fish fillets, cut into large pieces
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
juice of one large lime
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
To make the pesto - In a blender or food processor combine the olive oil, the parmesan cheese and the Brazil nuts. Process until you have a coarse, chunky mixture- do not overprocess. Add the herbs and process until you have a homogenous but not smooth mixture. Season to taste with salt and reserve.

To make the seafood - Season all the seafood with lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. In a non-stick frying pan or grill pan brushed with olive oil grill the shrimps for about 3 minutes per side. Reserve. Repeat the grilling operation with the squid, then the fish, reserving each.

Assembling the salad - Arrange the seafood nicely on plates, drizzle with a some pesto and a bit of olive oil. Serve, and pass the remaining pesto in a small bowl.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rodízio - A Guide to the Meats

One of the joys of dining at a Brazilian churrascaria that operates with the rodízio system is ogling the quantity and variety of cuts of meat that pass by your table. Passadores, as the meat servers are called, offer a seemingly unlimited number of cuts of meat, each presented on a large skewer and served to you for the asking. The only problem for non-Brazilian or the non-Portuguese speakera is that it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what's being offered. The passadores work rapidly so that the meat won't cool, and even if they had the language skills to name and describe what they have in French, or English, or Japanese, they don't have the time.

One option is to be brave and try everything that passes. The main problem with this approach is that one's limit of meat consumption is quickly reached, and some of the best choices might therefore go untasted. Another option is to stick to those cuts that are visually recognizable - a sausage is a sausage, and a skewer loaded with chicken hearts is unmistakeably what it is. Again, this limits your choices, particularly in cuts of beef since Brazilian cuts of beef don't correspond to North American or European ones. You'll never see a skewered T-bone or a Porterhouse sail by in a churrascaria.

To help a bit with this dilemma, Flavors of Brazil, with assistance and photos from Brazil's Gosto magazine, offers this visual and linguistic aid to some of the most common, and best, cuts of meats you're likely to find in a churrascaria that offers the rodízio system. This is only a sampling however, so be brave and try other things that look intriguing or smell appetizing. You may never find out what you ate, but you'll have gained a gustatory memory to take back home as a souvenir of your Brazilian churrascaria experience.

Churrascaria Cuts of Meat

1. Picanha - The most-desired cut of Brazilian beef, in or out of churrascarias. It's normally cut fairly thickly and skewered with three pieces pieces per skewer. It's sliced thinly and generally cooked from medium to well-done. Try to chose a piece that is still quite thick - if it's thin it's probably been returned to the fire a few times and will be less juicy.

2. Costela premium (prime rib) - The most fashionable cut currently in many churrascarias. It comes from the first five ribs of the animal and has a fine flavor because of the presence of bone. It has a very tender texture and is nicely marbled with fat.

3. Fraldinha (flank or skirt steak) - Formerly considered a second-grade cut of meat, this cut is now almost as valued as picanha. It is extremely juicy and is skewered on it's long axis which helps retain the juices. If you want your piece more well done, chose from either end of the cut where the meat is thinner. Chose a center slice for a piece that is more rare.

4. Bife ancho (rib eye) - Cut in the Argentinian style, this consists of two parts separated by a layer of fat. Always chose an exterior piece. The central portions are less juicy, but still have good flavor.

5. Costeleta de cordeiro (lamb chop) - All in a churrascaria is not beef. Brazilian lamb is juicy and flavorful and a small lamb chop is a nice change of pace in a churrascaria. Try to get a piece that is medium-rare to medium - well-done lamb chops can be overly dry.

6. Filet mignon - An extremely tender meat, as it comes from a muscle just below the lumbar vertebrae of the animal which contracts very little, even when the animal is moving. The only problem can be lack of fat, which makes the cut potentially dry. This cut should not be eaten well-done as it will then lose its charm.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rodízio - An Etiquette Manual

For someone unfamiliar with how the rodízio system works, entering a Brazilian churrascaria for the first time can be an intimidating experience, especially if one doesn't speak Portuguese. The first impression is likely to be that the restaurant is enormous (some have as many as 400-500 places) and that there is a tremendous amount of noise and activity. There are diners bustling to and from the salad bars, there are wait staff serving drinks and clearing tables, and there are a number of men, known as passadores, who carry a large spear full of meat and a very sharp carving knife and who move from table to table slicing cuts of meat off their skewers at diners' request.

Those diners who are cognizant of the etiquette of rodízio already know exactly how to act and how to get good service in a churrascaria. For those readers of Flavors of Brazil who haven't already learned proper rodízio behavior, here is a small manual of etiquette to guide you through your first visits to a churrascaria. Within a short period of time, you should be able to dine with the churrascaria "experts" and never make a false step. There's no gold star to win, only the confidence to sit back, relax, and eat your way to meat heaven.

Rodízio - An Etiquette Manual

The Table - When you sit at the table in a churrascaria, you will notice a few differences from standard restaurant table settings. First, next to each place setting, usually on the left, is a small salad plate on which has been placed a pegador, a set of tongs similar to ice tongs. This utensil will be used to hold a slice of meat as the passador slices it off the skewer and then to transfer it to your dining plate. The passador has the skewer in one hand and a large carving knife in the other, so without the diner's help, the grilled meat will fall to the plate and create a mess. Therefore, it's essential to cooperate with the passador by using the pegador to help him. You might also notice a small round token, about the size of a beer coaster in an English pub, near your place at the table. It's green on one side and red on the other. There might be the Portuguese word for "yes" - sim - printed on the green side, and "no" - não - on the red side, but that's not always the case. This token is used to indicate to the passador whether you are interesting in being offered more meat, or whether you are either taking a breather or have finished. If you display the green side, you're still in the game, if you ahve the red side showing, he'll pass you by.
Proper use of the pegador

The salad bar - All churrascarias have a salad bar in addition to the meat provided by passadores. They vary enormously in size and variety of options, but there will inevitably be much more than you could possibly eat. Return visits to the salad bar are allowed, often encouraged. It's much better to take a smaller amount on your first visit, then return for seconds or thirds as long as your appetite holds up than it is to overload your plate on the first visit. It's considered impolite to leave uneaten food on your plate, so don't overdo it to start off. Take a small amount, then return for more later. Do not take your original, empty, plate back to the salad bar. This is considered rude. Leave it at your table, and while you're visiting the salad bar, it will be whisked away by a bus attendant. Use a new plate for every visit to the the salad bar.

