Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Story of Carmelita - Ver-o-Peso's Queen of Amazonian Fruits

Among all the thousands of vendors hawking their products daily in the stands and stalls of Belém's enormous Ver-o-Peso market, there is only one small stand, operated by one small woman of 62 years, that year-round sells fruits from the Amazonian basin, and only sells Amazonian fruits. No apples, no pears, no strawberries - if it isn't from the Amazon Carmelita dos Passos Rocha wants nothing to do with it.

When Carmelita first opened her small stand at Ver-o-Peso 42 years ago, this wasn't the case. At that time, the shoppers at the market weren't interested in the fruits that flourish in the rain-forest and along the banks of the Amazon. They wanted sophisticated European fruits, which had to be shipped in at great expense, and which often arrived in less-than-perfect condition. Of course, Carmelita, who was only 20 years old when she bought her stand, also sold the more commercialized tropical fruits of Brazil. Things like bananas, mangoes and papayas. But it was her apples and plums that made her living in the early years.

About 15 or 20 years ago, Carmelita was asked by a customer if she sold cupuaçu or tucumã, traditional local fruits which had almost been forgotten. She didn't, but promised the customer she'd find some to sell, and when she did, these local fruits sold very well. She began to add more local fruits, and over time, apples and peaches lost their place in Carmelita's stall - bananas didn't, but she began to carry some more unusual varieties of Brazil's number-one fruit. Today's Carmelita's stand is a shrine to the bounty of the jungle that surrounds Belém. Besides cupuaçu or tucumã, one can find bacaba, açaí, ingá-chinela, bacuri-pari, cajuru and taperebá on display. And if one of these fruits is not currently in season, it's likely that Carmelita will have frozen pulp available. For those pulps, you can thank Carmelita's sister - she's the one who prepares and freezes them.

It's encouraging to see someone like Carmelita flourish. Remaining small and independent, she has created a business that is tied intimately to its own region, and which showcases the region's botanical cornucopia. She surely is Ver-o-Peso's Queen of Amazonian Fruits.

Adapted from material by Olivia Fraga published in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

Monday, May 30, 2011

MARKETS OF BRAZIL - Ver-o-Peso Market, Belém

Brazil, just like the rest of the world, is full of supermarkets. They can be everywhere - on downtown main streets, in the suburbs of the big cities, and anchoring giant Brazilian shopping centers. Fortunately, in many cities the Brazilian supermarket chains have not yet succeeded in totally eliminating central markets, which offer shelter to small individual vendors, each selling a limited range of products. Maybe fruits and vegetables, perhaps dairy, cheese and eggs, or possibly fish, poultry or meat. A Brazilian central market is an impressive place. Usually loud, invariably very colorful, and always aromatic.

Flavors of Brazil has posted articles and photos of some of Brazil's major markets, like São Paulo's Mercado Municipal, Fortaleza's Mercado São Sebastião and Mercado dos Pinhões, and the São Pedro Fish Market in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. These are all important municipal monuments. There's only one city in Brazil, however, where the public market has become the prime symbol of the city itself - what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Opera House is to Sydney - and that's in Belém, capital of the state of Pará and located near the mouth of the Amazon River system in northern Brazil. Belém's market, the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, with it's distinctive steeples, and sky-blue color is emblazoned on souvenir T-shirts, pictured on postcards (to the extent they still exist), captured daily by thousands of digital cameras in the hands of Brazilian and foreign tourists alike, and held in the heart of Belenses (natives of Belém) whether they live one block from the market or thousands of miles away.

The unusual name of the Ver-o-Peso Market dates back to colonial times, when the market housed the offices of the Portuguese colonial tax collector. Ver-o-Peso is a shortened form of the Portuguese phrase "Haver-o-Peso" meaning "possess or obtain the weight." The tax collector was charged with collecting a tariff on all goods coming down the river and this tariff was based not on monetary value of goods but on their weight. Hence, "Ver-o-Peso."

The market is located directly on Belém's riverside waterfront, where the giagantic Amazon forms the Bay of Guajará, and has its own docks for receiving goods from upriver. Although the market complex dates back to the 17th Century, the present-day building themselves are a product of a late 19th-Century renovation, and display the Belle Époque architectural stylings of much of Brazil's municipal architecture of that time. The market's cast-iron clock tower was fabricated in England, disassembled, shipped to Belém and reassembled on site.

Ver-o-Peso today covers over almost 35,000 square meters (9 acres) of land, and is divided into subsections selling meat, fish, fruits (including a specialized market selling only açaí), arts and crafts, and prepared food.
Ver-o-Peso in 1935

In 1997, the market was given national heritage status and cannot be significantly changed, or modified in any way that would alter its historic characteristics. Even if there were no such governmental protection, it's inconceivable that the citizens of Belém would permit any alteration to their beloved market. The future of Ver-o-Peso appears to to be well assured.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

RECIPE - Açaí in a Bowl (Açaí na Tigela)

The açaí berry in its natural state, just as it comes off its palm tree, is not a very appetizing fruit. The berry consists of a very dark purplish-black skin covering a thin layer of light-colored flesh and a large inedible seed. The fruit has no natural sugars, and so the taste isn't fruit-sweet; it's earthy, some would even say dirty, dense and dark.

In the Amazonian rain forest where the açaí palm grows, hose who dwell along the banks of the numberless rivers and streams do eat the berry in this natural state, but outside that region almost no one does. The principal reason is that the açaí berry in its natural state is extremely perishable and fragile, so it's not practicable to store it or transport it. Consequently, the seed of the berry is extracted shortly after harvesting and the remaining flesh and skin are pulped together, then flash-frozen. It is this frozen pulp which is the basic, commercially viable, açaí from which all açaí products are made - from juices, to syrups and on to ice creams, salves and even vodkas.

Açaí first found acceptance in the cities of metropolitan Brazil, far from the rainforests of the Amazon basin, in a dish called açaí na tigela, which in Portuguese means "açaí in a bowl". And that is still the way most Brazilians eat açaí, some of them on a daily basis. You can find açaí na tigela almost anywhere in Brazil, from the food courts of upmarket shopping centers in the big cities of the southeast, to roadside huts and stands in the rural northeast. And for many, Flavors of Brazil included, it's the absolutely best way to eat açaí. It's cooling and refreshing, it satisfies without bloating, and best of all it's delicious. The earthy taste of the berry is tamed, but not processed out of existance. The lovely, rich açaí color is unchanged, giving the dish the color of the most sumptuous royal-purple velvet imaginable.

