Saturday, April 30, 2011

RECIPE - Huntress-style Kid (Cabrito à Caçadora)

One more recipe for kid from Brazil's northeastern region, this time from the state of Pernambuco. Pernambuco is one of Brazil's smaller states, but was one of the first places on the continent settled by Portuguese colonists. Long and narrow, the state has a wide range of topography and climate which vary from the beaches and mangroves of the Atlantic coast to the harsh, stony semi-desert of the interior - the area known as the sertão. The word sertão itself is of obscure origin, but would best be translated into English as "outback". It's most likely that this dish originated there, as the domesticated goat is one of the few farm animals that can survive the difficult conditions of the sertão.

It's strange that this dish, kid braised in a tomato and red wine sauce, would be sub-titled huntress-style , as virtually all of the goats in the sertão are raised in farmyards, and there's little need to hunt them. Perhaps there's a connection to those Italian chicken and meat dishes cooked with a similar sauce called "alla cacciatora", which also means huntress-style. Something for a future doctoral candidate in historical gastronomy to write a thesis about.

Even if you're not a huntress, this dish would make a great way to introduce goat meat into your kitchen. Thickly-sauced and very substantial, it's best served with plain white rice, as they do in Brazil.
RECIPE - Huntress-style Kid (Cabrito à Caçadora) 
Serves 8

4 lbs. (2 kgs.) boneless kid or goat meat, cut into large chunks
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp dried oregano
5 bay leaves
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 bunch cilantro
2 green onions, whole
8 large leaves fresh basil
2 large cooking onions, coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic
1 lb. new potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1 large carrot, cut into thick slices
juice of 2 oranges
2 cups pineapple juice
1 bottle dry red wine
Place all the goat meat in a large mixing bowl. Boil a large quantity of water, and pour over the meat to cover. Let stand a few minutes, then drain, rinse and reserve the meat.

Season the meat with salt and pepper, then put it in a large saucepan with the oregano, mustard, ketchup, bay leaves, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Mix well, then heat over medium high heat. Cook until the meat has taken color and the sauce is thoroughly mixed.

In a blender combine the parsley, the cilantro, the green onion, , the basil, the chopped onions and the garlic with a little water, and blend. Add more water if required to complete the blending. Add this mixture to the ingredients in the sauce pan, stir completely to mix, then cook the mixture, partially covered, over medium low heat for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Add the orange and pineapple juices, the wine, the potatoes and carrots and bring it all to a boil. Cook for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the meat is very tender, the vegetables are cooked and the sauce has thickened.

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

Friday, April 29, 2011

RECIPE - Braised Kid (Cabrito ao Molho)

No, the kid in the title of this post does NOT refer to one's own offspring, but rather to the meat of a young goat. (Which reminds me of a amusing true story about a Brazilian friend of mine, who doesn't speak much English and who visited the USA last year. While there, he went into a McDonald's and shocked the attendant by mis-ordering - instead of a grilled chicken sandwich, he told her he'd like to order "one grilled children, please.")

This recipe, which calls for braising small pieces of goat meat (cabrito) in a tomato- and coconut milk-based sauce, comes from the northeastern Brazilian state of Piauí. Traditionally the poorest of all the states of Brazil and among those with the hottest, driest climatic conditions, Piauí has a long history of capriculture - the raising of domesticated goats. It also is famous for its traditional dishes made with products of this animal, dishes such as this one, and the famous (or infamous) buchada, a Brazilian relative of the haggis made by stuffing a goat's stomach with various goat innards.

This braised-kid dish is much less of a cultural challenge than is buchada, and would be a good introduction to goat meat for those not familiar with it. As mentioned in the previous post, goat meat is becoming increasingly available in North America and Europe, and is well-worth adding to your culinary repertoire due to its nutritional and health values.
RECIPE - Braised Kid (Cabrito ao Molho)
Serves 6

4 lbs (2 kgs) goat or kid meat, cut into small pieces, bone-in
juice of 2 fresh limes
salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp powdered cumin
1/2 cup tomato paste
5 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cups (1 liter) water
1/4 cup chopped green onions, green part only
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup coconut milk
Put the pieces of goat meat in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the lime juice over the pieces, tossing them with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Pour enough boiling water over the meat to cover, let stand for 5 minutes, then drain the meatand return it to the mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the garlic, cumin and tomato paste. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Reserve.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onions and green pepper and cook until the onions are lightly golden. Add the reserved goat meat and continue cooking until the meat has taken on color. Pour over the 4 cups water, bring quickly to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook, with the pan partially covered, for 45-60 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure the dish isn't drying out. If it is, add additional boiling water. When the meat is tender and the sauce thickened, add the coconut milk, cook for about one more minute until the coconut milk is heated, then remove from heat and place into a large serving bowl or on a platter. Sprinkle with the chopped green onions and cilantro and serve immediately. Accompany with plain white rice or mashed potatoes.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cabrito - A Regional Meat Goes National in Brazil

For a number of historical, meteorological and geographical reasons, the foods and gastronomy of Brazil ranges widely from region to region. It's more than 2300 miles as the crow flies from Boa Vista, Brazil's northernmost state capital, to Porto Alegre, its southernmost (and it's much, much longer by road!). That's about the same distance as Minneapolis, MN, to San Jose, Costa Rica. It stands to reason that the traditional ingredients and culinary techniques of Boa Vista will not be much like those of Porto Alegre.

Historically, the northeastern region of Brazil has always been the only part of the country where a significant quantity of a meat called cabrito is consumed. In English we'd call this meat kid, since cabrito refers to meat from a young goat - though, because of the double meaning of kid in English, you're unlikely to hear many people say they roasted a kid last night, or that their favorite sandwich is a kidburger. In northeastern Brazil, however, cabrito is a highly-valued meat, and has always been one of the primary sources of animal protein. Its popularity has been due to at least two factors: historical ties to Portugal, where cabrito has long been consumed, and the hot, dry climate and  poor soil of the northeast, which means that goats are one of the few domesticated animals that can survive the harsh conditions.

Outside of the northeast, Brazilians haven't been known as big eaters of cabrito. This situation is rapidly changing, however, and in the big cities and small towns of southern Brazil, cabrito is enjoying a new wave of popularity. One of the reasons is the fact that regional Brazilian cuisines are increasingly being recognized outside their home base, and creative chefs everywhere in the country are using traditional regional cuisines as inspiration. The other reason is the nutritional qualities of cabrito itself. Goat meat is very low in fat - with a fat content of 2.75%, it's lower in fat than skinless chicken (3.75%) and much lower than beef, which comes in at an average of 17.4%. It's very low in cholesterol, and has high levels of calcium, iron, and valuable omega-3 and omega-6 oils.

If Brazilians outside the northeastern region haven't eaten much cabrito until recently, North Americans and Northern Europeans have eaten even less. The meat has always been popular, though, in traditional cuisines of Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. With increased immigration from those regions, cabrito (often labelled "goat") is becoming more available in butcher shops and ethnic markets in places like the USA, Canada, England or Germany. If you'd like to try cabrito, check for these shops in your city - you might particularly look for butcher shops that identify themselves as halal, which means meat slaughtered and prepared in the manner prescribed by Islamic law. Most halal butcher shops will have cabrito.