Meat service - When the passador comes by he will offer you what he has on his skewer by name, in Portuguese of course. Usually the passador has only one cut of meat on his skewer - occasionally two, but never more. You can indicate by word, by smile, or by gesture if you want some. He will hold the skewer vertically, and begin to cut a thin slice, and then stop. He has stopped to wait for you to grab the slice with your pegador. Only when you've done so will he cut the slice loose. So if you've said yes, be ready with your pegador - otherwise the passador will stand there for a very long time waiting for you to spring into action. You can indicate by pointing to various portions of the meat if you'd prefer a piece that's more rare or well-done. If you have no idea what's being offered, but are brave and/or curious, indicate you want a small piece to sample. If you find it totally inedible, place it discretely at the side of your plate, and it will be taken away when your plate is removed. It's considered impolite to ask for a big piece of meat unless you're sure you'll eat it all.

Table service - You'll be seated at the table by a hostess or maître d' and that person will often take initial drink orders. Subsequently, a waiter or waitress will serve the drinks and take any additional orders. If you'd like to see a wine list, ask at this point. The waiter or waitress is also the person to ask when you want the bill or check (a conta) at the end of your meal. Passadores only serve meat, and will not handle drinks or the check. If there is any sort of problem, the table waiter or waitress is the person to speak to, or if necessary the hostess or maître d'.

Tipping - Tipping is handled the same way in churrascarias as it is in all Brazilian restaurants. A service charge, normally 10% is added to your bill, and this is the only service charge you need pay. It will be shared among all the staff, so it isn't necessary to tip waiters, waitresses, or passadores individually. If you pay in cash and receive some small coins in change, you may leave them on the table, but it's not obligatory to do so.

That's rodízio etiquette in a nutshell. It's really not complicated, but since so much of it is unwritten or unexplained, I hope readers of Flavors of Brazil will find it useful when they begin to discover the bounty of the Brazilian churrascaria.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rodízio - The Way of the Churrascaria

If you were to look up the Portuguese word rodízio in my Michaelis Portuguese-English dictionary you'd find the following definitions:

1 water wheel. 2 shift, relay work, scheduling of work. 3 turn, rotation. eles trabalham em rodízio / they work in turns. 4 caster (wheel). 5 shady deal, sharp practices. 6 coloq gossip, plot, intrigue. 7 alternation of people, facts or situations. 8 bras a system of service in certain restaurants where barbecued meats or pizzas are offered abundantly, according to the client's taste. 

Clearly, of all these definitions, it's number 8 that most concerns Flavors of Brazil (although Flavors of Brazil also likes number 6). Rodízio is the system used in most churrascarias, restaurants that feature a huge number of grilled meats, to get their products from the grill to the diners' plates. I thought it would be interesting and instructive for Flavors of Brazil to learn a bit more about churrascarias and rodízio (incidentally, the word is pronounced ho-DEE-zee-oo) and pass that knowledge on to readers of this blog.

In recent years rodízio-style churrascarias have become Brazil's most successful exportation in the world of restaurants, and today churrascarias can be found from Paris, to New York, to Las Vegas, Singapore, Tokyo and Vancouver. The high-end Brazilian churrascaria chain Fogo de Chão, founded in Porto Alegre in 1979, now has more branches in the USA than it does in Brazil, by the score of 16 to 6. The typical churrascaria offering of a huge salad bar plus an unlimited quantity of grilled meats has proven to be internationally popular, just as it is in Brazil.

Although the Brazilian style of grilling meats, churrasco, is age-old, the rodízio-style churrascaria is a relatively new concept, and dates back at most 50 or 60 years, to the middle of the last century. But even though the concept is not old, it's origins are already lost in time, and no one is exactly sure how, when and where the idea of having troops of waiters carrying meat-laden spears wandering around the restaurant slicing off pieces of meats directly on to customers' plates originated. Many have claimed the honor of being the first to introduce rodízio but no one has been able to establish a definitive claim. Certainly the style originated in truckstop restaurants along the interstate highways in Southeast Brazil, in the populous states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paraná. And certainly, the proprietors of those restaurants came from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where churrasco originated. Other than that all is speculation and/or self-promotion.

Vilma and Albino Ondarotto, 1975
The Association of Churrascarias of the State of São Paulo (acronmym: ACHUESP) has researched this topic and has formally crowned Churrascaria 477, located in Jacupiranga, SP, as the originator of rodízio, a title that the restaurant proudly claims to this day. Legend has it that on one particularly busy day when the restaurant was full of pilgrims visiting the nearby shrine of Bom Jesus de Iguape,an overstressed waiter began mixing up all his orders, serving the wrong meat to the wrong diner. The owner, Albino Ondaratto, to alleviate the confusion, told all the waiters to grab one of the large skewers full of meat from the grill and offer meat to any and all. Many other food historians, however, hotly dispute both the crown and the legend. The only thing that is certain is that Churrascaria 477 is still open in its original location in Jacupiranga and apparently does a nice rodízio.

In the next post here on Flavors of Brazil, we'll discuss exactly how rodízio works and offer an etiquette guide to churrascarias. There are unwritten rules of behavior in rodízio , both for waiters and for customers, and Flavors of Brazil is here to prevent its readers from mistakenly behaving poorly next time they visit a churrascaria, whether in Brazil or anywhere else in the world.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Green Crab Iniative - Selo Caranguejo Verde

Last year, Flavors of Brazil wrote about the Thursday-night-ritual crab fest here in Fortaleza, my Brazilian home town. Every Thursday night here in Fortaleza, many thousands of locals and tourists head to outdoor bars and restaurants along the city's seafront and beaches and eat many more thousands of crabs. (Click here for more on Fortaleza's Thursday night crab fest).