You don't have to travel to Brazil in order to make your own açaí na tigela. Thanks to açaí's newfound popularity and consequent international availability all you need to make yourself a dish is a blender, some frozen pure açaí pulp (available from Sambazon and other sources), a bit of honey, a banana and some granola. Here's how it's done:
RECIPE - Açaí in a Bowl (Açaí na Tigela)
Makes 1 portion

8 oz (200 gr) frozen açaí pulp (two packets, normally)
2 ice cubes (optional)
1 medium ripe banana (note: equivalent amount of another fruit may be substituted)
2 Tbsp. honey
granola to taste
Cut the banana in half. Reserve one half, and put the other in a blender with the frozen açaí pulp, honey and the ice cubes, if using. Blend the mixture just until it's homogenous. Do not overblend, or it will heat and melt.

Pour the blended mixture into a large cereal bowl. Slice the remaining banana half and top the açaí with the slices. Sprinkle granola to taste over the banana slices.

Serve immediately, before the açaí melts.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flavors of Brazil - Ahead of the Curve?

Last year, in this post, Flavors of Brazil commented on the increasing popularity in the Northern Hemisphere of an Amazonian fruit called açaí. Our point in that post was that even though the fruit was totally unknown outside Brazil until just a few years ago, it had suddenly begun to pop up everywhere - in health food stores, at Whole Foods and Whole-Foods clones, for sale online and by way of multi-level marketing schemes (MonaVie). Even if  scientific evidence did prove that the dark-purple berry with the earthy, almost dirt-like taste was at least somewhat nutritionally beneficial, super-extravagant claims were being made in the marketplace about açaí. It was being touted as a "superfood" and in various places was claimed to cure, among other things, obesity, attention-deficit disorder, autism, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and erectile dysfunction.

Flavors of Brazil asked in that post last year whether the hyping and marketing of açaí had "jumped the shark", that is to say, reached the point of ridiculousness. The spur for our question was Absolut Vodka's introduction of an açaí-flavored vodka. Well, what was news here at Flavors of Brazil back in 2010 has now become the topic of a very interesting article in the May 30 issue of The New Yorker magazine. Written by John Colapinto, the article is entitled Strange Fruit, and significantly subtitled The rise and fall of açaí.

Colapinto traces the rise of açaí over the course of the past quarter-century. Until the 1980s the berry of the açaí  palm was a food source only for riverside dwellers in the Amazonian rain forest. During the 80s and 90s the popularity of açaí spread first to the big southern cities of Brazil, like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and then to the rest of Brazil. Its move into the USA was largely the work of two brothers from Southern California, Ryan and Jeremy Black and a friend, Edmund Nicols. They had discovered the fruit while travelling in Brazil and thought there was a market for it in the USA. They began to export açaí to the USA in the early 2000s under the brand name Sambazon (from samba + Amazon). Today, Sambazon is the market leader in the USA in açaí products, with annual sales of around $50 million.

The article does ask the same question that Flavors of Brazil wondered about last year. As Colapino puts it, "the fruit has followed a cycle of popularity befitting a teen-age pop-singer, a Miley Cyrus-like trajectory from obscurity to hype, critical backlast, and eventual ubiquity." Trying to find out whether açaí had in fact now gone from boom to bust, Colapinto interviewed Karen Caplan, the C.E.O. of Frieda's, a Los Angeles firm that markets exotic fruits and vegetables, and which is responsible for the introduction, renaming and eventual enormous success of kiwi fruit. Ms. Caplan pointed out to Colapinto that all food products have a life cycle, and that it had taken twenty years for the kiwi to become a best-seller. Açaí has only been exported from Brazil for about half of that time. So does Ms. Caplan think that açaí is over? She says, "No way. I walk into a produce department and see five brands that have açaí in it. And I go to the nutritional stores and I see supplements and a big banner saying 'Açaí' Then I say, O.K. it's starting to get mainstream."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

RECIPE - Rooster's Head (Cabeça do Galo)

No, this isn't a recipe for a real rooster's head, we promise! There are no beaks, eyes or combs anywhere in the ingredient list, and this is not one of those strange-verging-on-disgusting ethnic foods that are the mainstay of TV shows such as Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, or Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods. The Brazilian dish cabeça do galo can be translated into English as rooster's head, but there isn't a gram of animal meat in it.

Cabeça do galo is rather a  thick and nourishing manioc flour (farinha) soup, made richer with the addition of whole eggs. It is known in Brazil as a restorative food, as soups everywhere are known , but it's particular claim to fame is as a hangover cure. In most cultures where drinking alcohol is encouraged, permitted or even just tolerated there are foods that are thought to alleviate the pain of excess alcohol consumption if not to cure it. University students in the USA often swear by left-over pizza, and McDonald's Egg McMuffins are touted as a wonder cure by many. Mexican indulge in a tripe stew called menudo in the attempt to clear their head, while the Dutch tip their heads back to swallow raw baby herring covered in onions. In Brazil, after a night of too many caipirinhas, or too much cerveja, the way to get back on the road to sobriety is with a bowl of cabeça do galo.

The thing about cabeça do galo, though, is that it isn't only suitable for curing hangovers (unlike day-old congealed pizza slices, or Egg McMuffins). It's a perfect main-course soup for a cool evening, accompanied by a green salad. Satisfying without being overly rich, it hits the spot.

For this recipe you'll need manioc flour, called farinha in Portuguese. In most metropolitan areas, and in areas with a significant Latin American population, you can find it in Brazilian or Latin markets. Look for the name farinha de mandioca on the bag.
RECIPE - Rooster's Head (Cabeça do Galo)
Serves 4

5 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
4 cups (1 liter) boiling water
1 Tbsp. powdered annatto (sweet paprika can be substituted)
3 large whole eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125 ml) manioc flour (farinha de mandioca)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
a few whole cilantro leaves for garnish
En a large saucepan, heat the oil then add the onion. Cook until the onion just begins to brown, then add the garlic, chopped tomato and and green pepper and cook, stirring regularly, for five more minutes. Season for salt, then add the black pepper to taste, the annatto or paprika  and the cilantro while continuing to stir. Finally, stir in the beaten eggs.

Remove the pan from the heat, then immediately pour the boiling water over the ingredients. Stirring constantly, add the manioc flour in a thin steady stream. When the manioc flour has been thorough mixed in, return the pan to the heat for about 5 minutes, or until it just begins to boil.

Serve immediately in deep bowls, decorated with a few whole cilantro leaves.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

PHOTO GALLERY - The dishs of D.O.M.