In the next couple of posts here on Flavors of Brazil, we'll provide some recipes for this tasty and very healthy meat. Brazilians in the country's northeast have been cooking cabrito for a long time, so they're very good at it. It's worth giving it a try. You just might like it (especially if you're fond of cabrito's animal cousin, lamb).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RECIPE - Mackerel in a Sweet/Sour Sauce (Sororoca com molho tarê)

Last week, Flavors of Brazil reported (here) that famed chef Alex Atala's D.O.M. restaurant in São Paulo had been named the seventh-best restaurant in the world. In celebration of this achievement, Brazilian food magazine Prazeres da Mesa published seven recipes from D.O.M. in their online edition.

All the recipes (in Portuguese only) can be found by clicking here. Below is one of the seven recipes, which we've translated and adapted for our readers. We decided that some of the other recipes from D.O.M. really are not meant for home kitchens - dishes such as Rã com purê de couve flor e curry negro (Frog with cauliflower puree and black curry) - or depended on ingredients unavailable outside Brazil - Ovo pochê com tucupi e mandioca (Poached egg with manioc and tucupi sauce). The recipe below can be made in almost any home kitchen and calls for ingredients that are universally obtainable. The fish specified is mackerel, which is widely available  It does include xanthan gum, a sugar-based food thickener, which can be found at most restaurant supply stores, and the herb purslane. We've seen purslane for sale at North American farmer's markets, but since it's a garnish only in this recipe it can be eliminated or other herbs can be substituted.
RECIPE - Mackerel in a Sweet/Sour Sauce (Sororoca com molho tarê)
Serves 4

4 fillet pieces of mackerel, with skins on, each about 4 oz. (120 gr)
1 1/2 Tbsp (20 gr) granulated white sugar
1 tsp (5 gr) xanthan gum
1/4 cup (50 ml) water
3 Tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce
4 tsp (20 ml) rice vinegar
salt, pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil
In a small saucepan, combine the water, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Place over very low heat and cook for 15 minutes, without letting the mixture come to the boil. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature and reserve.

Mix the cooled sauce with the xanthan gum in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand blender or mixer, beat for five minutes at high speed until the mixture thickens. Reserve.

Season the fish with salt and black pepper to taste. In a non-stick frying pan heat a small amount of olive oil until hot but not smoking. Cook the fish, skin side down first, for a few minutes on each side, or until the skin is crispy and the flesh is just beginning to flake. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Reheat the thickened sauce briefly in a small sauce pan.

Place one fillet on each of four plates, skin side up. Glaze the skin with the warmed sauce. Using a teaspoon, draw a line of sauce on each plate near the fish, then add a sprig of purslane to complete the dish. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Coxinha - A Brazilian Fairy Tale

A "Royal" Coxinha
Loyal readers might wonder if Flavors of Brazil itself has gone Crazy for Coxinha (see yesterday's post). They might wonder why this little chicken croquette, small enough to eat in a couple of bites, has already been the subject of two posts on this blog and why it appears that today's offering is another "coxinha special."

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we do admit to enjoying a coxinha from time to time, but share other non-Brazilians' wonder at the reverence with which the coxinha is regarded in Brazilian gastronomic culture. However, just as the American hamburger or France's steak/frites are subjected to overwhelming media coverage in everything from scholarly tomes to comic books, you can't ignore the coxinha if you want to pretend to any sort of complete coverage of Brazil's world of food and eating.

With that in mind, perhaps you might enjoy this possibly apocryphal fairy-tale story of how the coxinha was invented in Brazil more than one hundred years ago. We learned the tale in a recent issue of Brazilian magazine Gula, which incidentally featured a number of articles on the coxinha. The story goes something like this:

One upon a time (actually toward the end of the 19th Century) in the small city of Limeira, Brazil, lived a princess named Isabel. She was normally called simply Princess Isabel, though her real name was Princess Imperial Isabel Cristina Leopoldina Augusta Micaela Gabriela Rafaela Gonzaga. She was their heir to the Brazilian throne, and was married to a European count, Gaston d'Orléans, Count of Eu. The couple lived on an estate called Morro Azul (Blue Hill) in this small town.

The count and the princess had four sons. One of the boys was kept out of public view, as he suffered from mental illness. This young prince refused to eat anything other than chicken thighs (coxa is the Portuguese word for thigh, and coxinha means "little thigh.") , Because he was a prince, the boy's strange dietary habits were indulged and the cook of the estate prepared chicken thighs daily for him.
One fine day, the cook found that she didn't have any chicken thighs for the boy, though there was plenty of chicken meat left over from the previous day's feast. In desperation, she shredded some left-over chicken meat, wrapped it in a ball of dough and then shaped the dough into the form of a chicken thigh. She breaded the concoction and fried it, then presented it to the young prince. She told him that it was a special little thigh (coxinha) fit only for a prince. He so loved the treat that from that day forward his diet changed from real chicken thighs to his cook's coxinha. He would eat nothing else.

Soon, other family members began to demand these coxinhas, and word spread throughout Limeira about the cook's marvelous invention. The fame of the coxinha grew and grew, and eventually its fame and its recipe traveled all throughout the country. And everyone lived happily every after (while snacking on coxinhas, of course).

There's no proof of the veracity of this story, though the local Limeira historical society has found records of the story going back almost to the time the events were supposed to have happened. It's become part of the oral tradition of Limeira and the characters in the story are all historical. So perhaps we all owe the existance of the coxinha to a clever cook faced with a dilemma who invented an artificial chicken thigh to placate a hungry young prince.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Crazy for Coxinha

Veloso Bar's coxinha
Way back in 2009, in the early days of Flavors of Brazil, we wrote a post about an iconic Brazilian snack food called coxinha. As we said in that post, a coxinha is "a small, teardrop-shaped chicken croquette." and there's no doubt it's the most popular quick snack in Brazil. One can buy a coxinha at almost every one of Brazil's thousands of stand-up lunch counters, at juice bars, at buffets, and even in the country's finest and most upmarket restaurants.

Brazilians are crazy for the coxinha. It has a place in Brazilian culture analogous to the Great American Hot Dog, and shares some of the virtues of that sausage-in-a-bun. It's small but filling - it makes that pesky hole in the stomach disappear in short order. It can be eaten without a plate or silverware, even while walking down the street. It provides that salt and fat that one craves from time to time, particularly when drinking beer. The main difference between the Brazilian coxinha and the American hot dog is merely that you can buy a hot dog at the ballpark, but there are no coxinha vendors selling their wares in the stands of a Brazilian futebol field.

The love that some Brazilians have for the coxinha is reflected in a blog called Soy Loco Por Ti, Coxinha!, dealing with all things coxinha, which refers to the coxinha as "Sacred Cone." The title of the blog translates as "I'm crazy for you, coxinha" and is in Spanish rather in Portuguese in homage to Caetano Veloso's famous song "Soy Loco Por Ti, América!" The blog is the work of a group of coxinha enthusiasts and biologists from Unifesp, the Federal University of São Paulo. It's filled with coxinha lore and legend, and perhaps most interestingly, a complex and detailed evaluation of the coxinhas from a number of Brazilian bars and restaurants - all done with the goal of finding Brazil's best coxinha.

After extensive on-site research of bars and restaurants, mostly in the vicinity of São Paulo, the bloggers from Soy Loco Por Ti, Coxinha! have crowned a São Paulo bar named Veloso as coxinha-champion of the world. Here's a translation of the review of Veloso's coxinha by one of the blog's critics, Gabú:

Veloso's Sacred Cone is almost perfect. The flavor is marvelous, the spicing is just right, the crust sweet and crunchy, the dough is sinfully good - even though is made with wheat flour it is light and not at all gluey. We do have a few reservations, though. The shape isn't perfect, not the shape we all adore, and the coxinha is just a touch greasy, though this might be due to the fact that they are made to order...