Although the crabs become dinner here in Fortaleza, they are not harvested locally. Rather, 95% of the crabs eaten in Fortaleza, according to a recent article in the Jornal do Brasil, come from the neighboring states of Piauí and Maranhão - specifically from the mangrove swamps in the delta of the Parnaíba River, the only river delta in the Americas that terminates in the open ocean. There has recently been a lot of concern about the long-term sustainability of that crab fishery, an important source of income for inhabitants of the region.

Recently an awareness and certification campaign called "Selo Caranguejo Verde" was announced in Fortaleza, thanks to the efforts of Jefferson Legal, a fisheries researcher for EMBRAPA, the Brazilian national agriculture and pisciculture organization, in cooperation with Bernard Twardy, executive chef of the Beach Park Hotel, just outside Fortaleza. This initiative is aimed at raising public awareness of the sustainability issues involved with the crab fishery, and at promoting the sale of sustainable, or "green", crabs in Fortaleza's bars and restaurants.

The iniative has a two-pronged approach. First, making the dining public aware of what makes a crab "green", and second, providing those restaurants that only source sustainable crabs with a seal of certification that they can post on walls, menus and in advertisement. The hope is that the public will begin to favor those restaurants that serve green crabs, which will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the crab fishery.

Sr. Legal developed a protocol and a technique for the capture, handling, storage, and transport of crabs that he says will reduce the mortality rate of the harvest from the current 25-55% to a much more sustainable 5%. After extensive testing, Legal developed a system of stocking and transporting the crabs, without binding their claws, in large plastic containers. In these containers, the crabs are laid between sheets of foam rubber which has been moistened with water from their usual habitat, the mangrove swamps of the river delta. Protected by the foam rubber, and kept moist by the water, the survival rate of crabs improves enormously.

Each year a thousand tons of crabs, about 6 million individual crabs, make their way to market in Fortaleza, and the crab fishery which furnishes them provides the primary source of income to almost 5000 people in Piauí and Maranhão. If the Green Crab Initiative can help to make this fishery sustainable in the long run, it will not only preserve crab stocks and aid the economy in the areas in which the crabs are harvested, it will ensure the continued existence of Fortaleza's Thursday night crab fest.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

RECIPE - Rice with Dried Peaches (Arroz com Origone)

This side-dish of sweetened, spiced rice flavored with origone, the traditional dried and pressed peach preparation of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state, is served in its home territory along side a main course of poultry, or less often red meat. Combining the savory flavor of meat with the sweetness of dried fruits is a culinary tradition that the Moors brought to the Iberian peninsula during the 700 years that they occupied that territory, and was then brought to South America by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonizers.

This dish, although meant to be served as an accompaniment to a main course of meat, is quite sweet. This is not unusual for the Brazilian palate, which loves combining sweet and salty flavors, and which has a tolerance for extremely sweet dishes. The quantity of sugar called for in this recipe, an authentic gaúcho dish, is large - 1 cup. To my taste, the dish is more pleasing with a much-reduced quantity of sugar, about 1/4 of what's called for in the dish. Feel free to limit the amount of sugar if you wish - the result will still be delicious, and the flavor of the peaches will be highlighted, a small price to pay for a loss of authenticity, I think.

I like to serve this with roast chicken, but I'm sure it would go well with lamb stews, pot roasts or even with grilled sausages. The recipe calls for origone, which are pressed as well as dried, but common dried peaches work well. I would think that dried apricot could successfully be substituted as well, but cannot vouch for that.
RECIPE - Rice with Dried Peaches (Arroz com Origone)

1/4 lb (100 gr) origone (or dried peaches or apricots)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 cups of boiling water
1 cup dark brown sugar
5 whole cloves
1 cup white rice
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Wash the origone or dried peaches in running water, then place in large glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Pour over 4 cups of boiling water, then let stand for at least one hour. Remove the peaches, reserving the water in which they were reconstituted. Let the peaches cool, then cut into small cubes. Reserve.

Put the 1/4 cup sugar in a medium pan, then heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Do not let it burn. Remove from heat, then carefully add the reserved water - the sugar will sputter when the water is added. Then add the reserved peaches and cloves, bring to a boil, and let boil gently for about 15 minute or until the peaches are cooked and soft.

Add the rice, and with the pan partially covered, let cook until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Add the butter and the additional sugar, plus one cup of boiling water, and let cook, uncovered, until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is dry. Remove from heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Put the rice into a lightly buttered mold, press down, then unmold onto a serving platter. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A popular food from the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, origone are a form of pressed, dried peaches. Rio Grande do Sul is much less tropical than most of Brazil, lying in the temperate climate zone, so fruits that are cultivated in North America and Europe, like peaches, cherries, apples and grapes, can be grown there and nowhere else in Brazil. In most of Brazil there is not enough of a cool-weather season to generate the period of dormancy that these fruits require. In Rio Grande do Sul, on the other hand, there is a distinct winter season, with occasional snow at higher altitudes, and so temperate-climate fruits flourish.

The culture of Rio Grande do Sul has always been influenced by the culture of its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, Uruguay and Argentina. To this day, inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul are called gaúchos, the name given to the cowboys of the pampas throughout southern South America. The Portuguese name for these dried peaches, origone, derives from the Spanish word orejón meaning "big ear." When I was a kid I used to call dried apricots and peaches "dried ears" - the resemblance was clear to me. I guess that I wasn't the only to notice that resemblance.

Origone has a long history in the southern part of Brazil. In early times, drying fruit in the sun was a common and reliable way to preserve the bounty of the harvest for eating later in the year. The gauchos were often away from their homes for much of the year, herding cattle on the treeless expanses of the pampas. They had to carry much of their foodstuffs along with them and origone was light and easy to carry and store. The concentrated sugar and vitamins in these dried fruits also made them a valuable nutritive source when fresh fruits were not an option..