Last month, São Paulo's D.O.M. restaurant was honored by the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants award committee, which named it the world's seventh-best restaurant. (Read more about the award here.) The whole idea of determining the 50 best restaurants in the world strikes Flavors of Brazil as impossible as well as a bit silly, but "best lists" are not going to go away, so they probably don't really do too much harm in the big picture - as long as one doesn't take them too seriously. Apparently Alex Atala, the chef/owner of  doesn't take his seventh-place position too seriously. He was quoted in the Brazilian press shortly after winning his award as saying, "O sétimo lugar é uma merda." (Seventh place is the shits). Atala, a punk ex-house painter and backpack-traveller, is as famous for not mincing words as he is famous for mincing exotic Brazilian ingredients and adding them to his creations.

Whatever one thinks of Atala's cooking, whether one thinks he deserves first-place, seventh-place or seven-thousandth place on the list, there's no denying that his kitchen knows how to put out a beautiful dish. Atala's plating skills are legendary. Recently, the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Dia published online photos of some of Atala's gastronomic beauties. Here they are for your visual delectation: (Remember, you can click each photo to see a larger version.)
Okra four ways: fried, boiled, caviar and paper

Aged beef file with watercress, foie gras and bitter chocolate

Green-tomato gelée with Brazilian and Peruvian perfumes

Consommé of mushrooms with flavors of the Amazon

Priprioca-perfumed crème caramel with lime and banana raviolis

Pupunha palm fettucine with glazed shrimp and coral butter

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Memories of a Cook - Ana Maria Soares da Silva

Ana Maria Soares da Silva
In its May 19th online edition, the Folha de S. Paulo's food section published a transcription of the oral memoirs of a certain Ana Maria Soares da Silva from Recife, Pernambuco. Ms. da Silva is a well-known food personality in Recife, and has long been celebrated for her bolo de rolo, Pernambuco's famous guava jelly-roll cake. (Click here for more on the bolo de rolo). Notoriously difficult to master, the bolo de rolo requires a skill that takes years to develop. Those who are considered to be bolo de rolo masters are local celebrities in Recife, and people serve their cakes with pride at family parties, anniversaries and important holidays.

A young and vigorous 90 years old, Ms. da Silva recounted her story to Folha reporter Luisa Fecarotta. Here is Flavors of Brazil's translation of her story:

On March 26, I turned 90 years old. I couldn't tell you for how many of those 90 years  I've been making bolo de rolo. I learned how to in the house of Dona Joaninha, from Joana another maid there. Dona Joaninha was married to a Portuguese man.

Joana made the cake by hand, always after lunch. She saved it wrapped up in a dishtowel and only served it the following day. Once, when Joana was sick, Dona Joaninha asked if I could make the cake for her. That was the day I made my first bolo de rolo alone.

Later I was the maid in the houses of other Portuguese families. Here, at the Casa dos Frios bakery, I started out by making bolo de rolo at night. I had finally left Mr. Amorim's, another Portuguese employer, and started working only here. I would work until midnight, completing orders for bolo de rolo.

It was like running a race. I'd beat the cake batter, pour it into the forms, and place them in the oven. I'd have to watch them all the time. Meanwhile I'd make another batch, then take the first batch out of the oven and put another batch in. Then while that batch was baking, I'd be spreading the guava jelly on the first batch and rolling it up.

I'd to this every day, using only a small hand-mixer and a wooden spoon to make the batter. The mixer seldom worked right, so I depended more on the wooden spoon. Today, I don't make bolo de rolo anymore. And I don't even like to eat it these days.

I grew up in the interior of Pernambuco state. On a plantation. I'd wake up very early, and have to walk three miles to reach the fields. I woke up so early, I don't even remember the time. In our cabin, my mother would cook beans, cuzcuz, cornmeal mush, manioc, potatoes. At Christmastime, she would kill a piglet for all of us to eat.

What I liked best was country-style beans with pumpkin, the way my grandma made them, with mustard leaves that are slightly bitter. Do you know mustard leaves? They're small, tough and bitter. Today, people people load up their beans with lots of everything, until there's no taste of anything. In my grandma's beans, she'd add just a little bit, and the taste was just right. I don't know why it tasted so good - maybe it's because kids have such sensitive palates, and later they begin to lose some of their sense of taste. Who knows?

Leaving the country for Recife was a spur-of-the moment thing. When we were working in the fields, we'd see the train pass by, and I'd say "Some day I'm going to be on that train." We said it as a joke, but one day I went to the market with my mother - she was selling tapioca there for a woman who was going to visit a sick sister in the city. The woman asked my mother if I could come to the city to help her take care of her sister. I was crazy with joy.

I got on the train to Recife on January 29th. I don't remember the year, but I remember the date. I got very homesick in Recife, but I said to myself, "I'm going to stay and I'm going to work hard. No one is going to say that I didn't know how to do anything right."

I've been working ever since. But cooking, you know, there's days you like it and days you don't like it. There's days you're inspired, and there's day your mind just shuts down and you don't know what to do. I've decided I don't want to cook anymore (laughs). Now I want people to cook for me (laughs again).

Monday, May 23, 2011

RECIPE - Chicken, Palmito and Catupiry Pie (Torta de Frango, Palmito e Catupiry)

In this one-hundredth year of the Brazilian cream cheese, Catupiry, Flavors of Brazil thought it a good idea to celebrate with one of the most well-known traditional recipes employing the creamy-smooth cheese. Brazilians adore a mixture of cooked, shredded chicken meat and Catupiry, flavored with any number of additional items - they use the mixture to fill sandwiches, to spread on toast points, and most particularly to fill a pie crust. Variously known as torta, empada or empadão, a double-crusted pie filled with chicken and cream cheese is a favorite choice for a party, a buffet table, a picnic, for almost anything.

In Brazil, it's easy to buy pre-cooked and pre-shredded chicken meat (frango desfiado) at almost any supermarket, but outside Brazil, you're likely to have to shred your own cooked chicken, whether it's leftovers or chicken cooked expressly for this recipe. Unless you have a source of Catupiry, you'll also have to substitute another brand of cream cheese, Try to find the kind that comes in a jar or tub, not Philadelphia-style, which has too many stabilizers to be used in this recipe.
RECIPE - Chicken, Palmito and Catupiry Pie (Torta de Frango, Palmito e Catupiry)

For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 1/3 sticks (5 oz, 150 gr) unsalted butter, ice-cold and cut into small cubes
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 small egg
4 Tbsp. cold whole milk

For the filling:
1 lb (400 gr) cooked, shredded chicken meat, at room temperature
1 small can (14 oz) tomatos, with their juice
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
finely chopped green onion and parsley to taste
1/2 cup (125 ml) canned hearts of palm (palmito), diced
10 green olives, pitted and finely chopped
1/3 cup frozen peas, rinsed and separated
1 cup (250 gr) Catupiry or other cream cheese
Prepare the crust:
Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the cubes of butter and cut them in, using a pastry cutter, until they are the size of small peas. Add the egg, and then the cold milk (tablespoon by tablespoon), mixing with a wooden spoon, until the mixture barely holds together and you are able to form a ball. Do not overmix. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling:
Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the diced onion and cook until the onion is transparent but not browned. Add the minced garlic and cook for one more minute only. Add the canned tomatos (reserving the juice in the can) and continue to cook over medium heat, breaking up the tomatoes as you stir. Then add the shredded chicken, the hearts of palm, the peas, the green onion and parsley and the chopped olives. Stir briefly. Add the reserved juice from the tomatoes, bit by bit, until the mixture is thoroughly moist, but not overly-liquid.