Veloso's coxinhas cost R$3.50 (about USD $2.00) each, or one can buy a basket of six for R$17.50 (USD $11.00), This makes it a relatively expensive coxinha, due no doubt to the fact that it is being served in an upscale bar in Brazil's most expensive city. From the sounds of the blog's review, however, it sounds like it is still a reasonable value.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Don't Tell Coca-Cola about Cocada Cearense!

When Flavors of Brazil is out shopping for food, whether in a supermarket, a traditional outdoor market, or gourmet shop, we're always on the outlook for interesting, locally-produced artisanal foods. There's a number of reasons for this - first, they are often wonderfully delicious products; second, they're sometimes quirky and unusual, and finally, they just might provide subject matter for a posting here at the blog.

Yesterday, a group of friends had a late lunch at a neighborhood casual dining spot called Budega do Poço, famous for its oil-and-garlic shrimps. Attached to the restaurant is a small shop that sells local food products. Browsing the selection, on the outlook for something new and untried, we spotted a plastic carton containing a dozen round cakes of cocada, a sweet made from a simple mixture of grated fresh coconut, whole milk and sugar. (Click here to read more about cocada.) Plain, natural and traditional, cocada is a Brazilian sweet with a long history and something found all around the country. These were made by a local company, and were branded Cocada Cearense - that is "cocada from Ceará", the state of which Fortaleza is the capital.

What brought a smile to our faces, and what made us buy a carton was the Cocada Cearense label. Here's a photo of it.

Does it remind you of something you've seen before? The colors, the typeface? Perhaps the world's most famous soft drink?

I certainly hope that Coca-Cola's in-house lawyers have better things to do than hassle this obviously miniscule company over trademarked fonts and logos. But I know that multinational giants often go to ridiculous lengths to protect their trademarks. So Flavors of Brazil asks all its readers - Please, don't tell Coca-Cola about Cocada Cearense!

Friday, April 22, 2011

RECIPE - Chocolate Salami (Salame de Chocolate)

Seeing that there's less than 48 hours before the Easter Bunny is due to make his rounds, and since yesterday's post here at Flavors of Brazil concerned wild Brazilian cacau, it somehow seems appropriate to feature a chocolate recipe today - one from the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

Santa Catarina is largely populated by descendents of European immigrants to Brazil - from Italy, from Germany, Poland, Austria and other Eastern European countries. They have brought central European traditions with them, including culinary traditions involving preserving meat through smoking, brining and sausage making. This recipe for a popular Catarinense treat turns a fudge-like chocolate preparation into a fake salami look-alike. Shaped into sausage-shaped rolls, and sliced into rounds just like a real sausage, the resemblance is startling. Flecked with bits of Brazil nut, this salami even imitates the bits of fat that fleck port sausage.
RECIPE - Chocolate Salami (Salame de Chocolate)
20 portions

12 ounces (30 grams) semi-sweet baking chocolate, in pieces
1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter
2 Tbsp rolled oat flakes
1 cup crushed arrowroot cookies
1/2 cup (125 ml) finely chopped Brazil nuts
3 ounces (85 grams) white baking chocolate, chopped
In a double boiler, melt the semi-sweet chocolate and butter together over medium heat. Remove from heat once melted and let cool. Stir in the oats, the crumbled cookies and the Brazil nuts. Finally, stir in the white chocolate.

Spread the mixture out on a large piece of wax paper. Shape the mass into a roll about 12 inches (30 cm) long, using the wax paper to help form a sausage-shaped piece. Once the roll is formed inside the wax paper, fold the ends of the wax paper tightly, and place the roll in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to chill thoroughly.

When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator, unwrap the roll and slice into thick slices. Let rest for approximately 15 minutes to warm slightly, then serve.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hunters of the Wild Cacau

In a recent article in São Paulo newspaper Estado de S. Paulo, Cintia Bertolino, reporting from the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, highlighted the work of a small group of "wild-chocolate hunters." The cacaueiro, or cacau tree, which bears the fruit from which chocolate is made, is native to the Amazon and in the most remote reaches of the rain forest there are still places in which the wild ancestor of the cultivated, hybridized commercial cacau tree flourishes.

As the world's appetite for chocolate, and for new chocolate experiences grows unabated, chocolate producers are constantly looking out for new and exotic sources of chocolate. Wild chocolate appears to be one of these new sources, and according to chocolate experts, offers a new chocolate experience. Harvesting the wild fruit also provides a living for a few residents of the rain forest, most of whom are native Americans.

Here is a translation of Ms. Bertolino's article:

Finding cacau trees in the Amazonian forest without trained eyes or an internal GPS - which only those who were born on the banks of the great river and in the forest possess - is like trying to find a needle in a haystack populated by nosy mosquitos and enormous ants.

None of this distracts Alisson Apurinã in his work. For the past three years, beginning in March, the young man of Indian origin sets out in his canoe at the break of dawn and paddles the Purus river in search of native cacau trees, sprinkled throughout the forests of the [Brazilian] state of Amazonas. The cacau trees, ancient and tall, are part of the local ecosystem and until recently bore fruit that no one bothered to harvest. Because they have not been planted by humans in plantations, these trees bear a different fruit, smaller and stronger in flavor than domesticated varieties.

Less bitter than hybridized cultivars, wild or native cacau has good acidity and a taste that is characteristic of chocolate. "When you think of chocolate, this is it. It's not so fruity, but it is the quintessence of chocolate," says American Frederick Schilling, developer of Amma Chocolate along with Bahian partner Diego Badaró.

Finding a cacau tree in the midst of other trees is not an easy task. In March, when the harvest that extends to May begins, Apurinã starts his daily search at 7 a.m. Arriving in the forest by boat or canoe and with three large sacks in hand, he begins his hunt.

Some cacau trees reach 25 meters [80 feet], which no pruning-hook can reach. That means that the tree must be climbed, a feat that Apurinã accomplishes with impressive agility. On a good day, when his sacks are full, he finishes climbing at 3 p.m. But the task of carrying the sacks through the jungle to his canoe still remains to be done.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brazilian Restaurant Climbs to Number Seven in World's Best Restaurant List

On April 29th last year, Flavors of Brazil reported in this post that São Paulo's D.O.M. restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Alex Atala, had been named the 18th best restaurant in the world in the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

The 2011 awards have just been announced, and D.O.M. has climbed from 18th position to 7th, a jump of 11 places. It has also retained last year's Aqua Panna award as the best restaurant in South America. D.O.M. is the only Brazilian restaurant in the Best 50 ranking., though two additional Brazilian restaurants, Fasano and Mani, were featured in the ancillary Best 51-100 list, coming in at positions 59 and 74 respectively.

Copenhagen, Denmark restaurant Noma was named the world's best for the second year running, and second and third place restaurants were both from Spain.

A complete list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants can be found here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RECIPE - Dobradinha

On Monday, in a post on Flavors of Brazil about the Brazilian tripe-and-beans dish known as dobradinha, I promised that on Wednesday (today) a typical recipe for that dish would be posted. And as far as this blog is concerned, a kept promise is the best kind, so here is the recipe.