What once was made and eaten out of necessity became a food habit in Rio Grande do Sul, and origone is now considered one of the regions traditional ingredients. Although origone is delicious eaten "as is", it's more often reconstituted by cooking and eaten as a sweet dessert, or part of a savory dish of rice or meat. However it's eaten, it's symbolic of Rio Grande do Sul, and of that state's gaúcho culture.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Order Coffee in Brazil (and Get What You Want)

Ordering a coffee in a foreign country can be a difficult and trying proposition, even when one speaks the local language. And when one doesn't it can be exasperating at best, and a disaster at worst. It seems that every country, and sometimes every city or region, has its own vocabulary for ordering a cup of coffee. Most often, this vocabulary isn't posted on coffee shop walls, or in menus, or even to be found in bilingual tourist dictionaries.

Imagine a tourist from, let's say, Laos or Angola trying to order a coffee in a North American or European Starbucks. If they are happy with a plain brewed coffee with nothing added, the only linguistic difficulty is understanding the vocabulary of cup size - short is a small (but don't look for short on the price list on the wall), tall is a medium, grande is a large, and venti is an extra-large. OK, but what if this imaginary tourist wants a coffee drink? Then he or she had better know the precise vocabulary terms not only for the size of the cup, but also for type of coffee, amount of caffeine, how the drink is poured, the desired temperature of the drink, the amount of fat included, and the source, animal or otherwise of the "milk." Oh, and whether optional free whipped cream on top is wanted or not. Before that tourist heads out the door to the nearest Starbucks, I'd advise him or her to study this online guide to ordering at Starbucks, and perhaps printing a copy to take along. It's a mere 13 steps to make sure you get the drink you want.

Brazil, being as coffee-crazy as it is, has developed a Portuguese-language vocabulary for ordering coffee, though it's not as complicated or deliberately obfuscating as Starbucks'. Many of the terms are Italian, a reflection of the importance of Italian coffee culture and Italian immigrants to Brazil in creating contemporary Brazilian coffee-drinking habits and customs. With no claims to completeness, or to national coverage, here is Flavor of Brazil's Brazilian coffee vocabulary. It should help almost anyone to get the right kind of coffee in almost any coffee bar, lunch stand, or gourmet restaurant in Brazil. (As for Brazilian Starbucks locations, which are currently limited to the major cities of the Southeastern region of Brazil, I have no idea how they've translated "Starbucks-speak" into Portuguese).
Brazilian-Portuguese Coffee Ordering Vocabulary

Cafezinho: Filtered coffee served in a small cup, of china or plastic, normally pre-sugared and very sweet. In restaurants, generally offered without charge at the end of a meal, but can also be purchased at any time of day or night everywhere in Brazil, in bars, lunchstands, bakeries or from street vendors. The iconic Brazilian style of coffee.

Café-com-leite: This is the drink that's familiar elsewhere in the world as café au lait or caffè latte. It's a mixture of either filter-brewed or espresso coffee plus hot milk. In most stand-up coffee bars, the barman will pour hot milk into a medium cup until the customer tells him to stop, then will fill the cup with coffee. Alternatively, hot pitchers of coffe and milk will be served, allowing the customer to mix at will. Sugar is added by the customer.

Café-pingado: This is a café-com-leite with a larger portion of coffee and a small portion of milk than is usual.

Café-curto (or café-expresso): A small, strong and bitter coffee brewed in an espresso machine that uses steam to create the drink. Served in a small espresso cup. Sugar is added by the customer.

Café-longo: Also made in an espresso machine, this drink is served in a larger cup and is more dilute than café-curto.

Café-carioca: Made in an espresso machine and of the same strength as >café-longo, it's served in a small demitasse-sized cup.

Capuccino:  Follows the traditional recipe for cappuccino, only differing in dropping one of the two letter Ps.

Café-solúvel: Instant coffee. 'Nuf said.
Descafeinado: Means decaffeinated and can be applied to any of the drinks above, though decaffeinated coffee is not nearly as popular in Brazil as it is in other parts of the world, so don't be surprised if it's not an option. Cafezinho is pre-brewed, and I would be quite astonished if I ever saw a decaf version offered.

Adoçante: Artificial sweetener. You should be aware that Brazilian sweeteners, even brands familiar to North Americans, may contain any number of chemicals, even those prohibited in other countries like cyclamates or saccharin.

Compared to the Starbucks system, all this is quite simple, não? It should help most foreigners to obtain at least something that resembles the coffee style they want from home. I do encourage everyone from outside Brazil, however, to try at least one cup of cafezinho. You may not like it, but drinking one is an essential part of experiencing Brazilian culture. Hot, strong and sweet, sweet, sweet.

Finally, if you take your coffee without sugar or artificial sweetener, as I do, be prepared to be looked at as if you were completely bonkers. I've had people actually stare at me to see my expression when I sip an unsweetened coffee - it's something that is totally beyond their frame of reference and totally incomprehensible to them.


Monday, November 15, 2010

RECIPE - Chicken and Rice Soup (Canja)

Whether you're a confirmed believer or a total skeptic when in comes to the curative and restorative properties of chicken soup, this simple recipe for the Brazilian-Portuguese chicken and rice soup called canja will make you a confirmed believe as to its gastronomic qualities. It's absolutely delicious and utterly simple to make.

Since the main meal of the day in Brazil is a mid-day, supper or dinner is relatively light and uncomplicated. As the evenings are also cooler than daytime in Brazil's tropical heat, soup is served more often for dinner, and canja is an obvious favorite. Most Brazilian cities have many small restaurants that serve a variety of soups, with bread and butter, and nothing else. Most of these open about 5 pm and close between 9 and 10 pm. My favorite, a nameless joint located just 4 blocks from my home in Fortaleza, normally has from 5 to 7 different soups on offer, and one of these is always canja. A large serving of soup plus bread costs only R$5.00 or approximately USD $3.00. It's a reliable go-to spot for me when I've run out of food or culinary inspiration at home.