Prepare the pie:
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Remove the chilled pie dough from the refrigerator, and roll out slightly more than half of the ball into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Place into a 9 inch circular pie pan, or cake pan with removable bottom, covering the bottom and sides of the pan. Using a fork, poke holes into the dough, fill the pan with pie weights or dried beans, and put into the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the weights, then fill the pie with the reserved filling. Spread the cream cheese evenly over the filling. Roll out the remaining dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter, and cover the lower crust and filling. Trim the crusts, and seal them together. Cut several holes in the top crust. Return to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the top crust is nicely browned.

Remove from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Catupiry!

The year 2011 marks a significant milestone in the extremely successful career of a Brazilian brand of cream cheese (requeijão) called Catupiry. It was 100 years ago, in 1911, that Mário and Isaíra Silvestrini, an Italian immigrant couple living in the state of Minas Gerais created Catupiry and launched it into the Brazilian marketplace, where it has flourished ever since.

As detailed in a post from last year here on Flavors of Brazil many Brazilians aren't even aware that Catupiry is a brand name - they assume that it's the name of a type of cheese - like mozzarella or ricotta. The word can be found on thousands of restaurant menus and in the recipes of untold numbers of cookbooks without capitalization or note that the word is trademarked.

Catupiry is used to stuff pastéis (the plural of pastel), esfirras, spread on pizzas, put into sandwiches, melted into cream sauces for shrimp, chicken and fish. It's even simply spread on a freshly-opened baguette and enjoyed unadorned.

Currently headquartered in São Paulo, Catupiry produces an enormous quantity to fulfill Brazilian's taste for this low-acid cream cheese. Really enormous. According to the company's website, each day they receive 200,000 liters of whole milk from up to 1500 individual dairies, and each day they turn that milk into 50 tons of cheese. That's a mountain of cream cheese - in their hundredth year, the folks at Catupiry are set to produce over 18,000 tons of cheese.

Catupiry cheese is pleasant, there's no question. And it's bland - something no one can object to. But the Brazilian adoration of Catupiry is a bit of a mystery to us at Flavors of Brazil - maybe you have to have been weaned on the stuff to love it the way most Brazilians do. Whatever the reason, Catupiry is likely to be celebrating a very successful 200th birthday in 2111. In the meantime, Happy 100th Birthday, Catupiry!

Friday, May 20, 2011

RECIPE - Crystalized Mandarin-Lime Peel (Casquinha Cristalizado de Limão-Cravo)

This recipe, based on traditional Brazilian recipes for sweets and conserves made from the peel of almost any type of citrus fruit, is translated and adapted from the website Ptitchef. Although the recipe calls for the peel of the citrus called rangpur or mandarin-lime in English and limão-cravo in Portuguese it can very easily be adapted to any citrus fruit. If the fruit you want to use is very thin skinned, you need do nothing to prepare the skin other than wash it well. If the fruit is one that has a thick white pulp under the outer surface of the peel, you must remove that, leaving only the outer peel, fragrant and colored. Otherwise, you'll have a very bitter "sweet."

The technique of boiling fruit or fruit peels in a thickened, concentrated sugar syrup originated as a means of preserving the harvest-time bounty at a time when there was no refrigeration. Often the fruit is left in the syrup and preserved that way. In this recipe, the fruit peels are removed from the syrup after cooking, dried and then rolled in granulated sugar. If you prefer, you can eliminate this last step and leave the fruit in its syrup. It makes an excellent dessert, served drained with a dollop of whipped cream or a ball of ice cream.
RECIPE - Crystalized Mandarin-Lime Peel (Casquinha Cristalizado de Limão-Cravo)

12 large, whole mandarin-limes (or equivalent weight of any other citrus fruit)
1 lb (500 gr) granulated white sugar
1 cup (250 ml) water
Thoroughly wash the whole fruit. Cut in half, and squeeze out all the juice, reserving the juice for another use. Remove the remaining pulp and any bitter white inner peel that may exist - use the tip of a spoon. Cut the outer peel that remains into strips about 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide and 1 1/2 inches (3 cm) long. Put the sliced peel in a mixing bowl, cover with lots of fresh water and let sit for a few hours. Drain.

In a medium saucepan, add the drained peel, cover with water, bring to a boil rapidly, then drain the peels in a sieve or colander and refresh with cold water. Repeat this operation two or three more times, or until all trace of bitterness is removed (taste a small piece to verify). Drain again and reserve.

In a heavy-duty sauce pan combine the sugar and 1 cup water and heat over medium heat. Stir to completely dissolve the sugar and bring to a slow boil. Continue to cook until the syrup reaches the thin-thread stage. Add the reserved peel and cook for about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat. If you wish to serve preserved peels in syrup, the dish is complete.

To make crystalized peels, remove them from the syrup with a slotted spoon (reserving the syrup for another use). Drain thoroughly in a sieve for at least 30 minutes. Spread a layer of granulated sugar on a cookie sheet, then roll the peels in the sugar to completely cover them.

Remove the peels from the cookie sheet with tongs and place on a sheet of wax paper, making sure that they are separated to avoid clumping. Let dry overnight. When completely dry, place in a cookie tin or other dry container until ready to use. Can be served as is, or used to decorate cakes and other desserts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Rangpur/Mandarin-Lime (Limão cravo)

A few weeks ago, in Fortaleza's Friday-morning market, the Mercado dos Pinhões, Flavors of Brazil happened across a totally unfamiliar citrus fruit at one of our favorite vendor's stand. Naturally, we had to ask the vendor what it was, and just as naturally, we had to buy some to try it out. The vendor told us that the fruit was called limão cravo, which translates into English as clove-lime (clove as in the spice). We found the name strange, as it really didn't look like a lime at all, although in Portuguese the concept of what constitutes a lime (limão) is much broader than it is in English - for example, what we know as a lemon is called a Sicilian lime (limão siciliano) in Portuguese. The fruit was larger than most limes, and the color was a bright orange, not the green that one would expect. What it looked like, in fact, was some sort of tangerine or mandarin. Here's a photo of the fruit to give an idea:

When we got back home, we peeled one immediately. The fruit was easy to peel, though the skin didn't come away from the flesh as happens with mandarins and tangerines. The skin was thin, with little of the white pulp characteristic of oranges and lemons. The flesh of the fruit looked very much like a tangerine, too, although the segments were more closely bound than tangerine segments usually are. When we popped one in our mouth we were hit with a acidic wallop - with a taste of tangerine. The fruit was as tart and acidic as a lime, but with characteristic flavors of mandarins and tangerines. It certainly wasn't something that one would peel and eat.