Naturally, a dish that has a long and glorious history, like dobradinha, will have countless varieties and variations. Some are regional and some are historical. The one thing about this multitude of recipes is that everyone thinks that their mother has the original (and best) recipe. A good dobradina has to be exactly like Mamãe (Mommy) made it all those years ago.

This recipe comes from the southeastern interior of Brazil, from the state of Minas Gerais. Minas was one of the earliest-settled parts of Brazil and is one of the parts of Brazil in which the influence of Portugal is strongly felt - from the food, to the music, and to the amazing Baroque architecture that graces its churches and relious buildings. Since dobradinha is of Portuguese origin, it makes sense that Mineiro (from Minas Gerais) dobradinha is considered among the best and most traditional.

One thing to note - this recipe calls for the use of a pressure cooker. Almost every Brazilian kitchen has a pressure cooker, and most Brazilian cooks use it daily. A kitchen without a pressure cooker here in Brazil would be like a 21st-century North American kitchen without a microwave - you can cook without one, but most choose not to. The recipe can be made successfully with a pressure cooker. Just allow for approximately double the cooking time for the various parts of the dish - beans, meats - and watch carefully to make sure that the dish doesn't become dried out. Just add a small amount of warm or hot water when that appears to be happening.

This dish is very hearty and substantial. Traditionally it is served with white rice, Mineiro-style kale, and manioc flour (farinha).
RECIPE - Dobradinha
Serves 8

2 cups dried white beans - Navy beans, cannellini beans or similar
2 lbs (1 kg) tripe
juice of 2 large limes
1/2 cup (125 ml) cachaça
2 unpeeled limes, sliced
white or yellow cornmeal
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
Italian parsley and green onions (green part only), to taste
1/2 cup lard or neutral vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 Tbsp. ground annatto (urucum) - sweet paprika may be substituted
1 clove garlic, peeled and pounded to a paste with 1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
Prepare the beans: Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Alternatively, put the beans in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water, place on medium high heat on the stove and bring to a boil rapidly. Boil for one minute, then remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for one hour. Once soaked or pre-boiled, put the beans in a heavy pan, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let the beans slowly boil (just a few bubbles appearing at any time) for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Cooking time depends on size and age of beans, so begin checking beans after about 40 minutes. The beans are done when they are fully tender but not falling apart. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and reserve.

Prepare the tripe: Cut the tripe into small 2 inch squares. Put the squares in a large saucepan, cover with water, then add the lime juice and cachaca to the pan. Bring to a full boil and boil for five minutes. Remove from heat. Drain the tripe into a colander, rinse with plenty of running water and reserve. Wash the pan, then return the drained tripe to the pan and cover with fresh water. Again bring to a boil, cook for five minutes, then drain and reserve. Repeat the process a third time. After draining a final time, rub the tripe with the lime slices and cornmeal to clean it thoroughly and remove all dirt. Rinse under a thin stream of water, scrubbing the lime and cornmeal into the tripe as you rinse. (This process eliminates the strong odor of unwashed tripe and is essential to a successful dobradinha.)

Make the dobradinha: In a pressure cooker with the top off, melt the lard or add the vegetable oil. Then add these ingredients in order: garlic, onion, annatto or paprika, salt to taste, tomatoes green onion and bay leaf. Stir and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, or until the onion and pepper begins to soften. Add the tripe, mixing it in thoroughly until it begins to color from the annatto. Slowly add water - just enough to cover the ingredients by about one inch. Close the pressure cooker, and cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tripe is tender (If not using a pressure cooker, cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours). When the tripe is tender, add in the beans, and cook, with the pressure cooker uncovered, for about 5 minutes, or until everything is heated through and the beans have been flavored by the tripe. Remove from heat.

Place in a decorative serving bowl, and sprinkly chopped parsley and green onion over the top. Serve immediately.

(Note: some recipes call for additional meats - sausages, pork ribs, or bacon. If adding these, put them in the pressure cooker at the same time as the tripe, and cook as directed above.)

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dobradinha - A Sunday Feast

I've been to pizza parties, to strawberry ice-cream socials, and even to a beaver roast, but until yesterday I'd never been to a dobradinha party. On a rainy Sunday afternoon here in Fortaleza, a friend of mine hosted just such a party for about twenty guests. The focus of the party was a traditional dish called dobradinha, and the party was in honor of a visiting friend from Rio de Janeiro whose culinary specialty just happens to be dobradinha. So even though this friend was the guest of honor, he was given the task of making the main dish. Which he did a magnificent job of, by the way.

Dobradinha is one of the meat-and-bean dishes that Brazil has inherited from its Portuguese ancestors, just like the famous Brazilian feijoada. In Portugal the dish is a specialty of the north of the country, and is the subject of a famous poem by Fernando Pessoa, "Dobrada à moda do Porto". The Portuguese call the dish dobrada, and the Brazilians, who like to add diminuitives to many words have modified that name to dobradinha, meaning little dobrada.

Dobrada is the Portuguese term for cow's stomach and the dish features exactly that ingredient. The meat portion of the dish consists of tripe (which is the gastronomic term for cow's stomach), smoked pork ribs and linguiça sausages. The beans used in dobradinha are dried white beans, what we might call Navy beans - the type from which Boston baked beans are made. The beans are either cooked in a pressure cooker or slow cooked, and the meats are added towards the end of the cooking process.

Yesterday, the guest of honor-cum-cook, whose name is Napoleão, started to cook the dobradinha about 9 am, and the dish was ready to serve around 2 pm. Dobradinha is not something you'd want to make for a quick weeknight supper!  Cleaning the tripe was the first step, and any good dobradinha cook will tell you that a proper and thorough cleaning of the stomach is the secret to a successful dish. Then the beans were cooked in a pressure cooker while the ribs and linguiça were browned. Finally all the ingredients were mixed together and the completed stew was allowed to bubble slowly on the stove for a couple of hours.

The dobradinha was served accompanied only by white rice and hot sauce for those who wished to add it to the dish. Most of the guests washed it down with plenty of beer. Most of the guests were enthusiastic dobradinha eaters, though as is often the case with organ-meat dishes, some just weren't interested in trying it - fortunately, there was an alternative dish of chicken stroganoff for those who didn't have the stomach for stomach.

I found the dobradinha a delightful variation on feijoada. The beans were creamy-soft and melted in the mouth. The tripe was cooked to a gelatinous state, but still had a bit of firmness to it, so that it didn't feel overly-mushy as can sometimes happen with tripe. It was extremely rich, and one plateful, plus a bit of rice, was very filling. I'm not normally a lover of innards, and have to confess that I approached the dobradinha with a bit of trepidation, but I'm glad I tried it. It's a dish with a long and noble history and an important part of Brazilian food culture - and that's what Flavors of Brazil is all about.
Tripe and linguiça sausage
Pot of dobradinha
Dobradinha for 20
The chef - Napoleão

On Wednesday, I'll provide a typical recipe for dobradinha.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Leblon Cachaça - What Do The Critics Say?

After completing yesterday's post on Leblon cachaça and its American CEO, I went out here in Fortaleza to check availability of the product in supermarkets and liquor stores in my neighborhood (and perhaps to pick up a bottle, strictly for research purposes of course). I wasn't able to find any in my usual spots. There were industrial cachaças and artisanal cachaças, there were local bottles and some from other regions of Brazil, but no Leblon. I'll keep looking, but I'm beginning to suspect that the company is more focused on the export market than the Brazilian domestic one.