This canja recipe is typical, but absolutely not definitive. It can be altered at will, and as long as it contains at minimum chicken and rice, it can deservedly be called canja.
RECIPE - Chicken and Rice Soup (Canja)
Serves 6

1 whole small chicken, preferably free-range
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3 quarts (3 liters) water
1 cup white rice
3 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley
additional olive oil to taste

Thoroughly wash the chicken, then cut it into serving size pieces. Season the pieces with salt and pepper. In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil, then add the carrot, onion, and the garlic, and cook, stirring until the vegetables are softened and the onion is transparent but not browned. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, or until the chicken begins to brown slightly. Add the water, stir to mix all, then increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan or pot and cook for about one hour, or until the chicken is well-cooked and tender. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Remove the chicken from the soup, discard the skin and shred the meat. Reserve.

(If desired, the soup may be chilled at this point to solidify the fat for removal.)

Reheat the soup, return the shredded chicken to the pot, then add the rice. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the rice is tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Add more water if necessary during cooking. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, then remove from heat.

Sprinkle the soup with chopped parsley, stir, then serve immediately.

Pass additional olive oil for drizzling if desired.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Canja - Brazil's Cure-all Chicken Soup

What culture doesn't prescribe curative properties to hot chicken soup (preferably prepared lovingly by mother - jewish or not)? My guess is most likely only those cultures that have no culinary contact with poultry at all - like traditional Inuit. Otherwise, it seems to be a universal truism that when one is run-down, suffering from a cold or the flu, or even just a bit downhearted, a bowl of chicken soup is just the ticket for a quick recovery.

Brazil is not exception to this rule, and when a Brazilian child needs a restorative broth to get him or her out of bed and back to school and play Mamãe (Mommy) will make a homemade chicken soup with rice called canja. Made from a whole chicken, some vegetables and white rice, canja is enjoyed by practically everyone in Brazil, sick or not, and if there is soup on the menu, one of the choices is almost always canja.

The recipe for canja, and its name, came to Brazil from Portugal, where canja is also a universal remedy. But neither the basic idea or the name originated in Portugal - they arrived there from Asian shores during the early days of Portuguese exploration of the Far East. In fact, the name canja probably comes from the Malay word kenge or kenji, meaning hot and salty broth. The Malay word travelled back to Portugal on board Portuguese caravels returning from Malacca, and also travelled in the other direction to China where it became congee.

Although scientists have yet to firmly establish the specific restorative properties of chicken soup, at the very minimum it is a strong example of the placebo effect, and there is some anecdotal evidence that it actually does promote healing. Interestingly, in Portuguese and Brazilian folk culture, canja is prescribed as a treatment for both constipation and diarrhea. And also for coughs, colds and influenza, just like everywhere else.

The next post on Flavors of Brazil will include a typical recipe for Brazilian canja.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Cavaquinha, Brazil's Least Attractive Seafood

Brazil has long been famed internationally for the beauty of its inhabitants. The world's top model is the extravagantly beautiful Gisele Bündchen, from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and many of her compatriots regularly walk the catwalks of Milan, Paris, and New York. Male model and DJ Jesus Luz had his 15 minutes of fame recently as Madonna's boyfriend, though it appears she has recently moved on. And any tourist who has visited the beaches of this country can tell you that the felicitous racial mixtures that make the Brazilian people have resulted in a large number of very attractive people.

When it comes to comestibles, however, it appears that beauty might be even less than skin deep. There is a crustacean (Scyllarideae), currently in season here in Brazil and which is being fêted in special menus and in festivals all along Brazil's coast, and which must be one of the ugliest animals ever to end up as dinner. It's a cousin (or an ugly step-sister a la Cinderella) of the lobster and it's known in Brazilian Portuguese as either the cavaquinha (meaning ukelele-lady) or lagosta sapata (slipper lobster). A quick look at the photos below will show why this animal has picked up these names - the resemblance is clear, as is the similarity of the cavaquinha to any number of bad-horror-film aliens.

Once the cavaquinha is killed and dressed it's an entirely different story, however, as what the exterior of this lobster lacks in physical beauty is made up for by the sweet, clean flavor of the white flesh. With its flattened tail, the cavaquinha produces a large solid piece of tail meat that can be served in almost any way that suits traditional lobster, from simply boiling or grilling to more complex, sauced presentations. As with all lobsters, it's important not to overcook cavaquinha. If left to cook too long, the soft meat turns rubbery and chewy. According to Chef Geraldo Rodrigues of São Paulo's Restaurante Freddy, when purchasing a cavaquinha it's important to turn the animal over and press on the thinner shell of the animal's tail. If it is firm and resists pressure it's a good specimen. If it's soft, then there isn't enough meat inside. He counsels against purchasing frozen cavaquinha since with a frozen cavaquinha it is impossible to do this "pressure test." And he should know - his restaurant is currently in the midst of its 10th annual cavaquinha festival. In those ten years, I'd think that Chef Rodrigues has tickled a lot of cavaquinha tummies testing them out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

RECIPE - Stewed Mangaba (Doce de Mangaba)

This simple recipe for mangaba stewed in a spiced sugar syrup comes from the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Although mangabas are most commonly commercially cultivated in northeast Brazil, the mangabeira tree grows very well in the lands known as the cerrado, a topical savanna ecoregion that stretches for thousands of miles through the interior of Brazil. A major portion of Mato Grosso do Sul state lies within this ecoregion, which has been recognized by the WWF as biologically the richest savanna in the world.

Stewing fruits in a sugar syrup is a preserving technique that predates electrical refrigeration, and such fruits are a common sight on Brazilian dessert tables to this day. What was once done as a necessity is now done as a culinary tradition. Served with ice cream, or with thick cream, stewed mangaba is a deliciously satisfying way to end a meal.

RECIPE - Stewed Mangaba (Doce de Mangaba)

8 pints mangaba fruit
1 lemon
4 cups (750 gr) white granulated sugar
2 cups (500 ml) water
3 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Wash the mangabas well, then pierce their skin in various places with a fork to extract the milky latex. Place the mangabas in plenty of cold water that has been acidulated with the juice of one lemon for at least four hours. Drain, rinse and reserve.

Meanwhile combine the 2 cups of water with the sugar in a large pan and heat over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the clove and cinnamon, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes, then add the drained mangaba, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes or until the fruit has softened and the syrup thickened. The fruit will darken during the cooking process.