A bit of botanical research led us to the scientific name for this fruit (Citrus limonia Osbeck ) and its names in English. In English it's known as either the mandarin-lime or the rangpur. the mandarin-lime name comes from the fact that it is a hybrid between the mandarin and the lime, and the rangpur name comes from the city of Rangpur, Bangladesh, famous for this and other citrus fruits. So our initial taste sensation of mandarin flavors with lime acidity and tartness wasn't off the mark - those are the two parent fruits of the limão cravo.

The  limão cravo grows almost anywhere in Brazil, and although it originated in China, it has become completely naturalized in this country, and grows wild in many areas. In the USA it can only be grown in Florida, but it is used commonly there as an ornamental tree. Outside of Brazil, the only commercial use of it that we were able to find was in a brand of gin produced by Tanqueray called Tanqueray Rangpur Gin. Which got us to thinking - a caipirinha made with limão cravo would probably be delicious. And guess what? It was.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

RECIPE - Cachaça Shrimp (Camarões com Cachaça)

This straightforward and delightful dish really can't claim to be Brazilian at all, even though it includes typical Brazilian ingredients like shrimp, cachaça and lime juice. It's a Flavors of Brazil adaptation of a recipe for tequila shrimp that we found on the internet (here) . That recipe, of course, was Mexican in inspiration even though it probably wasn't authentically Mexican. The recipe below can equally be called Brazilian-inspired, even if it's pedigree doesn't go back to colonial times here in Brazil.

We decided to substitute the tequila in the original recipe for cachaça for two reasons. The first was to see if it was possible to successfully "brazilianize" the original recipe by using Brazil's most iconic spirit instead of Mexico's. The second reason was purely monetary - tequila is extraordinarily expensive here in Brazil, and cachaça is relatively cheap. Tequila prices have climbed worldwide in the past few years, and there really is no such thing as cheap tequila anymore - anywhere. Additionally, here in Brazil there is a high duty charged on imported spirits. The result is that the cheapest tequila we could find when doing some casual research in local supermarkets and liquor stores was at least ten times the price of a decent cachaça.

Since we haven't tasted the original tequila-based recipe, we can't compare the two versions to say which is better. We can say, though, that the version with  cachaça was a huge success with everyone who tried it. If you have some cachaça at home, use it - you'll be happy with the results. If you have tequila only, go back to the roots of the recipe and use it instead of cachaça. It won't be Brazilian-inspired any longer, but a Mexican-inspired dish of shrimp isn't necessarily a bad thing.
RECIPE - Cachaça Shrimp (Camarões com Cachaça)
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
salt to taste
1 1/2 lb (750 gr) uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
1/2 cup cachaça
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
chunks of fresh avocado
a few cilantro leaves
extra limes for serving
freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large heavy-duty frying pan. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and garlic. Season with salt to taste, then cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the onion is translucent but not browned.

Add the shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes, or until they turn pink. Remove the pan from the heat, add the tequila and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits from the surface of the pan. Return to the heat. Simmer until the alcohol has burned off and the shrimp are completely cooked, about 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the lime juice, and mix thoroughly to incorporate.

Serve immediately on a bed of lettuce, topped with two or three chunks of fresh avocado and sprinkled with a few cilantro leaves. Garnish with a wedge of lime. Can be served as a first course or as a light main course at lunch. Offer hot chili pepper sauce for those who wish a spicy dish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Comida di Buteco - Fortaleza's Best Bar Food

Earlier this month, Flavors of Brazil reported on Brazil's Comida di Buteco promotional contest to find the best bar food (comida di buteco) in each of a number of Brazil's major cities. (Click here to read more on Comida di Buteco.)

In Fortaleza, the contest ran from April 15 to May 01, and within the past few days, the Comida di Buteco website announced the winning bars (botecos) and the platters which won them their accolades. Winners were chosen based on ballots filled out by diners during the contest period, on which each plate was scored on a number of factors, and the restaurant as well, on such things as cleanliness, quality of service, noise levels etc.

The first-place winner for 2011 in Fortaleza was a long-established favorite bar in Aldeota, one of Fortaleza's more upmarket neighborhoods. The bar is called Bar do Papai (Daddy's Bar) and is known for the quality of its live music as well as its food and drink. Bar do Papai took home the gold with a charmingly-entitled dish called Pedacinho do Céu (Little Piece of Heaven). The dish consists of rolled, breaded chicken cutlets stuffed with cheese and ham and served with a mayonnaise and ketchup sauce. In other words, rolled-up chicken cordon bleu. The bar has been known for this dish for years, so it's likely that a number of voters were already predisposed to vote for Pedacinho do Céu even before they sat down to eat and vote.
Bar do Papai - Pedacinho do Céu

A Bahian-style restaurant called Cabana da Negona (Big Mama's Hut) took second place with a dish of chunks of smoked pork loin on the grill, covered with roasted onion sliced, and accompanied by a sauce made from mayonnaise and manioc flour. Interestingly, there is nothing particularly Bahian about their winning dish, though it does sound (and look) delicious. Flavors of Brazil has reviewed Cabana da Negona previously, and the review can be seen here.)
Cabana da Negoa - Carne do Fumeiro na Chapa

A surprising (to us anyway) dish from a bar called Flórida Bar received the third highest score during Comida di Buteco. Their offering was Figado Acebolada - or in English, liver 'n' onions. Not that the dish doesn't have its fans, but liver is hated by as many people as those who love it, so we'd think that it wouldn't be a contest-winner. Clearly, Flavors of Brazil was wrong, and the fans of Flórida Bar's liver 'n' onions are legion.

Flórida Bar - Figado Acebolado

Of the three bars, only Flórida Bar is unknown to us here at Flavors of Brazil. But it won't remain that way for long - we intend to visit it soon, even if we don't order the liver! Which is the whole point of the Comida di Buteco program - to locate and identify good bar food, and to encourage diners to try out some of the best bar food in the city.