Failing to obtain a bottle of the stuff, I thought I'd check out a few internet sites that have reviews of liquor to see what the online experts and liquor bloggers have to say about Leblon. Most of what I found was quite positive, including a review on the blog that I consider the most informed source of cachaça lore and information - Cachaçagora. In September 2008, the blog published a glowing review of Leblon in an article which contains the usual Cachaçagora of serious discussion of cachaça and humorous personal anecdotes. (If you want to know what a gringorinha is, here is a link to the article). The blog's author suggests that one reason for his high opinion of Leblon might be the fact that the product is aged in XO cognac casks which give it a distinct flavor. He highlights Leblon's "featherlight smoothness and cane-rich aroma". He also approved of the spirit's "light fruity notes with just the right bit of 'earthiness' that some cachaça makers seeking northern-hemisphere markets try their best to soft-pedal."

Somewhat less complimentary was the review on a site called Liquor Snob. There, the fact that Leblon carries some of the astringency characteristic of inexpensive cachaças and the distinctly rummy sweetness of the product met with some disapproval. However, they summed up their review by saying that Leblon was "Good but not great, especially for the higher price. We were a bit disappointed with Leblon after all the hype we've been hearing. It wasn't bad by any means, and we're of the opinion that a middling Cachaca is better than nothing, but we wanted to be blown away." Drinkhacker's opinion mirrored Liquor Snob's and the blog gave Leblon a B+ rating.

If and when I find a bottle of Leblon, either here in Brazil or on a trip to North America, I'll add a Flavors of Brazil review to this blog. Until then, if any of our readers have personal experience of Leblon, please leave a comment (and a review).


Friday, April 15, 2011

Steve Luttman - The American Behind Brazil's Leblon Cachaça

I recently returned to Brazil from a three-week visit to Canada and the USA. I'm always looking for things that might appear on Flavors of Brazil when I travel, and one thing that I noticed is it is becoming increasingly possible to order a caipirinha in bars and restaurants. The caipirinha, of course, is Brazil's most famous cocktail, made with cachaça, a distilled sugar-cane liquor, limes and sugar. Ten or fifteen years ago caipirinhas were nowhere to be seen on the North American bar scene, but now they're popping up all over the place. Casual taverns, bars in airports, contemporary-gastronomy restaurants, even a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver - they all have caipirinhas on their drinks menu.

Steve Luttmann
I also noted that many times the brand of cachaça specified on the menu was Leblon (especially in bars where the vodka is likely to be Grey Goose and the gin Bombay Sapphire). It was not a brand that I was familiar with here in Brazil, and upon my return to Brazil my curiosity got the best of me and I did a bit of research on it. It turns out that Leblon (named after a chic neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro) is a relatively new brand which distills its product in the small city of Patos in the state of Minas Gerais. It also turns out that the CEO of Leblon is an American, Steve Luttmann, who has made it his own personal crusade to spread the good word about cachaça and the caipirinha around the world. Leblon's "Legalize Cachaça" campaign is classic 21st century marketing and seems to be doing what it's meant to do - increase consumer awareness and thereby increase sales.

Steve Luttman was recently interviewed by Brazilian gastronomic magazine Prazeres da Mesa. In the interview he detailed what he is attempting to do, and where he hopes to take the cachaça market outside Brazil. Here is a translation (mine) of that interview:

What is the image that most North Americans have of Brazil?
It's still considered an exotic place. Some still think, for example, that the capital of Brazil is Buenos Aires. But they know that Brazil has the most beautiful women and the best party in the world - carnaval.

And how are they reacting to cachaça?
One good point about Americans is that they like to try new things. Besides, the best-selling cocktail in the USA is the margarita, a [Mexican] classic that combines lime juice, tequila and Cointreau and which is very similar to the caipirinha. That's the key, in my opinion, to market innovation. In order to gain strength in the cocktail market, you've got to have a firm footing in familiarity.

What about Brazilians? Do you think they will accept having their national drink distilled by an American?
The problem is that the true Brazilian has a prejudice against cachaça, because he sees it as a low-quality product. A good cachaça can be as high-quality as a wine - it's the Brazilian "champagne." It's important that the consumer understands this. Our team is working round the clock to change this. We're now found in the most elegant hotels in São Paul and Rio de Janeiro and in restaurants such as those of Alex Atala, Claude Troisgros and Roberta Sudbreck plus the Fasano group.

The master-distiller of Leblon is Gilles Merlet, from France, and also responsible for other products such as Hennessy Cognac. Does he come to Brazil or work at distance?
Gilles spends three or four months in Brazil, at harvest time. Outside this period, we send samples to him almost daily so that he doesn't miss a single step in the production process. It's an honor, for us, to have him on the team. In the world market, Gilles is for distilled products what Michel Rolland is for wines.

In your opinion, what makes Leblon different from other cachaças?
Our product is a blended cachaça, resulting in a product with complex aromas and flavors.

Finally, does the average American know how to make a good caipirinha?
The traditional recipe for a "kuai-pur-een-ya" (as Americans tend to pronounce caipirinha) has been demonstrated [by Leblon] in videos and in our consumer marketing campaign. However, certain adaptations have been put into practice, too. Americans are always in a hurry, so they sometimes mix a caipirinha with boxed or bottled lime juice, or even lime soda! But the good bartenders use the traditional recipe, and are learning to experiment with exotic modifications such as strawberry with basil, or cucumber with jalapenos peppers and dates, for example.

Luttmann can prove his point about the continuing acceptance of Leblon in the international market merely by pointing to his company's sales growth. In their first year of business, 2005, Leblon produced 20,000 9-liter cases of cachaça. Last year that number was 100,000 cases. According to Luttmann, American consumer awareness for the caipirinha is currently about 30% and cachaça itself about 20%. He is intent on increasing those percentages significantly in the years to come.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The "Magic" Pitanga - A New Book from Brazil

The delightful Brazilian fruit called pitanga has been covered previously on Flavors of Brazil. (Click here to read more.) Its versatility and utility are well-known to Brazilian cooks and chefs, and it's one of those fruits that suits both savory and sweet dishes. It also is used as an ingredient in health and beauty products - in Brazil and increasingly outside the country.

Recently Brazilian publisher Optionline launched a book entirely dedicated to this little red berry, entitled Pitanga Mágica (Magic Pitanga). The author is Luiz Grossman, an agricultural engineer from São Paulo state, who has studied pitanga for more than ten years at an experimental farm in the city of Ibiúna. There he cultivates more than 25,000 pitanga trees for his research purposes.

Professor Grossman says that even after such a long time studying this fruit, he is still learning about new properties of the pitanga. "It's a marvelous and unique plant," he says. "We have been doing laboratory tests in the labs of USP (Universidade de São Paulo)...This plant has uses in cooking, in cosmetics and in health. The essential oils from pitanga leaves contain substances found in no other plant."

In cosmetics, the pitanga has important use in anti-acne creams and aids in facial revitalizing lotions and creams. A simple tea brewed from pitanga leaves can aid in combating fevers and gastrointestinal problems as well as rheumatic pains. Pitanga is rich in lycopene, a carotene that is also found in tomatoes, watermelons and papayas and which has been shown to have valuable antioxidant properties.

The book, which is in Portuguese, can be purchased online from Brazilian bookstore, Livraria Cultura and costs R$50 (about USD $30). (Direct link here.)Incidentally, all proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Unibes, the Brazilo-Israeli Social Welfare Union.

