Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The beans that Brazilians eat on a daily basis are not, of course, green beans. They are dried legumes that have been reconstituted and cooked in liquid until tender. In fact, Brazilians don't even use the word feijão (which means bean) when referring to green beans. They have another word, vargem, for this vegetable and don't consider it a bean at all. Beans mean dried beans, full stop.
There are numerous varieties of dried beans eaten in Brazil, ranging from black beans to white ones, and from large kidney beans to small pea-shaped varieties. The choice of bean is often regional, and most people in Brazil do not eat one type of bean on Monday, another on Tuesday, etc. The bean they eat is always the same. If a Brazilian was raised on black beans, that's likely all he or she eats, and if it was carioca beans served at the family table, that'll be the bean of choice forever.
One bean that is very strictly regional is called feijão manteiga, which translated literally into English means butter bean. However, the bean is not the same as the lima bean, which is called butter bean in many regions of the USA. That bean is called feijão-de-lima in Brazil. The bean on which Brazilians have bestowed the moniker feijão manteiga is a medium-size, light brown bean about the size and shape of a pinto bean, but without the mottling that gives that bean its name.
The Brazilian butter bean is well-named, for it has a rich creaminess when properly cooked, and this richness gives it the mouth feel of butter, though there is almost no fat in the bean. The taste is also characteristically nutty with a hint of sweetness. It's one of the most flavorful and delicious of all the thousands of varieties of dried beans.
Feijão manteiga is eaten primarily in Brazil's north and northeast, and in the state of São Paulo, and is not well known in other regions of the country.
In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish a traditional recipe from São Paulo for this delicious legume.