Monday, May 16, 2011

RECIPE - Wild boar Spadaccino (Javali Spadiccino)

This surprising recipe for wild boar in a red wine and bitter chocolate sauce is adapted from one created in the kitchens of well-known São Paulo restaurant Spadiccino. The restaurant invented the dish last year in  homage to the Tuscan setting of a wildly popular Brazilian telenovela (nightly TV soap opera) Passione. Spadaccino's dish, which was inspired by a traditional Tuscan preparation for wild boar, substituted file mignon for the boar. The recipe below is closer to the original as it replaces the milder beef with the stronger flavors of wild boar. Flavors of Brazil feels that the subtle taste of lean beef just isn't assertive enough to stand up to the flavors of bitter chocolate and a big red wine. Wild boar is up to the task however, and can hold its own in this dish.
RECIPE - Wild boar Spadaccino (Javali Spadiccino)
Serves 6

2 lbs (1 kg) boneless wild boar, cut from leg or shoulder, in 2 inch (4 cm) cubes
3 oz (90 gr) bitter chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
1 small stick celery, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 cup (125 ml) seedless black raisins
dry red wine
extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
3 sprigs fresh rosemary for garnish
In a large Ziploc-style plastic bag, combine the meat, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary and raisins. Add sufficient red wine to cover all, seal the bag and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, thoroughly drain the marinaded meat in a sieve or colander placed over a large mixing bowl, reserving the marinade. In a large heavy frying pan, cast-iron preferred, heat a small amount of olive oil, then add the drained meat. Cook until all surfaces of the meat are nicely browned. Reserve.

Remove the rosemary from the reserved marinade and discard. Heat the remaining marinade, including the diced vegetables and the raisins, in a large heavy saucepan, then add the browned meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and continue to cook the meat with the pan partly covered at a slow boil. From time to time add a small amount of additional red wine if required to keep the sauce from drying out. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove about 1/4 cup of sauce to a small saucepan. Over low heat, melt the bitter chocolate in the sauce, then return it to the meat, stirring thoroughly to blend. Season with salt to taste. Cook over very low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes (do not let it boil) until the flavors combine and the sauce is thick.

Serve immediately garnished with a few sprigs of rosemary, accompanied by boiled or roasted potatoes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wild Boars, Peccaries and Javaporcos

In contrast to their domesticated cousins, the common pig, wild members of the group of animals known as swine have only recently been making their way to the fashionable dining table in Brazil. Or, it should be said, returning to the fashionable dining table, as historically hunting wild pigs for human consumption was common throughout Brazil. For a very long time, however, the meat of wild pig was considered to strong tasting, too "wild" in fact, to be used as an ingredient in sophisticated cuisine. No more, however. Leading-edge contemporary chefs in Brazil's major cities are tripping over themselves trying to create new dishes and recipes featuring the meat of wild pigs. Recently, a major gastronomic website in Brazil highlighted a new recipe for confit of wild boar, and terrine of wild boar is showing up in contemporary-cuisine restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília and other urban centers.
Peccary (queixada)
Behind this new-found popularity, however, lurks an environmental battle between an invasive Eurasian species of wild pig and a native American species. The Eurasian species, with the unappealing scientific name Sus scrofa, was brought to southern South America by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, and is called javali in Portuguese, and in English is normally referred to as wild boar. The only-distantly-related native American species (Tayassu pecari) is called queixada in Portuguese and peccary in English.
Wild Boar (javali)
The original range of the wild boar (javali) was extensive in Eurasia, and there are still wild populations there. This animal was carried across the Atlantic to what is now Argentina and Uruguay, where it returned to its feral ways. Having no natural predators in the New World and reproducing rapidly, the wild boar spread from Uruguay into Southern Brazil. The native species, the peccary (queixada), is native to most of the Americas south of the Rio Grande river, the border between the USA and Mexico, but has found its range threatened by the wild boar. The Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency (IBAMA) considers the wild boar an invasive species, and has created a number of programs to limit or stop the growth of its range. To date they haven't had much success, and the situation is made worse by the close genetic relationship between the wild boar and the common pig. They can crossbreed, and have done so, creating a hybrid animal called the javaporco.

There are commercial producers of both wild boars and peccaries in Brazil, and the product that ends up on restaurant tables is from one of these producers, as health-standard legislation prevents the commercial use of wild meats. IBAMA, naturally, has a preference for queixada, but most chefs prefer to work with javali. The exception is found among those chefs who value local and native food sources - their preference is to serve queixada.

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we've eaten javali, and properly prepared to eliminate its gaminess, it's a delicious meat. Queixada remains to be tried, but we're on the lookout for it. Once we've sampled it, we'll return to this subject with a comparison.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger/Blogspot's Lost Posts

UPDATE - 7 pm Brazil time. The posts that went missing have now returned! (Though as of now, the comments to those posts haven't.) I guess Google figured out a way to restore them. That's an enormous relief, as I wasn't looking forward to trying to rewrite the pieces. I guess all's not entirely bad on this Friday the 13th.
If readers of Flavors of Brazil are regular visitors of a number of blogs hosted by Google's Blogger/Blogspot no doubt they're already aware that for the past 36 hours or so all Blogger blogs have been down or in read-only mode. Here at Flavors of Brazil we try to post something 6 days a week, but you'll notice that the post below this one is dated Tuesday, May 10.

There were in fact two posts on Flavors of Brazil previous to the crash that were lost when Google went back to an earlier date to reset Blogger. There was a post on Wednesday about the malagueta chili pepper, and one on Thursday with a recipe for homemade malagueta chili conserve. Both were lost, and since haven't been in the practice of backing up the blog daily (we will be now!) they are unretrievable. We'll try to recreate those posts over the weekend and back-date them.

Unfortunately, comments made to those posts were also lost. There was one on the malagueta post from reader Chucky in Malaysia and one on the conserve post from Mistress of Spices. Sorry, you two! It really wasn't our fault though. If you'd care to repost your comments once we've republished the posts, that would be great. If you don't, that's OK too. The comments were read and appreciated before they disappeared.

Starting tomorrow, Flavors of Brazil will get back on track.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

RECIPE - Preserved Malagueta Peppers (Conserva de Pimenta Malagueta)

This simple recipe for preserving malagueta peppers in oil is typically Bahian - that is, from the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The cuisine of Bahia is often considered the most highly-developed and the most distinctive of all regional Brazilian cuisines and it brings memories of Africa and the Brazilian slave experience to the dining table. Bahian cooking is also, by any definition, the spiciest of all Brazilian gastronomic styles, and the presence of chili peppers in Bahian cooking is ubiquitous. Even of a meal consists only of white rice plus beans, as it often does for poorer Bahians, there is always hot chili pepper sauce to enliven the offering.