Professor Grossman feels that the pitanga has symbolic importance among Brazilian fruits. The book is subtitled "The most Brazilian fruit - in cooking, cosmetics and health." Grossman says, "The Pitanga is the emblematic fruit of Brazil, since it will bear fruit in any backyard in the country, in any region." Whether one comes across the pitanga in a salad dressing, a jam or jelly, a face cream, or a tea bag, one is consuming just a bit of Brazil along with that little red berry. All hail the mighty pitanga.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RECIPE - Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)

Surprisingly, one way in which many Brazilians enjoy the sharp and invigorating taste of orange in the morning is in the form of a cake. Cakes are rarely thought of as breakfast food in most cultures, but they have established a place at the breakfast table in Brazil. Even a simple eat-at-home, everyday breakfast (café da manhã in Portuguese) often includes a piece or two of cake along with the usual fruit, bread and butter. In restaurants and hotels, where a large breakfast buffet is the norm, there are always a number of cakes on offer, and my own anecdotal research indicates that Brazilians readily avail themselves of this bounty.

Most of the cakes eaten at breakfast are unfrosted (but not all of them) and fall into the category of what we might call pound cakes. At times, this simple loaf cake is made from only flour, sugar, butter or oil and eggs, but at other times, additional flavoring ingredients are added, like orange, lime, pineapple or passion fruit. 

Here's a typical recipe for Brazilian orange cake, courtesy of Brazil's Globo TV network, and its daily morning show Mais Você. It's very easy to make as the ingredients are mixed in a blender (including an entire orange). The cake is delectable, and has an assertive orange flavor. It is suitable for the breakfast table, or for coffee break, mid-afternoon snack or evening dessert.
RECIPE - Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)

2 cups granulated white sugar
3 whole eggs, preferably free-range
1 medium orange
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, canola or sunflower preferred
2 cups cake flour (all-purpose flour can be substituted)
1 Tbsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 450F (230C). Grease a loaf or tube cake pan generously with butter, then dust with flour. Reserve the pan.

Carefully wash the orange, scrubbing the skin well. Cut it into quarters, then remove the white mass that runs down the center of the orange. De-seed the orange. 

Combine in a food processor or sturdy blender the orange quarters, the sugar, eggs and oil. Blend at high speed until you have a homogenous mixture. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl.

In another large mixing bowl combine the flour and baking powder and stir with a wooden spoon to mix well. Add the sieved liquid and mix into the flour with the wooden spoon until the batter is homogenous. You do not need to use a cake beater, just combine thoroughly.

Pour the batter into the greased cake pan and place in the preheated oven. Reduce oven heat to 400F (200C) and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the cake pan.

If desired, powdered sugar can be sprinkled on the top of the cake once it's completely cooled.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

RECIPE - Roulade of Chicken with Orange Juice (Rolê de Frango com Suco de Laranja)

Most of Brazil's annual production of oranges is exported (click here to read more), and most of what remains in Brazil is eaten fresh or drunk as fresh-squeezed orange juice. However, oranges and orange juice have found a place in Brazilian gastronomy and are used as an ingredient in prepared recipes and dishes. Naturally, many of these dishes are desserts, pastries, cakes and sweets, but orange juice is sometimes called for in savory dishes as well.

This recipe is an example of such savory dishes - a main-course preparation of small rolls formed from boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked in a sauce of concentrated (but not FOJC) orange juice. This recipe calls for concentrated fresh-squeezed orange juice, which sounds like a contradiction but which is not. To concentrate the juice required for this dish, squeeze enough orange juice to make one cup. Then boil it rapidly until it is concentrated by half - until you have a half-cup remaining.
RECIPE - Roulade of Chicken with Orange Juice (Rolê de Frango com Suco de Laranja)
Serves 6

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
2 large, ripe tomato - peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips about 1 inch (2 cm) long
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
kitchen twine
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Prepare the orange juice. Put the juice plus the garlic and onion in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue to boil until the juice is reduced to 1/2 cup. Remove from the heat, discard the garlic and onion, and reserve.

Prepare the chichen. Place each breast half between two pieces of wax paper and with a mallet or the bottom of a wine bottle lightly pound them to reduce their thickness. Remove from the wax paper, and using a sharp long knife, cut each piece in half again, horizontally. Reserve.

Lay out each piece of chicken, season it with salt and pepper, then cover it with a slice of cheese, trimming the cheese to fit the chicken. Top with two or more strips of tomato. Roll the chicken along the narrow axis to create a tight roll, then tie with kitchen twine to retain its shape during cooking.

Place the rolls in a small casserole or gratin dish, just large enough to hold them. Drizzle the concentrated juice over and place in preheated oven. Cook for about 45 minutes or until the rolls are fully-cooked and browned on top. During the cooking time, you can use a turkey baster to pour some of the pan juices over the rolls if you wish a richer color.

Serve immediately with white rice and a green salad.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Orange Juice - Suco de Laranja

Brazil is the world's largest orange producing nation in the world, even though the fruit is not native to Brazil. The orange is Asian in origin, and is probably a very ancient hybrid - a cross between two other citrus fruits, the pomelo and the mandarin. It is certain that it was cultivated in China as far back as 2500 BC. In some languages, such as Dutch, the word for orange can be translated into English as 'Chinese apple" highlighting the fruit's Asiatic origins.

Today, the bulk of the world's commercial orange production, much of which is converted into frozen orange-juice concentrate (known in the industry as FOJC), comes from Brazil and from southern Florida in the USA. Brazil's annual orange production is about 19 million tons, more than the total of the next three countries (USA, India and Mexico) combined.

Within Brazil, production is located primarily in the state of São Paulo which accounts for 80% of Brazil's production and 53% of the global market for FOJC. Interestingly, 99% of Brazil's total annual crop is exported, leaving only 1% to serve the domestic market.

Although the market for FOJC has not been growing as rapidly as non-concentrated juice (think Tropicana), most of the world's orange juice still undergoes the concentration and freezing process before it is exported from Brazil.

Though FOJC is the primary method of exporting orange juice from Brazil, it is not marketed domestically. I've never seen it in any supermarket in Brazil, and most Brazilians are not even cognizant of what it is. Brazilians do love orange juice, and drink a lot of it (even that 1% is a tremendous quantity of oranges) but it is almost always served fresh squeezed. Every juice bar in the country has the capability of make fresh-squeezed juice, as do most lunch and snack counters, bars and restaurants. If you order an orange juice, you can count on receiving a glass of fresh-squeezed juice. And if you've ever had fresh-squeezed juice, you'll know that it's incomparably better than even the best reconstituted frozen juice or even commercial never-been-concentrated juice. To confusingly misuse a metaphor - it's apples and oranges.

One word of advise for those readers of Flavors of Brazil who might find themselves ordering an orange juice from a juice bar or restaurant in Brazil: if you don't want added sugar in your juice, specify that you want "suco de laranja natural". Adding "natural" to the phrase indicates that you want pure juice, without added sugar or sweetener. Personally, even though I'm aware of the notorious Brazilian sweet tooth, I cannot understand why anyone thinks that naturally-sweet orange juice needs to be sweetened, but many do in Brazil. To visit Brazil and not drink fresh-squeezed orange juice would be a crime. So do so, but do try it without sugar - it's nothing but pure naturally-sweet juice and there's nothing better.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

RECIPE - Passion Fruit Curd (Coalhada de Maracujá)

This recipe for passion fruit curd, made in the style of English lemon curd, isn't Brazilian at all, though it could be. That's why I think it deserves a place here at Flavors of Brazil. For if passion fruit (maracujá in Portuguese) isn't a Brazilian flavor, then I don't know what is. Besides, as regular readers of the blog know, I'm wild about any food that includes passion fruit - including this one.

