Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RECIPE - Minas-style Cattleman's Beans (Feijão-Tropeiro Mineiro)

The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and even more so the states to the west, such as São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Goiás, are in many ways the Brazilian equivalent of the American "Wild West". In early colonial times there were considered empty lands notwithstanding their substantial native populations and were seen to be ripe for colonization and for raising cattle on the vast tracts of scrubland, known as cerrado in Portuguese, found there.

Like in the American west, these lands were often "opened up" by troops of cattlemen and cattle rangers (called tropeiros in Portuguese) who traveled great distances in search of suitable territory for raising cattle, often banishing or slaughtering the native people who had the misfortune to inhabit good cattle range country. On their long expeditions the tropeiros couldn't rely on local sources of food, so their carried most of their food with them. Beans, salted or dried meat and manioc flour were the three cornerstones of their diet, and all three were often combined into one dish. This dish eventually became known as cattleman's beans (feijão-tropeiro) and while today no one needs to carry their food with them on horseback, the dish continues to be an important part of local cuisine.

There are unnumerable variations to feijão-tropeiro - the type of bean can vary as can the meat. Often the dish includes bacon, or carne de sol, Brazilian sun-dried meat, or it may contain charque, which is similar but drier and saltier. The animal protein content of the dish in enhanced by adding crunchy fried pork rinds, torresmo, at the last minute. But the three principal ingredients - beans, meat and manioc flour - must all be present in true feijão-tropeiro.

This recipe, for Minas Gerais-style feijão-tropeiro gives a good general idea of what the dish consists of. Everybody makes feijão-tropeiro their own way, or rather their mother's or grandmother's way, and nobody agrees on how it should be done. So take this recipe as a template only and vary it to your heart's content - unless you have a recipe that comes down from your mother or grandmother. Then, vary it at your own risk!
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RECIPE - Minas-style Cattleman's Beans (Feijão-Tropeiro Mineiro)
Serves 10

1 lb (500 gr) dried beans of any type
1/2 lb (250 gr) smoked bacon, cubed
1/4 lb (125 gr) fried pork rind (torresmo), crumbled
5 whole eggs
2 Tbsp lard (neutral vegetable oil can be substituted
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 lb (200 gr) manioc flour (farinha de mandioca)
Chopped parsley and green onion to taste
Black pepper to taste
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Soak the dried beans overnight, then cook in plenty of water until just tender. Drain and reserve.

In a large heavy pan, fry the bacon until crispy, then remove it from the pan and reserve. In the same pan, using the bacon grease, fry the eggs over hard. Remove them, break them up and reserve.

Add the lard or vegetable oil to the bacon grease remaining in the pan and if using lard, heat it to melt. When hot, add the garlic and onion and fry until transparent but not browned. Add the drained beans and cook for about five minutes. Add the manioc flour, one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

When all the manioc flour has been added, remove the pan from the heat. Add the crumbled pork rinds and stir thoroughly to mix completely. Add the eggs, the parsley and green onion and fold in gently. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

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