Most Bahian cooks - homemakers and professional chefs alike - make their own preserved peppers. The basic recipe is simple, nothing more than fresh chili peppers, perhaps some other flavoring ingredients like garlic or ginger, covered in oil and allowed to sit for some time so that they oil will take on the flavor and the heat of the peppers. At the table, the oil is spooned over a dish or plate of food but normally the peppers themselves are not eaten. Often the oil is topped up to assure a continuous supply of sauce.

This recipe is translated and adapted from an older post (2007) in a Brazilian blog called Um Casal na Cozinha (A Couple in the Kitchen). It's really more of lesson in how to make preserved peppers than a proper recipe. The recipe can be adapted using any variety of small hot chili pepper you might be able to find in a local market, or even a combination of chilis.

As this recipe will result in a jar of hot sauce to be used over a period of time, it's imperative to work hygienically, and to keep the sauce in the refrigerator once it's made. At the slightest indication of spoilage, discard the remaining quantity, and sterilize the jar if you intend to use it again to make preserved peppers.
RECIPE - Preserved Malagueta Peppers (Conserva de Pimenta Malagueta)

1 canning jar, any size desired, plus new lid and screwband
malagueta peppers, sufficient quantity to completely fill jar (or can substitute other chilis or a mix)

a few whole garlic cloves, peeled
one or two one-inch chunks of fresh ginger, peeled
kosher or pickling salt
1 oz. cachaça or brandy
olive oil, extra-virgin preferred
neutral vegetable oil, grapeseed or canola preferred
(Use plastic gloves whenever working with the malagueta chilis in this recipe, and when finished wash hands in hot, soapy water to remove any traces of capsaicin.)

Wash the chili peppers well in fresh water, and then poke one or two small holes in the flesh of each one using a toothpick or small skewer. This will allow the oil to penetrate into the chilis.

Sterilize the canning jar and lid following normal canning procedures. Pack the jar about one-third full with peppers, filling the jar tightly, but don't compress the peppers until they burst. Add half of the garlic and ginger, and sprinkle on a bit of salt. Add another third of a jar of peppers, top with the remaining garlic and ginger, sprinkle on a bit more salt and then fill the jar completely with peppers.

Drizzle the cachaça or brandy over the peppers in the jar, then fill the jar halfway with olive oil. Add sufficient vegetable oil to fill the jar completely. Tap the jar lightly on the countertop to remove any air bubble, and if required add a bit more oil to cover the peppers.

Tightly close the jar, turn it over once or twice to mix the oils, then set aside for at least two weeks in the refrigerator to mature.

When you want to use the sauce or to serve it at the table, remove it from the refrigerator a few hours beforehand to allow it to come to room temperature.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PEPPERS OF BRAZIL - Malagueta Pepper (Pimenta Malagueta)

There are hundreds if not thousands of different chili peppers consumed in Brazil. This isn't really all that surprising since the genus shared by all these peppers (Capiscum) is native to Central and South America, and there is archeological evidence from Southern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated as far back as 6000 years ago. Spreading throughout the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans in the New World and moving all around the globe since as part of the Columbian exchange, it is natural that a number of different varieties and cultivars of the genus would have developed.

Interestingly there is one variety of the chili pepper species Capiscum frutescens that seems to have spread only to Portuguese-speaking countries. Presumably the variety originated in Brazil, was carried back to Portugal as part of the trade between that country and its largest colony and subsequently carried onwards to Portuguese colonies in Africa, principally Mozambique and Cabo Verde. In Brazil this chili pepper is called pimenta malagueta. Elsewhere is has many names - gindungo, maguita-tuá-tuá, ndongo, nedungo and piri-piri among others. In English it is also known as the malagueta pepper.

The name malagueta itself is derived from an entirely different plant from Africa called melegueta in Portuguese and Grains-of-paradise in English. This relative of ginger has no botanical relationship to chili peppers, and the similarity of names has caused more than one source to suggest an African origin for Brazilian malagueta peppers. This is absolutely not true, malagueta peppers originated in the New World.

The malagueta is a small pepper than grows no larger than about 2 inches (5 cm). It is green in its immature stage and turns red as it ripens. On the Scoville scale which measures the spicy heat of chili peppers, the malagueta clocks in at anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 units. This puts it in the middle range of hot chilis, about the same as the Tabasco pepper and the Thai Bird's-eye chili.

Although the malagueta is cultivated and consumed throughout Brazil, it is most strongly associated with the cooking and food traditions of the state of Bahia. It is used there to liven cooked soups and stews and a bottle of malagueta hot-sauce is to be found on every Bahian table.

In Bahia, as elsewhere in Brazil, most of the malagueta peppers consumed come from commercial farms and small plantings. A wild version of the malagueta plant does grow in Bahia, though, called malagueta-caipira which means back-country malagueta. Chili fanatics go to great lengths to try to find sources of this wild cousin of the domestic malagueta, claiming that it has higher levels of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, and low levels of piperine, the active component of black peppers. This means that the wild malagueta carried more of capsaicin's health benefits. Unfortunately, the wild version of the plant is susceptible to a number of blights and diseases, and is not suitable for commercial cultivation.

Tomorrow, Flavors of Brazil will feature a recipe for homemade malagueta hot-sauce.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FISH OF BRAZIL - Manjuba (Broadband Anchovy)

Lagoinha Beach, Ceará
One of the best things about spending a day at on a quiet beach in Brazil is that the menu at the beach bar is very likely to include some sort of small fish served whole. breaded and fried, accompanied by wedges of juicy fresh limes, plenty of salt, and a bottle of hot sauce, preferably homemade. With a glass of icy-cold beer to wash the little critters down there's really no meal more delicious or more suited to the beach.

Sometimes the fish are slightly larger, cleaned and headless, and sometimes they are so small they are served absolutely whole. However, they are always eaten bones, tail and all - those crunchy bits add flavors and textures which are lost in larger fish which are served filleted.

The most common fish served in this manner is a species (or a number of related species, to be specific) called manjuba in Portuguese, or often manjubinha, which is the diminutive form. According to the website fishbase.org the fish bears the name broadband anchovy in English - presumably the word broadband in this case having absolutely nothing to do with internet access. The scientific name is Anchoviella lepidentostole. It's natural range is along the western coast of the South Atlantic in South America from Venezuela to the southern Brazilian state of Paraná.

The manjuba lives in shallow waters near the shore, is very numerous within its range, and is each to catch. The price for a plate of fried manjuba at the beach is therefore likely to be quite low - I've had delicious manjuba for as little as R$3 (about USD$1.80) a plate.

Current thinking about the overfishing of the world's oceans tells us that in the future the world is going to have to look at eating more smaller fish and fewer larger ones - tuna, swordfish, halibut, all the world's large species are highly stressed, yet supplies of smaller fish like anchovies, sardines, or herrings can sustainably be fished. That may be the silver lining in the overfishing cloud - maybe more people will learn to appreciate small fish the way Brazilian appreciate fried manjuba. It's the taste of the Brazilian beach.