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate if desired. Can be served either at room temperature or chilled.


In Brazil, a native fruit called mangaba is often confused by non-Portuguese speakers with mango (manga in Portuguese) because of the similarity of their names - mangaba/manga. However there is no botanical connection between the two fruits, and culinarily no connection in flavor. The mango is native to the Indian subcontinent and has spread around the world, being cultivated in almost every tropical area. The mangaba (Hancornia speciosa) is native to Brazil and is almost exclusively cultivated there to this day. Although it's an extremely popular fruit in Brazil, particularly in the northeast, it's almost unknown outside the country.

The mangaba fruit is a round yellow-to-red colored ball about the size of a baseball. The interior of the fruit is white with a number of small seeds. When the fruit is ripe, the pulp is so soft it practically melts in the mouth. The flavor is sweet and the fruit is highly perfumed. In the native Tupi-Guarani language which gave the fruit its name mangaba means (straightforwardly) "fruit that is good to eat." Few contemporary Brazilians would beg to differ with their native ancestors.

The tree which produces the mangaba fruit, known as the mangabeira, is related to the plumeria (or frangipani) tree which is known in places like Hawaii, Florida and Mexico for it's beautiful waxy, perfumed flowers. The mangabeira is also cultivated in Brazil for its beautiful red wood, and its latex produces a pink-hued rubber. It is also very useful in apiculture, as honey bees are attracted to its flowers and their nectar.

In Brazil, mangaba is enjoyed fresh, and also is used in the production of juice, ice cream, sweets and conserves, and in fruit wine. In Sergipe, the small northeastern state which produces the bulk of Brazilian mangaba, mangaba-flavored ice cream and pulp concentrates are the most consumed flavors of any fruit. Fresh mangaba is normally only available in the northeastern region of Brazil, as it is very perishable once ripe, but juices, ice creams and frozen pulp are available everywhere in Brazil.

Mangaba juice can be combined with cachaça to make a delicious caipifruta cocktail. Or it can be drunk as a eye-opener juice first thing in the morning. It's a very easy flavor to like, uncomplicated, sweet and delicious. Just one more Flavor of Brazil that requires a journey to Brazil to know - and it's worth the journey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

RECIPE - Kibbeh (Quibe)

In fact, this post should probably be entitled "RECIPES - Kibbeh (Quibe)" since it's got not one, but three!, recipes for Brazilian versions of the ground-meat-plus-bulgur meatball called kibej, kibbeh, kibe, quibe. This dish has as many spelling variations as it does recipes!

These recipes essentially vary in the way that the finely-ground mixture of meat and wheat is cooked (or not cooked, as the case may be.) The ingredient list is similar for all three recipes, although not identical, but once everything is combined, the mix is alternatively deep-fried, baked, or served as-is (raw). Obviously, the raw version - call it quibe tartare - is one for which you want to have an absolutely trustworthy source of meat, or better yet, grind it yourself. This is one time not to head for the bargain-basement ground beef in your supermarket's frozen meat section.

In Brazil, quibe is found most often as a bar snack, or as part of a tray of Levantine dishes, but these recipes are for home cooking. The deep-fried version makes excellent hors d'ouevres or canapés, the baked version is best served on an appetizer plate, and the raw version works best as a sit-down first course.
Deep-fried Kibbeh
RECIPE - Kibbeh (Quibe) - Version One, Traditional Deep-Fried

2 lbs (1 kg) good-quality, lean ground-beef or lamb
1 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
2 cups (300 gr) bulgur wheat, dry (trigo para quibe)
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
sat and pepper to taste
neutral vegetable oil (for frying)
Pour the bulgur wheat into a large mixing bowl, then pour 2 cups (500 ml) of room-temperature water over. Let stand for approximately 45 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.

Separate the ground meat into two portions - 1.5 lbs (750 gr) and 0.5 lbs (250 gr). Reserve the smaller quantity.

Heat the Tbsp. of oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the 1.5 lbs of ground meat, half the chopped garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, breaking apart the meat, until the meat loses all traces of pinkness and the mixture has evaporated its moisture and is dry. Remove from heat, then stir in half of the parsley. Reserve.

In the mixing bowl, add the remaining half pound of ground meat to the bulgur wheat, then stir in the remaining parsley and chopped garlic, the mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with the hands until you have a homogenous mass. The mixture should be very homogenous, so be sure to mix very well.

Have a cookie sheet ready. Remove approximately 1 Tbsp. of the meat-bulgur mix from the mixing bowl and roll into a ball shape in your hands. Cup the ball in the palm of one hand, and with the other, form a pocket in it. Fill the pocket with the cooked ground meat, then close the pocket over this mixture. Reform into ball or torpedo shape in your hand. Place the completed kibbeh on the cookie sheet, then continue this process until you have used all of the mixture. Reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or deep frying pan until it is hot but not smoking. Fry the kibbehs a few at a time (don't overcrowd the fryer) until they are dark brown and crisp on the outside. Remove to a cookie sheet lined with paper towel, to drain excess oil. Continue until all the kibbehs have been fried.

Serve immediately, with lemon wedges and if you wish, tahini or tzatziki sauce.

(Click on read more below for the other two recipes)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You Say Kibbeh and I Say Quibe...

For some reason unknown to me, one of the most-read posts ever here at Flavors of Brazil was an article I posted back in June 2010 on a Brazilian meat pie of Levantine origin called esfirra or esfiha (both pronounced the same way - es-FEE-ha). In the few months since it appeared in this blog, it's been viewed 514 times. I'm aware that the immigrants from Lebanon and Syria who arrived in Brazil in great numbers in the early decades of the 20th century brought with them many treasures, material and immaterial, but I wasn't quite aware that the recipe for esfirra was among them.