I happened across it while bouncing around the web the other day in a beautiful Australian blog called Almost Bourdain. It would make sense that an Aussie food blog would have just such a passion fruit recipe, as the fruit grows there as well as it does in Brazil and passion fruit is an authentic Australian passion - think of Pavlova without passion fruit; it just doesn't make it, does it? In the blog post, the original recipe is credited to an Australian cookbook called bills open kitchen, by Bill Granger.

I have translated the recipe title into Portuguese just to make it look a bit more Brazilian. But true-Brazilian or not, I have a feeling that readers of Flavors of Brazil will love it.

Note: If fresh passion fruits are not available in your area, check the freezer section of your local gourmet supermarket or health food store. You might find frozen passion fruit pulp, and it works very well in this recipe.
RECIPE - Passion Fruit Curd (Coalhada de Maracujá)

4 whole eggs, free-range if possible
1 cup (250 ml) passion fruit pulp, fresh or frozen
2/3 cup (150 gr) superfine (caster) sugar
5 oz (120 gr) unsalted butter, softened

Place the eggs, fruit pulp and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl doesn't touch the water. Cook for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar has dissolved completely and the mixture has thickened . Remove from the heat, then whisk in the butter gradually, a bit at a time, until the mixture is completely homogenous. Let cool completely.

If not using immediately, store in the refrigerator.

Friday, April 8, 2011

RECIPE - Lentil and Salt Cod Salad (Salada de Lentilhas com Bacalhau)

The past few days, we've been concentrating here at Flavors of Brazil on salt cod (bacalhau) associated in Brazil and elsewhere with Lent and the pre-Easter season. Although the most traditional uses of this fish are in main-course hot dishes, salt cod is an adaptable ingredient, and innovative chefs in Brazil are finding new uses for it in all kinds of dishes - particularly salads.

This recipe, from, is a main-course salad featuring lentils and flaked salt cod. Combined with plenty of good, crusty French bread, it's all you need for a substantial mid-day meal. Just remember that you need to plan in advance, though, as the salt cod takes 48 hours for the de-salting process.
RECIPE - Lentil and Salt Cod Salad (Salada de Lentilhas com Bacalhau)
Serves 8

1 1/2 cup lentils, French Le Puy lentils preferred, but brown lentils can be substituted
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 lb (1 kg) good-quality salt cod fillets
8 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup loosely-packed, chopped, fresh herbs - choose from a mixture of parsley, mint, cilantro, basil, green onion
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste.
48 hours before serving cover the salt cod with plenty of cold water and place in refrigerator. Drain and change the water several times a day. When de-salted, simmer the fillet in a large pan, with water to cover, for about 20-30 minutes, or until the fish is tender and begins to flake. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the fish cool in it. When cool, drain the fish then separate it into flakes. Let the flakes cool completely, then reserve.

Using a large heavy pan add the lentils then cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, the reduce heat and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are tender but still firm enough to retain their shape. Check frequently to make sure the lentils do not overcook. When cooked, drain the lentils into a colander and refresh immediately with plenty of running cold water. Let drain completely and reserve.

In a heavy frying pan heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, and when hot add the chopped onions. and cook until the onions are golden. Add the minced garlic, cooking for a minute or so until the garlic releases its aroma. Then add the reserved salt cod and cook for a few minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Try not to break up the flakes of fish. Remove from heat.

Put the salt cod mixture in a large mixing bowl, then the lentils, the tomato cubes and the chopped herbs. Pour the vinegar over the top, then add olive oil slowly while carefully stirring the mixture until the right consistency has been reached (well-dressed but not overly oily). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. Mound the salad on individual serving plates, and just before serving drizzle additional olive oil over each salad.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

RECIPE - Salt Cod with Cashew Nut and Herb Crust (Bacalhau com crosta de ervas e castanha de caju)

The Lenten season is as good a time as any for Flavors of Brazil to feature salt cod (bacalhau). Historically, the dietary restrictions imposed by the Church during the 40 days leading up to the holiday of Easter meant that meal options were either vegetarian or fish. And also historically, problems or transport and refrigeration meant that fresh fish was not available to many people. The solution to this problem? Salt cod, which can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time with spoiling. Plus, it only needs refreshing in lots of fresh water to return to an edible state.

Today, transportation and refrigeration problems have diminished drastically for large sectors of the world's population, but people still eat salt cod. Not because they have no alternative, but because they love it. It's especially cherished in communities where there is a strong historical and culinary tradition associated with salt cold - Italy, Spain and Portugal being only some examples. In countries, regions and cities of the New World where these communities exist, so does salt cod.

If you don't happen to have an Italian or Spanish, Mexican or Brazilian background, salt cod might not be in your current culinary vocabulary, but I recommend you try it. You just might surprise yourself and develop a taste for this fish. Properly prepared, the fish is not overly-salty, though it retains a hint of saltiness no matter how long it's been soaked (an extremely light touch with the salt shaker when seasoning it is recommended). Its flesh is substantial and rich but doesn't taste oily or greasy. It combines with all sorts or ingredients in a stew or chowder, yet can stand on its own, only minimally garnished.

Here's a Brazilian recipe for salt cod with a crust consisting of fresh herbs and cashew nuts (castanha de caju). The presence of the nuts alone is enough to signal the recipe's Brazilian origin. In tomorrow's Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish a recipe for a casserole featuring this versatile fish.
RECIPE - Salt Cod with Cashew Nut and Herb Crust (Bacalhau com crosta de ervas e castanha de caju)
Serves 8

salt cod
3 lbs (1.5 kg) good-quality salt cod - thick cut fillets
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
fresh-ground black pepper to taste

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup roasted, unsalted cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup good-quality bread crumbs
1/2 cup loosely-packed, chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup loosely-packed, chopped green onion
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
48 hours before serving begin to soak the salt cod. Cover it with cold water and refrigerate. Soak for 2 days, changing the water several times a day. Drain the fish.

Place the fish, cut into serving size pieces (see photo) in a large casserole or lasagne dish. Add the garlic cloves, the bay leaf, the thyme and parsley sprigs on top of the fish. Add pepper to taste. Pour the olive oil over then refrigerate the fish for a minimum of 2 hours and a maximum of 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) then roast the fish, in its casserole or lasagne dish for approximately 30 minutes, or until the fish is tender and just begins to flake. Remove from the oven, discard the herbs, remove and save the garlic, then reserve the fish, keeping it warm. Peel the garlic cloves, then mash them, reserve.

While the fish is cooking, heat a good quantity olive oil in a large heavy frying pan, then add the chopped onion and fry until the onion is lightly golden. Add the mashed, roasted garlic, the chopped cashew nuts and the bread crumbs and stir to coat all the ingredients with oil. If the mixture is too dry, add more oil, but not so much as to make a paste. Stir in the chopped parsley and green onion.

Cover each piece of fish with several spoonsful of the cashew mixture, covering the top entirely. Return the fish to the oven and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and crunchy.

Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Salt Cod (Bacalhau) - Some Buying Tips

We're now well into Lent and only a few weeks away from Easter. Which means it's salt cod (bacalhau) season in Brazil. Long since having moved upmarket from a Lenten food for the poor to a luxurious holiday treat, salt cod is served in abundance throughout the 40 days of Lent, even by Brazilians who are not observant Catholics, or for that matter, Christians at all.

When one walks into a Brazilian supermarket at this time of year there are two things that immediately strike one's senses, reminding you that Easter-season is nigh. Your eyes are struck by the bright multi-colored foil wrappings of giant chocolate Easter eggs suspended overhead, and your nose is hit by the unmistakable aroma of salt cod - fishy and redolent of the sea, yet earthy at the same time.

Because salt cod is an expensive food item these days, there is a wide range of product available at a wide range of prices in most supermarkets. The national chains are always looking for ways to offer a less-expensive alternative for those who cannot afford the best pieces of this dried fish. It's important to know a bit about salt cod when buying it - what the differences are from piece to piece, and whether a particular piece is worth the price or not.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying salt cod, whether at Easter or at any other time. They'll help you make sure you're getting the best piece of fish possible for whatever price you are paying.

  • Not all salt cod comes from the same species - for that matter not all salt cod is even from cod species. The best salt cod comes from true Atlantic cod (species: Gadus morhua). Other species, such as Ling, Pollock and Zarbo are inferior (in roughly that order).
  • If not identified on the packaging, true cod can be identified by the thickness of the flesh, the straightness of the tail of the fillet, and its uniform straw-like color. White-fleshed salt cod isn't true cod. Also, the skin peels easily from the flesh in true cod - use your fingers to try to peel away a small corner.
  •  Good salt cod should be quite dry, with no visible moisture. If you can bend a piece in your hands, it's not good quality.
  • Good-quality cod is covered by a uniform layer of hardened salt. The salt should be visible to the eye.

Shopping for fish, whether fresh or salted, is a matter of being a discerning customer and knowing the signals that tell you if the piece you're considering purchasing is good or bad. A little bit of knowledge can help you avoid making a mistake - and with current salt cod prices, an expensive mistake.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

RECIPE - A 19th Century Brazilian Dinner

In yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, I let a 19th Century English author, Henry Koster, describe the dinner he was served in the great house of a sugar plantation in northeastern Brazil sometime in the early part of that century. I commented that the dinner was not that different from what one often finds on the plate in today's Brazil - carne de sol and pirão.

For a lark, I googled recipes looking for exactly this meal, and on one of Brazil's most contemporary websites - Mais Você - I located a recipe for the dinner that Koster was served. The website belongs to a very popular TV show in Brazil - a morning show about cooking, celebrity interviews, heartwarming stories of ordinary Brazilians, sort of a combination of Oprah and Martha Stewart. It's been on the air forever, and its host, Ana Maria Braga, is one of the most recognizable media celebrities in the country. If something's featured on Mais Você then it matters to Brazilians, particularly Brazilian women.

So here is Mais Você 's 21st Century version of that dinner that was served nearly 200 years ago in the great house of a sugar plantation to Henry Koster.
Carne de Sol com Pirao de Leite
Serves 8

2 lbs (1 kg) carne de sol (click here for instructions on how to make your own)
4 cups (1 litre) whole milk
1 cup clarified butter
1 large onion, sliced
2 cups (500 ml) manioc flour (farinha)
salt to taste
Desalt the meat in the refrigerator, in several changes of cold water, for at least 6 hours. In a large heavy saucepan with a lid, bring the milk slowly to the boil, then add the meat, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender, about one hour. Remove the meat from the milk, reserving both.

In a medium saucepan, heat the clarified butter, then add the sliced onions. Fry until the onions until they are lightly golden, the remove them, reserve. Add the reserved meat to the butter and fry until the meat develops a nice crust. Remove the meat, reserving the meat and the butter.

Off heat, mix together the butter used for frying and the reserved milk. Bring them to the boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, then add the manioc flour in small quantities, stirring and mixing each addition before adding another. When it reaches the stage of a loose, moist paste, stop adding flour. Season for salt.

Pour the manioc flour mixture into a large serving bowl, cut the meat into serving-size pieces and put it on a platter, then cover with the reserved onions. Pass both for family-style serving.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mais Você Culinária.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A 19th Century Brazilian Dinner

I'm currently reading a book entitled Travels in Brazil. It was published in 1817 and written by an Englishman named Henry Koster. It has long been out of print. Thanks to the technology of the 21st Century  world of e-reading, I was able to find a digital copy of the book online and add it to my Kindle. I guess that out-of-print books no longer need to be no-longer-available books.

This young Mr. Koster, for non-identified health reasons, was required to leave the cold and damp English climate and relocate to the tropics. Fortunately, it appears that money was no issue for him and he could pick just about anywhere on the globe for his new home. He chose the then-Portuguese colony of Pernambuco, which is now one of 26 Brazilian states.

Mr. Koster had connections as well as cash and soon became linked into the upper levels of Brazilian society - wealthy English merchants, Brazilian governors and captains-general, and Brazilian sugar barons. His book largely describes his travels in northeastern Brazil, visiting huge sugar cane plantations in the interior, and staying in governors' palaces in the capitals.

Notwithstanding all his money and elevated social position Koster is a sympathetic character, not filled with a sense of self-importance. He seems to treat his servants well, and invariably ingratiates himself with his Brazilian hosts when he travels. Here's what he had to say about one particular visit to a sugar plantation:

From Dous Rios, we advanced the following day to the sugar plantation of Espirito Santo, situated upon the banks of the river Paraiba, which becomes dry in the summer, at a short distance above this estate. I had letters to the owner of it, who is a member of the Cavalcante family, and the Capitam-mor of the captaincy of Paraiba. I was received by him in a very friendly manner. The house is in the usual style of the country having only the ground-floor, and no ceiling, the tiles and rafters being in full view. Supper of dried meat, and the flour of the mandioc made into paste, and called piram, was placed before me; also, some hard biscuits, and red wine. I was not then sufficiently a Brazilian to eat piram, and took the biscuits with the meat in preference, which much astonished my host. Sweetmeats were afterwards brought in, which are always good in the houses of persons of his rank in life; the opulent people in Brazil taking as much pride in their doces, as an English citizen in his table or his wines. The cloth was laid at one end of a long table, and I sat down by myself, whilst the Capitam-mor placed himself upon the the table, near to the other end, and talked to me; and some of the chief persons of his establishment stood around, to see the strange animal called an Englishman...One of his men supposed, that as I spoke Portugueze, either I must be an Englishman who did not speak English, or that any Portugueze,  on going to England, would immediately speak the language of that country, as I did Portuguese.

From Koster's description of that dinner it appears that he was served carne de sol (dried meat as he called it) and pirão (piram is an older form of the word in Portuguese). These dishes are still much eaten in northeastern Brazil, and with the addition of rice this dish would look absolutely contemporary if served today. As for the desserts (sweetmeats), things haven't changed much there either - Brazilian cooks still pride themselves on their doces (sweets), and most Brazilians regularly indulge their sweet tooth with multiple desserts.

The book is a fascinating read and shows both how much has changed in the past 200 years in this part of the world and, at the same time, how little has changed. In the next chapters I'll be reading, Koster visits my Brazilian home state of Ceará. It should be most interesting to find out what he discovers there.

In an early chapter of the book, Koster describes a dinner in the home of one of the sugar barons. It shows that the basics of the Brazilian diet haven't much changed in the past 200 years, and opens the door to a social world far removed from our own.