Monday, May 9, 2011

RECIPE - Tuna and Watermelon Ceviche (Ceviche de Atum e Melancia)

Although the family of recipes known as ceviche is not of Brazilian origin - it seems to have developed all along the Pacific Coast of Central and South America - ceviche is by no means unknown here in Brazil. Contemporary Brazilian chefs have begun to combine ceviche preparation techniques with Brazilian ingredients to create new variations on a traditional theme.

Ceviche is typically made from raw seafood of some sort marinated in lime juice and then flavored with onions, cilantro, and chile peppers. The lime juice "cooks" the fish or seafood rendering it opaque and firm. The dish, served cool or at room temperature, is refreshing and light, and can be presented as a first course, or a light main course.

This recipe, which which has been adapted from a recipe by Chef Felipe Bronze of Rio de Janeiro's Oro Restaurante, combines equal-sized cubes of raw tuna and watermelon to create a checkboard-pattern ceviche. It varies from traditional ceviche in using rice vinegar rather than lime juice to provide the acid that makes ceviche ceviche. This acid is poured over the ceviche at the last minute which allows only the surface of the tuna to "cook", leaving the interior raw - in fact, a take on seared tuna.

Because the fish is served raw, be sure to buy sushi/sashimi-grade tuna. You won't need a lot, so it's best to make sure you have the freshest tuna available. Depending on your preference you can use regular watermelon (which is visually more interesting with its glossy black seeds) or seedless (which is easier to eat).
RECIPE - Tuna and Watermelon Ceviche (Ceviche de Atum e Melancia)
Serves 4

2/3 cup (180 ml) rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup (75 ml) water
1/3 cup (80 gr) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp peel, coarsely chopped fresh ginger

6 oz (160 gr) sushi-grade tuna - ahi or albacore
6 oz (160 gr) watermelon

small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 tsp ancho chile powder (available in Mexican and Latin American markets)
fleur du sel
nigella seeds (optional - available in Indian markets)
Prepare the vinaigrette. In a small saucepan combine the rice wine vinegar, the water, the sugar and ginger. Bring to a boil rapidly over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Reserve.

Prepare the ceviche. Cut the tuna and the watermelon into equal-sized cubes about 3/4 inch (2 cm) on a side. On each of four plates, place 8 pieces of tuna and 8 pieces of watermelon alternatively to create a checkerboard pattern (see photo). Put two or three thin slices of red onion on top, then sprinkle on fleur to sel to taste, the ancho chile powder and scatter a few nigella seeds over. Carefully spoon equal amounts of vinaigrette over each plate, taking care not to disturb the onion rings. Let stand for 15 minutes to marinate and to allow the flavors to blend. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Watermelon (Melancia)

The watermelons is one of the most universally-consumed fruits on our planet, and is a common sight in markets and supermarkets from China to Canada to Chile and on to the Congo. Genetic and botanical evidence indicates that the plant originated in southern Africa, where it still grows wild, but it was probably eaten in ancient Egypt and certainly had spread as far as China by the 10th century CE. It's route to Brazil was direct from Africa, and watermelon (melancia in Portuguese) is only one of the many Brazilian foods that arrived on this side of the Atlantic via the African slave trade.

Watermelons are members of the same botanical family as other melons (Cucurbitaceae), but are more closely related to plants like cucumbers than they are to cantaloupes or honeydews. If you think of a melon, or of their close relative the squash, the fruit surrounds a hollow core filled with seeds. Watermelons and cucumbers, however, are not hollow, and the seeds are carried in the flesh of the fruit. Watermelons and cucumbers also share the characteristic of being composed primarily of water - in the case of the aptly-named watermelon the percentage is 92% by weight. The preponderance of what remains is sugar (6% by weight). Watermelon is a good source of vitamin C, and has high levels of beta-carotene, and in red varieties lycopenes.

Brazil's annual production of watermelons is huge - in recent years approaching 620,000 tons annually. Almost all of Brazil has climate conditions that allow successful cultivation of watermelons, and most watermelon is consumed close to where it was grown. The commercial value of the crop is so high that the Brazilian government has proclaimed a National Watermelon Day - 26 November - and there is a National Watermelon Fair held annually in September in the city of Uruana, in the state of Goiás.

Most of Brazil's watermelons grown in Brazil are commercialized in the domestic market, though there is an export market to other countries further south in South America, such as Argentina and Chile, where climate conditions are less favorable to watermelon cultivation. Most watermelons are eaten fresh, though watermelon juice is popular in the thousands of juice bars that populate Brazilian urban centers.

In the past few years, the newest generation of Brazilian chefs has begun to pay attention to the culinary potential of the watermelon. Flavors of Brazil will post some of their recipes in the next few posts.

Friday, May 6, 2011

João Antônio Garrote - Brazil's Best Coffee Farmer

Recently, São Paulo's upmarket coffee-bar chain Santo Grão (Holy Bean) began to offer a new variety of coffee for prices that were shockingly high by Brazilian standards, even by expensive-metropolis São Paulo prices. An expresso costs R$16 (equivalent to about USD $10), and in packaged form this coffee sells for R$100 (USD $60) per pound. In a country where a pound of good coffee in the supermarket sells for a tenth of that price, Santo Grão's price for this new variety was nothing short of shocking.

So what is this coffee, and why does is command such a high price? The coffee is a single-plantation, single-hybrid coffee which comes from the Estância São Francisco (San Francisco Ranch) plantation in the town of Itaí, in São Paulo State. The owner/farmer of Estância São Francisco is named João Antônio Garrote, and in November 2010, his estate's coffee was named the best in Brazil in the 7th annual National Coffee Quality Contest sponsored by ABIC - The Brazilian Coffee Industry Association. In that contest, Sr. Garrote's Catuaí-variety coffee scored 89 out of a possible 100 points on such factors as aroma, taste, acidity, body, balance and sweetness. Complete results of the scoring can be seen here (in Portuguese only).

Following the contest, Sr. Garrote's award-winning coffee, of which only a very small quantity of 180 kg (400 lb) was produced, was sold at auction. Santo Grão's bid of R$12,320 (USD $19,720) for the lot was the highest at the auction, and thus the coffee-bar obtained Sr. Garrote's entire production for about USD $50 a pound. Suddenly, Santo Grão's selling price of USD $50 per pound doesn't seem unreasonable, and in fact, it's likely that other coffees they sell have a much higher margin. But only Santo Grão has the prestige of selling Brazil's best coffee, and in the marketplace that's probably worth a considerably higher amount than the $10 they make on selling each pound.