But since readers of Flavors of Brazil seem to be most curious about the Levantine influence on Brazilian cuisince, I thought it would be interesting and instructive to do some research on another extremely popular Arab-Brazilian dish called in Portuguese, variously, kibe or quibe. In most instances I have seen the word in most instances transliterated into English as kibbeh, but there are spelling variations in English as well as in Portuguese. All these words go back to a common Arabic root kubbe meaning "ball". And that's what quibe is, basically - a deep-fried ball of spiced ground meat mixed with bulgur wheat stuffed with (what else) ground meat. Originally the meat used in quibe was ground lamb, but in contemporary Brazil it's much more often ground beef.

To give some idea of the popularity of quibe in Brazil, there isn't a direct Portuguese translation for bulgur, the Middle Eastern cracked, parboiled and dried wheat. In Brazil, if you want to buy bulgur you have to look in the store aisles for trigo para quibe - wheat for kibbeh.

Brazilians love to eat quibe as a quick snack at a lunch counter, as part of a plate of Levantine mezze, or most often as a bar snack to enjoy with an ice cold beer. In more traditional establishments it's served with a tahini sauce, but the snack has become Brazilianized to the extent that it is more commonly spiced up with hot sauce or even ketchup.

The classic quibe is the deep-fried version, but there is also a baked variation which is less greasy and caloric. Additionally, there is a traditional variation (quibe cru) in which the meat and bulgur wheat mixture isn't cooked at all - it's served raw, as in steak tartare. Next post on Flavors of Brazil will have recipes for all three of these versions of quibe.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 2- for Acarajé)

Unlike yesterday's recipe for vatapá, which was an all-purpose, all-meal side dish that can be served in any number of social situations, this version is meant for one specific purpose. One of the essential components of the Afro-Brazilian street food acarajé is a dollop of thick and creamy vatapá, and the recipe below is a close approximation of the recipe used by beautifully-dressed baianas (women in traditional Bahian dress) in public squares and on street corners throughout Salvador, Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil.

Acarajé is a baseball-sized fritter made from ground and mashed black-eyed-peas fried in dendê palm oil. Traditionally, when her hot fritter comes out of the brilliant orange palm oil a baiana will first cut it open through middle without separating the two halves entirely. Then, depending on the customer's desires and tolerance, she will use a small spoon to spread some VERY hot pepper sauce on the warm inner surface of the acarajé. Next a generous smear of vatapá, some optional dried shrimps, and finally something which she (by tradition, all sellers of acarajé are women) calls "salada" but which is in fact chopped tomatoes and onions. Only then is it handed to the customer in a small paper napkin to be eaten on the spot. Acarajé is a dish that definitely does not improve with age, and a cold acarajé is heavy and stodgy. A hot one, strong with the flavors of dendê oil. hot pepper, dried shrimp and vatapá, is street-food heaven.

Here's a recipe, then, for vatapá baiano perfect for acarajé. For a recipe for acarajé itself, click here.
RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 2- for Acarajé)

1/2 lb (250 gr) dried shrimp*
1 qt (1 liter) canned coconut milk
1/2 cup (75 gr) peanuts, unsalted, roasted, peeled
1/2 cup (75 gr) cashew nuts, unsalted, roasted
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. cilanto, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup dendê oil**
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. grated ginger

*can be purchased at most Asian, African and Latin American markets
**can be purchased at African and Brazilian markets
In a food processor, process the dried shrimp, peanuts and cashew nuts until you have a homogenous, finely-ground mixture. Dissolve the flour in half of the coconut milk, and stir to completely mix, making sure there are no lumps. In a blender, combine the parsley, cilantro, chopped tomato and onions, and blend completely.

Put the remaining half of the coconut oil in a large, heavy saucepan, and heat over medium heat. When the coconut milk is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the dissolved flour, stirring constantly. Then add the herb/tomato/onion mix and finally the ground shrimp and nuts while still stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes then add the dendê and olive oils, the remaining half of the dried shrimp, salt to taste and the grated ginger. Increase heat and bring to a boil, continuing to stir to make sure the mixture doesn't lump. Reduce heat and cook, constantly stirring, until the mixture is thickened, smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too thick add additional coconut milk to thin it out; if it's too thin, add a small amount of flour, dissolved in water or coconut milk.

Let cool completely, the use as filling for acarajé.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Brazileira by Ana Paula Oliveira.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 1 - as a side-dish)

As mentioned in this post on Flavors of Brazil, there are really two distinct versions of the Bahian classic preparation vatapá - there is the consistent, creamy paste that is used as a filling for acarajé, a fritter made from ground black-eyed-peas, and there is a more substantial and less consistent side dish for buffets and feasts.

Although the list of ingredients for the two recipes is similar, one distinguishing difference between the two style of vatapá is the way in which wheat is introduced into the dish. In vatapá for acarajé some type of wheat flour is normally used, while in the side-dish version, it's more common to use day-old or dried bread. In either case, it is this wheat which gives the dish its consistency, which should be firmer, yet creamy, in vatapá for acarajé and a bit more saucy in the side-dish version.

The following recipe, for the side-dish version makes a perfect, and typical, addition to a Bahian buffet table, or any type of celebratory feast. In Fortaleza, my Brazilian hometown, for example, vatapá is commonly served along with turkey at Christmas dinner. I've also been served the dish at birthday buffets and at weekend barbeques. It's substantial and filling, and with its coconut milk, dried shrimps and dendê oil adds a completely Brazilian touch to any table.
RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 1 - as a side-dish)
Serves 8

1 lb (450 gr) day-old French or Italian white bread
1 cup canned or homemade coconut milk
1 cup dendê oil*
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup good-quality large dried shrimp, whole**
1/4 cup ground cashew nuts
1/4 cup ground peanuts
1/2 cup good quality small dried shrimp, ground**
salt to taste
1/4 lb (100 gr) cooked and shredded salt cod (bacalhau)
3 cups fish stock
1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger

* dendê oil can be purchased at most African or Brazilian markets
** dried shrimp can be purchased at most Asian, African or Latin American markets
Tear the bread into coarse shreds in a large mixing bowl, pour over the coconut milk, then let stand until the bread is soft. Blend in a blender or food processor. Reserve.

In a large heavy saucepan heat the dendê oil, add the onions and whole shrimp and cook until the onions are transparent but not browned. Add the ground cashews and peanuts, the ground shrimp, then stir to mix in completely. Salt to taste. Add in the bread-coconut mixture, stirring in completely, the salt cod, then the fish stock. Reduce the heat to low, continue to cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the sauce is reduced and thickened. Remove from heat, stir in the grated ginger, pour into a large serving dish and serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Dishes - Vatapá

"The glory of Bahian cuisine", "The most typical Bahian dish", "Bahia's definitive dish" - These are just a few of the many, many descriptions of the creamy, fragrant and evocative mixture of bread, coconut milk, peanuts or cashew nuts, dried shrimp and an almost-unlimited variety of other ingredients called vatapá. Firmly established as a central component in the Afro-Brazilian cuisine of the Brazilian state of Bahia, vatapá is today enjoyed throughout Brazil though everywhere it continues to be considered a Bahian dish.

Vatapá has long been celebrated as a culinary treasure in Bahia and an integral part of that states culture. In his novel "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" Brazilian author Jorge Amado extols the virtues of vatapá through the words of his cooking-school-teacher heroine Dona Flor speaking to her class, "Let's move to the stove: vatapá made of fish (or chicken) is a dish that requires both care and whimsy, the most most famous dish of Bahian cuisine. Take two whole heads of grouper, add salt, cilantro, garlic and onion, a few tomatoes plus some fresh lime juice..." and from there Amado continues to include an entire recipe for vatapá in his novel. The Bahian singer-songwriter Dorival Caymmi composed a paean to the dish titled, naturally, "Vatapá" which has become a Brazilian standard. They lyrics of his song include a list of essential ingredients for a successful  vatapá, including a Baiana (a black woman from Bahia) who "knows how to stir." Here's a video from YouTube of this marvelous song, as sung by Gal Costa:

The origins of vatapá are unknown, though all culinary historians agree that even if the basic concept came from Africa on board slave ships, it was developed in Bahia itself. The word come from Yoruba, an African language, where it means "a spicy seafood paste", yet the dish isn't part of contemporary African cooking. Most Bahian dishes that came fully developed from Africa are ritual foods in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, but vatapá has no part in the ceremonies of that religion.

The essential ingredients for vatapá, common to almost all recipes include stale bread, coconut milk, ground nuts and dried shrimp. And all recipes use one technique or another to create a thick sauce or paste. Beyond that, the variations are innumerable. However, over time two distinct, and distinctly different, dishes have developed, both called vatapá. One is the fairly thick homogenous paste that is an essential filling for the Bahian bean fritter called acarajé. The other is less homogenous, with chunks and pieces of the various ingredients in a thick sauce. It is served as a side dish in a Bahian meal, or as part of a Bahian buffet. Both are vatapá but they are quite different preparations. The next two posts on Flavors of Brazil will include recipes for both styles of vatapá.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

RECIPE - Green Papaya Conserve (Doce de Mamão Verde)

Just like the cooks of Southeast Asia, Brazilian cooks often take advantage of the abundance of papaya (mamão) available to them to create dishes that employ the fruit in its green, or unripe, state. One of the classic preparations of Thai cooking is Som Tum, a spectacularly delicious (and usually spectacularly hot) green papaya salad. Green papayas can also be found in recipes from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. When unripe, papayas are not sweet nor have they developed their interior colors - the seeds and the flesh are white; only later do the seeds become glossy charcoal-grey pearls and the flesh turn sunset orange or yellow. Because the natural sugars have not yet developed in green papayas, Asian cooks tend to make savory dishes from them. In contrast, Brazilian cooks normally use unripe papayas in the creation of sweets and desserts, adding sweetness from other sources. (Look here for a savory dish from Brazil that does use green papaya.)

One of the most traditional categories of Brazilian sweets or desserts is called simple doces, which literally means "sweets." A doce is made by cooking fruit for a very long time in a sugar syrup. During the process the sweet syrup completely penetrates the flesh of the fruit, and the syrup itself thickens as it evaporates. During colonial times doces were a practical and economical solution to the problem of how to preserve a bounteous harvest of fruit at a time when there was no refrigeration. Sugar is a natural preservative, and by preserving fruits in syrup these fruits would remain available throughout the year. Today, of course, refrigeration and freezing are alternative possibilities for preserving fruits, but Brazilians have developed a taste for these homemade preserves and they are still popular as desserts.

This recipe, from São Paulo state, incorporates grated green papaya flesh in just such a sugar syrup to create Doce de Mamão Verde. Green papayas are commonly available here in Brazil, but I've also seen them available in Latin and Asian markets in North America and Europe. This dessert can be served chilled or at room temperature - as is, or with a drizzle of heavy cream or coconut milk.
RECIPE - Green Papaya Conserve (Doce de Mamão Verde)
serves 6

3 small, Hawaiian papayas, or 1 large papaya, very green
3 cups white granulated sugar
6 cups water
5 cloves
With a sharp paring knife, score the papayas in the long direction in order to extract the sap or milk of the flesh. Place on large platter or cookie sheet and let rest for at least two hours. Thoroughly wash the papaya to remove all the sap, dry, and then peel them using a vegetable parer. Cut the peeled papaya in half, remove the white seeds, and then coarsely grate the flesh using the large holes of a grater. Wash the grated pulp in cold water, then squeeze to remove excess moisture.

Put the grated pulp in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, then quickly bring to a boil over high heat. Drain. Put the pulp back in the saucepan, cover once more with cold water, and bring to a boil a second time and let boil for five minutes. Drain.

Place the pulp in a large bowl, cover with lukewarm water and let rest for four hours. Drain and reserve.

In a large heavy saucepan combine the sugar and 6 cups of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, then add the drained papaya, reduce heat to very low and let cook for two and a half hours, stirring from time to time, until the fruit and syrup cook down and become thickened. Remove from the heat, pour into a heatproof bowl and let rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

The next day, return the papaya to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook until the fruit become transparent and the syrup thickens additionally. Don't stir. Remove from heat, put in heatproof bowl and let cool completely.

Once cooled, put in glass compote dish and serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora